If you've been hunting after the year's first pixel-perfect indie, you've just found it.
Nostalgia can be a difficult thing harness. Although there is obviously a lot of potential in trying to recreate successful recipes from the past, it is at the same time extremely difficult to capture those golden memories and turn them into something new that awakens the same kind of passion that the original material did all those years before. Many game developers have tried in recent years (with varying results), but now the question is whether anyone has ever succeeded to the same degree as Easy Trigger Games and its new indie adventure Huntdown?
In this hard-boiled action game, we are offered a retro flirtation of oversized proportions, and this is delivered at the same time as gameplay that feels fresh, all wrapped up in a great concept and presented with style. The premise is simple; you play the role of one of three bounty hunters, and it's your job to take down the criminal gangs creating disorder in an '80s vision of a post-apocalyptic 2000s. There are four areas to visit and all in all, there are twenty rascals that you have to defeat in order to finally reach the neon-drenched credits. It all sounds very straightforward, and Huntdown is easy to grasp on a fundamental level, but there is also a complex game to master here, and much of the entertainment lies in experimenting and developing yourself within its simple framework.
If you have played any classic action platformers from the Super Nintendo era then you will probably feel at home in the arms of this two-dimensional time capsule. The difference, however, in contrast to many past examples, is that Easy Trigger Games has managed to craft spotless controls that come to life on screen with each button press, where simply firing your primary weapon creates an indescribable pleasure that refuses to get old no matter how long you play. This feeling extends throughout the experience and everything from the weapon handling to the movement delivers a sense of balance and power, and our thoughts were often drawn back to Doom 2016, where one can also sense this kind of mastery and freedom in an otherwise extremely hostile environment. Sliding on your knees in front of a crowd of enemies before emptying your mighty shotgun is a feeling everyone should experience.
However, the first thing you will probably notice when kicking off this meaty action-adventure is that the graphics are absolutely magnificent. Admittedly, we have been spoiled with delicious pixel graphics in recent times in great indies like The Messenger and Blazing Chrome, but Huntdown offers a whole new level of detail and a deeper, more thoughtful style that ensures every level oozes personality. The overall dystopian theme remains consistent throughout and in this vision of the future punk rockers and the like roam the concrete-filled back streets and rain-soaked rooftops. We lost more than one hectic firefight with a bunch of trash-talking bikers just because we saw something in the background that caught our eye. It takes inspiration from movies like Terminator, Robocop and Blade Runner, although the homage never feels tasteless, nor does it cheapen the experience, not even for even a second.
The music is cut from the same studded 1980s-cloth, where epic synth melodies and heavy beats blend with screaming electric guitars and synthetic drum beats. Admittedly, we did think that the tunes were at times a bit anonymous during our first play, but they grew on us the longer we spent playing as one of the game's three charming bounty hunters. The three playable characters also enhance the experience, because even though they play more or less identically to each other (they have different guns and firearms), the choice keeps the experience energetic and vital for considerably longer than if there was only one protagonist available. For example, it's super entertaining to at one moment enjoy the cocky axe-throwing Sarah Connor/Ellen Ripley-inspired Anna Conda before switching to killer robot Mow Man, who cold-bloodedly states that your opponents are dead after you've burned them all to death with fire. Then there's the action parody John Sawyer, who completes the playable trio.
If you think the bounty hunters are colourful, they're nothing compared to the bosses, and there's a whole bunch of these hard-skinned offenders to beat down. The Hoodlum Dolls, for example, are led by a mildly drunk, leather-clad robotic driver who alternates lethal missile strikes with wobbly gunfire, and their rivals at The Misconducts are controlled by a hairy hockey goalkeeper who sees performance-enhancing preparations as an asset rather than an immoral breach of the rules. The battles with these thugs are among the most intense you will experience in Huntdown and using classic trial & error gameplay you will need to learn your opponent's attack pattern.
Finding a balance between difficulty and accessibility is something that the developer really nails. The learning curve may feel steep from time to time, but you are offered plenty of checkpoints so you never have to replay longer sections over and over again. In addition, the levels are fairly short overall, and you are rarely forced to spend more than ten minutes on any given stage, and the boss battles are also included in that estimated time frame. In this way, the game becomes very arcade-like in terms of its pacing, but it's also ridiculously easy to pick up and play, whether you're after a short burst of action or a longer gaming session.
Finally, what we probably love most about Huntdown is that you can easily see how the developer has gone from idea to finished product. The studio has not tried to bite off a larger challenge than it can chew, but rather the team had a vision that has been delivered with flawless execution. They have not diluted the concept with unnecessary additions nor tried to reach a wider audience with modernities that wouldn't have fit in the final product. It is a type of perfection that is rarely experienced in games nowadays, as it is usually easy to find faultlines where the original plan and the production could not keep up with each other. In Huntdown, however, it feels like they have hit exactly what they were aiming from the beginning, and it makes our job much easier when it comes to justifying a top score without having to ponder too long on the pros and cons.
Because yes, Huntdown is a rock-solid ten in our book, and this only happens when all the components are basically perfect and come together to make something so great that is impossible to be negative. Sure, some may want more features and scream for updates and new additions, but for our part, we can't think of a single thing we wanted to add to this already magical adventure. It's fun from the first to the last, and given the low price tag, we can't imagine a more affordable top tier gaming experience being released this year. Huntdown is exactly the kind of game that makes us remember why we love this hobby as much as we do, and if you like retro-themed action as well, then you just can't miss this high-octane gem of a game.