The formula for an optimal XBLA title keeps changing. In the early days loveless ports of classic retro and previous gen titles flooded the platform surrounded by puzzle clones and the occasional gem. Geometry Wars:Retro Evolved was undoubtedly the absolute star of the early days of XBLA on 360. It ushered in a new era of high def twin stick shooters on console. Since then XBLA and PSN have been awash with twin stick shooters. Apart from shmups, card games and side scrolling shooters they are probably the most over saturated genre. Why are they so prevalent? They are well suited to the dual stick input, easily contained in scope (with scant or little narrative often needed) and they also fall into the familiar retro/futro groove that seems to blight XBLA. Standardised concepts and control schemes can always be challenged however.
Gatling Gears ticks all the boxes but manages to inject a familiar formula with personality. The universe of Mistbound is awash with moustaches, cutesy mechs and preposterous tales of Good vs. Evil. Inspired like every Steampunk universe it’s a maelstrom of early industrialisation amplified to the improbable. In the case of Mistbound it works creating a sumptuous world, held together with rivets, steam power and ammo. The first foray into Mistworld had been the turn based strategy game Greed Corp. The Mistworld universe deliberately spans game genres. W!/Vanguard have conceptualised the universe with flair and are unrolling it with imagination.
Gatling Gears succeeds as it melds a twin stick shooter and shmup-lite together with a polish this is still (all too sadly) uncommon in the download space. Is it the best looking download game? No, but it is beautifully realised with mist, depth of field and incidental details. Gatling Gears, suffers from a blight common to the Twin Stick Shooter genre, namely that gameplay is inherently repetitive, but the game world engages with subtlety and imaginatively realised bosses. The shmup component comes from the walls of ammo, Vanguard have been shrewd to slow the bullets, thereby making the game much more approachable. Gatling Gears is a world away from Bangai-O HD (which quite frankly is batshit crazy). hardcore shmup reviewers are unfairly treating the game and dragging down the metacritic, by judging the book by a different cover.
In short, Gatling Gears is an imaginative addition to the twin stick shooter canon delivered with polish and flair. Vanguard have delivered.