Review | 4/29/2016 at 10:00 AM

Rogue Stormers Co-Op Review

Shooting all the bullets in vain

Rogue Stormers is a game that feels like the product of two different minds. One wanted a platform shooter with RPG mechanics, the other wanted a difficult shooter that was reminiscent of Contra. The result, unfortunately, is a mess of both.

After a horde of orcs take over the town, it’s up to the titular heroes to fight and take it back. Across the eight campaign stages, you’ll face goblins, orcs, mechs, hot-air balloons, and a variety of other foes as you try to bring down the High Priest Hector von Garg. Along the way you’ll earn experience to unlock permanent upgrades for your hero (the only RPG mechanics that remain), boosts that last until you die (rogue-like elements), and secondary weapons for that extra burst of firepower when needed (similar to games like Contra and Metal Slug). At the end of each stage you’ll face off against either a glowing orb that you must destroy, or a boss. By completing each even-numbered stage, you’ll unlock a new hero to play, each of whom has his or her own special ability and primary weapon (ranging from a sniper rifle to a flamethrower).

All of those mechanics are a great base for a platform shooter and my first few moments with Rogue Stormers were fun. As I approached the end of the first stage, though, there was something nagging at me about the way everything was playing out. By the start of the third level, I had a clearer picture of what that something was and by the time I got to that same level for the fourth time, I pinpointed where it had gone wrong. Rogue Stormers is difficult, but it only knows one way to challenge you and it keeps playing that tune to death.

Most enemies in the game require at least two hits to kill and the bigger/tougher ones, which become more frequent as you progress, require at least a few seconds of uninterrupted fire to bring down. While your hero does have a health bar of his or her own that allows you to take at least a few hits before dying, you don’t want to waste all of that life (or health) trying to kill just one enemy. When faced with a large group of foes, therefore, you start analyzing the best way to take them all down before they do the same to you.

Maybe you’ll use your dash move to dodge incoming enemy fire while slowly picking off enemies one at a time, or maybe you’ll take advantage of your secondary weapon and just start blasting everything. It’s a fun and challenging couple of minutes... the first time it happens. When that scenario repeats itself for the fifth, tenth, and hundredth time, however, it becomes tedious and frustrating.

Adding to that frustration is the notion that it never really feels like you’re achieving anything by killing all of those orcs and goblins. As I mentioned earlier, there are some RPG and rogue-like mechanics at in Rogue Stormers. Enemies have a chance to drop experience or gold when they die. The experience is put towards a cumulative total for that particular character and every time a certain threshold is reached, they’ll “level up” and you will be presented with choosing one of two random upgrades for that character. You can only choose that upgrade, however, upon your next death so they don’t kick in until your next playthrough. These upgrades also only apply to that particular character, so when you’ll have to go through the whole process again when you manage to unlock a new one that you want to play.

The gold can be used to open up certain chests, which have a chance to provide you with perks (like increased damage) that only last for the current session, or you can gamble at “pod stations” for the chance to get health, more gold, or keys, which unlock other chests. The chests, however, only have a chance of containing a perk. They could just as easily contain health, gold, secondary weapons, and/or experience. What’s more, even if you do get a perk, it could be almost worthless and only convey a minor boost, like increasing your max health by one. The result of all of this is that your overall success and progression in Rogue Stormers, more often than not, feels like it is due to luck rather than anything particularly skilled you did as a player. None of these issues are fixed when more players are added; if anything, they’re only amplified.

Up to three other players can join you (either online or locally) in your mission to take down Hector. Whatever progress they’ve managed in their game, i.e., unlocking new playable characters and permanent upgrades for them, is brought over into the host’s game, and they’ll also take any new progress earned with them when the play session is done. Gold is split amongst all players (so 10 gold now becomes 3 each), but health and experience is shared evenly. If a comrade dies then they can be revived by acquiring 20 health, either from one source or from a cumulation of smaller health pick-ups. Perks and secondary weapon drops are not shared across players so any time one drops, it’s either a free-for-all to see who gets it first, or a debate over who should get it.

On the difficulty side of things, for each player that’s added, the enemies gain that much more health and you’ll start encountering tougher enemies earlier than if you were playing alone. What this translates to is an orc that took you maybe five seconds to kill solo now takes 20 seconds if you’re the only one shooting at him. It’s clear that the developers intended for all players to shoot at the same enemy at the same time, but with the number of enemies that they throw at you that’s just not a reality that’s likely to occur. To make things worse, with four players that are all potentially playing the same character (as you have to play through at least part of the campaign to unlock more), the screen can quickly become a clutter of bullets and it’s not always clear who’s shooting at what or what’s shooting at you. Despite supporting up to four players, unless your friends have played a significant amount of the game on their own to unlock a few characters and upgrades for them, you’re better off playing alone or with just one other person.

I can’t help but compare Rogue Stormers to other games that fall within this same genre, specifically Risk of Rain. Both titles are platform shooters with rogue-like and RPG elements; both have multiple characters you can unlike. Where they differ the most, though, is in how they approach that difficult vs challenging dilemma. Rogue Stormers, as I stated earlier, is difficult, but it never really goes beyond the challenge of forcing you to engage with multiple enemies that all require a lot of bullets to kill. Even if you do manage to get a few perks here and there, you never feel like they make that much of a difference. This becomes more noticeable the further you progress when you want to be downing orcs quickly, thereby feeling as if you've progressed and become more powerful than when you started, but instead find you're not much better off than you were before. Risk of Rain, on the other hand, puts the difficulty and challenge in the hands of the player. Upgrades can be acquired fairly easily but there’s a trade-off. The more time you spend trying to earn money to open chests and get perks, the more difficult the game gets. There’s a balance to be struck.

As it exists now, Rogue Stormers feels like it needs a fair amount of balancing. Enemies shouldn’t just be bullet sponges, upgrades/perks need to be awarded more frequently or at least be good enough to make them feel worthwhile, and bringing more friends to the mix shouldn’t feel like you’re putting everyone at a disadvantage. While I can appreciate the difficulty that the game presents to players, it should be a choice as opposed to the default. To their credit, the developers seem to be aware of the issues and are working to address them. If they do, then the game is something we’d revisit as there's the potential for it to be a completely different experience. Until that happens, though, Rogue Stormers has managed to capture the mechanics of the shooters of old, but not their spirit.