Tower 57: alpha preview

Yes, this preview will be biased. A shameless plug from one brother to the other, a high-five to a family member who is apparently getting the better hand of this crowdfunded adventure!

Once upon a time

See I remember when, twenty years ago, my brother and I were trying hard making games on a now-defunct but legendary platform called “Commodore Amiga”.
At the time the Amiga was the machine to play games: its dedicated graphic chipset (the Advanced Graphic Architecture or AGA) and its sound chip Paula were perfect for that purpose. While the early PCs were just beginning to offer interesting games (thank you Roberta Williams!), Amiga owners were swearing by Psygnosis and The Bitmap Brothers.

Of course we would try to make our own bestsellers on that miracle of a computer, me coding and doing the music, while my brother was meticulously drawing pixels on the screen. Funny how twenty years later I became this “serious” developer while my brother stayed in the games industry, becoming a brilliant “Swiss knife” of a developer (I mean it: so far he has developed on a sh!tload of platforms!).

The Chaos Engine

One of the Bitmap Brothers’ most famous games along with Gods and Speedball II  was The Chaos Engine: a gorgeous, hard as fnck top-down shooter.
This is where Tower 57 took its main inspiration. Hopefully they also seem to have improved about every aspect of the original game!

First thing I saw about Tower 57 is this splendid trailer:

Be honest: that gave you goosebumps, right?

Then again, game trailers can be deceptive. I was therefore quite happy to learn that, as a backer, I would be able to actually play an early draft of the game.

(Knuckles cracking sound) Well here we go then!

First contact

The music sets the mood, the main screen is typical of an era, as is the character-selection page. It’s worth spending time configuring your gamepad/keyboard to your likings. I decided to use a combination of keys and mouse, pushing my keyboard to the left so that I could move using the arrows and select my weapons using the numeric keypad, while my right hand would use the mouse to aim and shoot.

Next I selected my character: either Abraham Lincoln, Kojak or Al Capone. Okay so I don’t know their real names, but the idea of Abe shooting aliens pleases me, okay?

Then it’s time to actually play the game:

Although the game starts in some uninviting sewers, you will probably pause for a while and contemplate the amazing graphical work achieved by Cyangmou. Those who like pixel-art will totally love what the man has done. I had the chance of watching him paint on PicartoTV while he was drawing one of the forthcoming female characters. I remember thinking how hard it felt to draw line by line, pixel after pixel, detail after detail. The amount of time he spent on those graphics must have been huge, but it’s all worth it!

The music by Rafael Langoni Smith is also worth a mention: moody, catchy (I ended up whistling parts of it!) but never invasive. Making games’ music is an art I’ve never managed to master twenty years ago, but I found Tower 57’s music was just fit for the game and helped setting the tone.

So how does it play? Well, my first contact wasn’t that long: I died about 2 minutes later, courtesy of a bomb-throwing crab.

Tower 57 is hard. It’s “Nintendo-hard” (to quote Benitosub aka the developer). BUT it is immensely, satisfyingly playable!
As you face new dangers you start to learn which weapon works best against which enemy, you find that crabs are hurt by their own bombs, and so on. You get better at it by the minute and before you know it you reach unexplored zones without taking a single hit.

’till the fat lady sings

As you progress you start discovering new weapons: the double-barrel shotgun, the flamethrower… I love the flamethrower! Just set those bastards on fire and watch ’em burning, muhahaaahaaaa!

You will soon notice that about everything can be destroyed: crates, thrash bags, barrels, plants…
While shooting at everything in sight, you end up discovering secret chambers, special tiles that open secret doors, etc. This exploration aspect never gets in the way of the action and is immensely enjoyable.

Then there’s the humor: the game is so dark-funny at times! Usually this shows when your character interacts with computer terminals in the game, which allow you to buy health kits, ammos, limbs (!)… “FatMama’s Trusty Implants: satisfaction guaranteed or the lobotomy is on us!”.
But terminals are not the only features to put a smile on your cynical face. I already mentioned the crabs “committing suicide” by getting in the way of their own bombs. There’s also enemies that will tear your arms apart, leaving you as a walking, bleeding and defenseless walking torso. That made me laugh a lot. Yes I’m probably sick 😉

The map is quite huge: it took me about 20 to 30 minutes to finish the first sewer zone. The team assured me that you would be able to save your progress between each level, which is better for players like me who only have 30 minutes of free time here and there.

Conclusions

I hate my brother for succeeding where I failed!

So far Tower 57 is a joy to play and a joy to watch. It manages to keep the spirit of The Chaos Engine and all of those games from those times, while at the same time improving every aspect of the original game, particularly in terms of gameplay. Time just flew by as I fought my way through the game’s alpha preview. That’s usually a good sign!

Even if they already met their Kickstarter goals (that includes… an Amiga port?!) you still can support the team through PayPal. Or you can wait until the game is finished and buy your own copy.

Damn, actually I love my brother for succeeding where I failed!

Until next time,

Cheers!

 

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