The Gauntlet and Diablo series have had a strong influence on cooperative game design. Many titles such as Torchlight, Grim Dawn, and Path of Exile not only use similar game mechanics but also use the fantasy genre as a setting. Developer A Sweet Studio has bucked this recent trend and have set SCALPERS: Turtle and the Moonshine Gang in the Wild West. This is a refreshing change of scenery for a genre that has become synonymous with swords and sorcery.
SCALPERS: Turtle and the Moonshine Gang is a top-down twin-stick shooter with action role-playing elements and MMO style boss fights thrown in for good measure. You take on the role of one of four anthropomorphic animal bounty hunters, each with their own unique racial ability. The turtle can hide in its shell for extra protection, the mole can dig underground avoiding damage and the skunk can unleash a foul stench cloud that causes damage over time. The individual abilities complement each other well when playing in co-op. The mole's dig can be used to help resurrect downed allies whilst also providing respite from damage and the skunk's stench cloud can be used to inflict massive damage to a large group of enemies. Experimenting with each character's abilities is fun and adds a much-needed layer of depth to the game.
There are a number of other abilities to choose from, which are available to all characters, such as healing, a stun, charge, and a lasso that can group enemies together and pull deceased character's tombstones closer, enabling faster resurrections. Selecting which combination of abilities works best for the group is a key decision and does add some strategic depth to the game. In addition, there are four different weapons to choose from: a pistol, shotgun, machine gun and a katana. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. The machine gun can deliver rapid-fire shots from range but requires you to be stood still whilst the Katana delivers lots of damage but requires the player to be up close and personal with the enemies. The system offers some nice variety in potential character builds but certainly needs more expansion before the final release.
The game plays like a twin-stick shooter fused with Gauntlet and Diablo. At the start of each level, there are four difficulty settings to choose from: easy, normal, hard, expert, with a fifth difficulty unlocked after mastering the expert setting. It is worth noting that there is a large disparity in the difficulty settings at this stage in development. The normal setting feels like hard from many other titles and the engine does not seem to adjust accordingly for the number of players playing. This results in overwhelming amounts of enemies that can be dealt with by four players but not by two. As you make your way through the levels blasting the various denizens and avoiding their attacks, which are cleverly telegraphed in a similar fashion to WildStar, you eventually encounter the end level boss. This is where the telegraph system really shines. Each boss has a specific attack pattern that needs to be learned and mastered in order to be defeated. Some of the boss battles can be quite challenging and require careful observation and great teamwork in order to conquer them. After defeating a boss you will be granted some loot. The quality of upgrade you receive depends on what difficulty setting the stage was played on. Loot is given out in a random way, for example, you may receive a boost to the racial trait for the mole even though you are playing as the skunk or you may receive an upgrade to a weapon you are not using. A Sweet Studio certainly needs to revisit this system, as it will cause players to lose interest if they don't feel like their character is progressing.
Visually the game has a nice cartoon aesthetic similar to Torchlight. The characters, though small, are chunky and colourful and the stages have a nice western vibe flowing through them. Unfortunately, the game suffers from bouts of screen tearing and there needs to be some work done on the visual cues that indicate you are taking a lot of damage.
The audio also still requires a great deal of work. Gun shots sound ok but lack punch and the characters could use some voice acting to give them some personality or to indicate when an ability is being used. The main theme song is a nice western themed track that really sets the stage for the game. Unfortunately, the same track plays on repeat throughout each of the four stages. I must admit that it did become grating after a while and I turned the music off.
SCALPERS: Turtle and the Moonshine Gang certainly has potential. The setting and character designs are very arresting whilst the gameplay mechanics are fun and interesting. However, there is a great deal more work to be done on the sound design, loot system, and balancing the difficulty of the game. Providing these issues are fixed then SCALPERS: Turtle and the Moonshine Gang will certainly be worth checking out.