Preview: Madshot

2022-07-15 by George P

An Acrobatic Lovecraftian Blast

Madshot is an upcoming rogue-lite platformer shooter currently in Early Access. In the game, you take the role of an eccentric aristocrat who, after losing his wife, embraces dark forces and embarks on a quest for power and eternal life. Madshot is a Lovecraftian-inspired title and contains all the tropes you would expect from the genre: eldritch abominations, corrupted relics, Innsmouth-like environments, shadowy figures, and an abundance of tentacles! As the player, you will have to blast through endless waves of abominable monstrosities and ancient enemies to empower your character in order to fight no other than Cthulhu himself. The movement and combat systems are Madshot’s bread and butter. They are polished, balanced, responsive, and able to create a core gameplay loop that feels fun and dynamic. The gameplay feels very fast-paced as Madshot is designed to always keep you on the move and will certainly test the limits of your dexterity and reaction time. You will jump, dangle, dodge, and roll away from danger while always making sure to maximize your accuracy and damage output against the game’s many bloodthirsty creatures. Additionally, there is a big emphasis on utilizing the environment around you to your advantage, not just in terms of movement but also in terms of combat. On each level, you will find all kinds of consumable items and stationary objects that can aid you in the fight. You can lunge stones, barrels, debris, and even the heads of dead enemies to fend off the monsters; you can find rare throwable that can disorient enemies or instantly teleport you away from danger; you can even use chains, ropes, and ziplines to quickly maneuver around the level. Beyond the core gameplay, Madshot is also a visual feast with a wonderful art style that feels straight out of a comic book. The backdrops especially are drop-dead stunning and I remember how every time after clearing a level I would stop for some peaceful moments to appreciate the brilliant environmental design. The wide variety of character and enemy designs are also distinct, high-quality, and feel original to the experience while always being compatible with the game’s greater Lovecraftian themes and setting.

Discovering, Advancing, Improving

In a roguelike, each run is meant to represent a sort of mini-adventure and this is a feeling that Madshot successfully emulates through its procedural generation and its temporary progression systems. The game utilizes the kind of “overworld map” that we have come to expect in the past few years from the genre. And while Madshot does not revolutionize the core idea, it still manages to use the formula in an interesting fashion. Throughout each run, you will unlock alterations to power up your character, collect gold to bargain in shops, plan out your synergies, and acquire special sidearms that include all sorts of crazy shenanigans, from a laser-beam eye to the Necronomicon. Additionally, levels can randomly include events such as interactive enigmatic objects or encounters with shady but helpful characters, and even secret locations that may hide either treasure or doom. These elements not only add an extra layer of depth to each run but also help establish a sense of mystery and atmosphere and I would love to see the developers further expand on the concept. The world of Madshot is divided into areas each of which has its own overworld map and a boss monster lurking at the end of it. Boss fights in Madshot are fair, challenging, and designed with unique ideas in mind both mechanically and aesthetically. They range from a grotesque bog monster to a corrupted alchemist to a demonic eldritch sorcerer, plus some staples of the Lovecraftian mythos that fans will recognize such as the flying predator Byakhee or the worm-like Chthonian.

Being a rogue-lite, apart from temporary upgrades, Madshot also utilizes permanent character progression that carries over between runs. There are three core aspects to the game’s permanent progression system. The first and arguably most important one is Aether, a currency that can be collected by completing specific sections that will randomly appear on the overworld map. You can spend the aether you collect either at your main base or at the checkpoints that connect the game's different areas. By doing so, you will be able to unlock a vast array of glyphs that grant passive abilities. However, you are only able to equip a limited number of glyphs to your loadout meaning that these passive abilities are more about optimizing a certain playstyle rather than creating an overpowered character. Secondly, you have the quest system which allows you to unlock additional glyphs to diversify your builds by completing specific tasks such as getting explosive kills or clearing levels without taking damage. Finally, you have “Prima Materia”, a currency that you get from defeating bosses that allows you to unlock different masks which in turn change your character's ultimate ability. There are currently three masks in the game: the default one that allows you to slow down time and increase your damage output, one that freezes enemies for a short duration and one that literally turns your character into a shadow octopus allowing him to freely move around the level. Permanent progression in rogue-lites has been a notoriously difficult task to get right. The main emphasis of any roguelike should always be about players improving their skill level, understanding mechanic combinations, and memorizing patterns; not grinding for arbitrary upgrades. This is why Madshot’s more horizontal and less vertical approach to permanent progression works great within the game’s vision and complements the core gameplay loop. The aether and quest systems as well as the ability to unlock new super abilities and primary guns, all create a sense of character evolution without ever feeling forced or obligatory. These elements forge a sort of overreaching journey beyond the mini-adventure that each run offers and certainly help increase the replayability of the game.

A Great Now and a Promising Future

Madshot does not reinvent the genre but it certainly manages to achieve important milestones that shape its character and its level of quality even in comparison with other big titles in the genre. For example, the main element that I thought was very well-designed and successfully executed was the way the game balanced its difficulty. One of the negative traits I have noticed in many roguelikes I have played in the past is how rooms and enemies leading up to each boss tend to usually feel more like trivial grinding, and it is only the boss fight itself that poses an actual threat of wiping your run. In Madshot however, I was always at the edge of my seat throughout each and every level including the more “basic” ones.

Regular enemies are not just highly aggressive but also possess a wide range of unpredictable attack and movement patterns that are guaranteed to catch you off-guard numerous times within a run. To me, this was certainly one of the highlights of my experience with the game as it meant that no part of the run was ever too easy to the point of being boring which is a common occurrence in other roguelike titles. Due to a series of smart design choices, all levels felt consistently challenging and engaging instead of playing out as nothing more than a series of tediously pointless rooms leading up to a boss. Madshot’s well-thought-out game design philosophy, as well as all the other positive aspects, discussed previously, give the game a very strong foundation. However, there is absolutely room for improvement, especially in the departments of sound design, build variety, and most importantly, long-term replayability. Additionally, further polish is required as I did encounter plenty of mechanical and visual bugs as well as AI pathfinding errors. Ultimately, I am excited to see the developer’s vision fully unfold as I believe Madshot already has an impressive foundation, a great visual presentation, as well as plenty of potential for the future.