‘Splosions. Lots and lots of ‘splosions.
It’s only been a few months since developer Housemarque released the excellent twin-stick shooter Nex Machina, but it’s back again with the PlayStation-exclusive Matterfall, a side-scrolling action game that features a blend of shooting and platforming.
Tight, snappy handling is a hallmark of Housemarque’s titles, and while Matterfall handles fairly well, it doesn’t feel as clean as the developer’s past efforts. In fact, there are issues both with the mapping of the controls (and the inability to remap) and the responsiveness of the jumping. Neither is a killer, but you’re likely to notice both of them right from the get go.
Beyond the usual functionality (moving, shooting, jumping and secondary weapons) there are two unique elements at work here. The first is the “matter gun,” which is used both to create platforms to jump across or use as cover, and to detonate bombs dropped by defeated enemies. It’s semi interesting, though its use is largely telegraphed.
Second is a dash function that makes your character briefly invulnerable. That’s not unusual, but here it also freezes any enemy you come in contact with, making it the most critical move in your arsenal as you’ll need to manage the brief cooldown timer and optimize its use. Learning how to do that is vital for the more hectic, bullet-hell style encounters.
Unfortunately, movement never feels as smooth or nimble as it should. The decision to bind jump to the right bumper rather than “X” (wasted on “interacting” with the environment) is all kinds of awkward. It never feels right, and each time we loaded the game we had to consciously remind ourselves to use RB instead of the button nearly every other game uses to jump.
Even with that there were still moments when instinct would take over and instead of leaping over a swarm of projectiles we just stood there and took the hit. That can be pretty frustrating when the game is built on chasing high scores, which means maintaining your multiplier.
Housemarque has become the kings of particle effects, and there remains something undeniably satisfying about watching enemies dissolve into colourful cubes. While everything looks clean and shiny, the design for your character, enemies and the world itself are comparatively drab. Despite offering just nine levels and three boss fights, Matterfall feels visually repetitive.
There’s a small amount of narration bookending the game, but for the most part your time will be spent listening to pulse-pumping tunes to match the fast-paced action. It’s fine for what it is.
Stuff went wrong and you were sent in to fix it. That’s pretty much the extent of Matterfall‘s story, but narrative has never been Housemarque’s focus and, quite frankly, it’s unnecessary here. This is all about clearing levels as quickly and cleanly as possible, period.
There are 12 stages in all, nine regular and three boss battles. It’ll take around two hours to get through it the first time, though that could rise as the final encounter represents a significant difficulty spike, which is never a great feeling. Still, it’s a generally well conceived experience with a mix of action, platforming and even some bullet hell to deal with.
You’ll be well equipped for your journey with a basic gun to go with the aforementioned dash attack and matter gun. You’ll also be able to equip up to three secondary weapons/buffs from a total of 12 that are unlocked by finding and rescuing humans scattered across each stage. Weapons, such as the railgun, work off a cooldown timer while buffs (e.g., more health) are applied throughout.
Levels present a challenge, but it doesn’t always feel fair. Many enemies spawn out of thin air, and it’s easy to get trapped and absorb some cheap hits, particularly in early trips. Getting shot from off screen is also a semi-regular occurrence, though we’ve certainly seen worse offenders.
Still, these kinds of things, along with the spotty jumping, undermine your ability to maintain the multiplier, which is a problem when high-score chasing is the only real reason to revisit the short campaign. Each stage is fairly long for that sort of pursuit as well, and any failure is accompanied by a surprisingly lengthy reload to the beginning.
While Matterfall is another quality entry from Housemarque, it ultimately falls a bit short of its other work thanks to a short campaign that isn’t all that engaging to replay.