Serious Sam: The Random Encounter
is a mash-up of Serious Sam, old-school JRPGs (say, Final Fantasy) and, unexpectedly enough, a bullet-hell shooter. Yes, it is definitely all of those things!Context
Just a little bit of history, this was part of a series of promotional Serious Sam games, created by Devolver Digital to promote the (at the time) upcoming Serious Sam 3.
The other game of the series I've played, was a 2D side-scrolling shooter, where you could mount guns on top of other guns, and had massive mobs of enemies exploding around you. It was a blast!
With that said, when I saw this available on a sale, I decided to give it a go, as ridiculous as the premise sounds!
It's a byte-sized game made by Vlambeer, so you know what to expect, knowing them -- sometimes unfair, yet really fun and chaotic arcade gaming!Presentation
The visual style in this game immediately shows what the game is. It features the indentifiable Vlambeer style, with the whole SS crew of headless guys with bombs for hands and lava monters! I'm not too familiar with the Serious Sam games (I own them, just haven't gotten around to playing them), so I can't say how faithful it may be.
Regardless, it looks pretty cool. It's a retro looking and sounding game, but not in a lazy way.
You'll literally fight dozens of enemies at once, in each battle, all with a big flare of explosions and bullet flying around. You may argue that it sometimes obfuscates the screen and isn't very clean -- but honestly, that's not the point. It's supposed to be silly, mindless and over-the-top, and that's exactly what it is! In a good way.
Each area has a very characteristic look, and it's really great to see hordes of enemies on screen getting obliterated.
is a bit strange. I can't tell if it's a different and more retro arrangement of SS's music. Regardless I think it's pretty good! Some of it (especially the drumming) sounds like MIDI, and the rest is simply synth based music. It does fit the theme, though!
Futuristic levels sound futuristic, egypt level sounds oriental, that sort of stuff. I really enjoyed the music while I played the game!
In the way of options and interface
, it's a bit limited, but it doesn't really matter very much. I beat the game in less than 2 hours, so there weren't any major problems that I've found worth mentioning.
isn't at all serious, being very self aware and constantly poking fun at both SS and JRPG tropes. It was amusing to me, taking the context of the game into account.General Structure
In this game, you have 3 different levels, each with 3 different stages.
It plays like a JRPG. You have a topdown view and a small map, sometimes with "puzzles" to solve. I say "puzzles" but I don't think they count as that. It's more the concept of puzzle that the game uses to poke fun at. Go to A, press switch, door opens -- with guts and explosion in the middle.
In these maps, there are, as the name suggests, random encounters!
Yes, about every 2 steps. Literally. Don't worry, the maps aren't all that big. At the end of each battle, your characters gain a bit of armor, if they didn't get hit, so it definitely rewards "decent" play -- skill isn't a big factor in this game, no worries!
You'll have to balance exploration (very minimal, each stage fits easily
in one screen) and just rushing to the end. Why? Because there are chests spread around the stages. These chests contain weapons and items that will certainly prove useful. On the downside, you'll have more encounters, which is more dangerous.
At the end of each level there's a Boss fight, which mainly involves a big horde plus a really big unique monster.
Death is punished, buy it's not too punishing
by any stretch. I find it completely fair! You have 3 lives. If you die in any encounter, you'll go back one step behind that encounter, and lose a life. If you lose all your lives, you simply restart the stage. Since the stages are really short, it's never a problem.
You start with only one character, but then pick another 2, on later levels.General Mechanics and Combat System
Ok, this is the interesting part of the game, of course! How exactly do they combine JRPG combat with bullet-hells?
Well, honestly, not very well, from a design standpoint. It is, however, a fun idea to experiment in a game like this!
Basically, it's a turn-based bullet-hell game. The game stops every 5 seconds. When it stops, you get to choose an action. Use an item? Change weapon? Or maybe you'll simply attack. When you attack or change weapon, you'll chosen which direction you'll want to shoot, and that's about it.
While it's really simply, conceptually, it has many more ideas thrown in, which I'll talk ahead, regarding weapons. (1)
Outside the turn, you basicaly move vertically, trying to shoot your enemies, and dodge bullets (which is worth mentioning by itself (2)). The items aren't very interesting, although they certainly are
useful. There are items that heal the party, give them full armor, 4x damage, speed, huge bombs, etc. Nothing very unique, but I'm glad they're there regardless! It adds variety and some degree of tactic to the combat.
I think that's enough to give you a general idea of what the game is
. Now, I'd like to discuss some aspects that may make-or-end the deal, for you.1.Weapons
First off, I'll write about the weapons, since I think it's the coolest aspect of the game. There are several different weapons. And when I say different, I mean different
! Not just more powerful, faster, bigger -- they actually feel
different, and have mechanics of their own, playing with the turn-based side of the game.
For example, there's a Revolver
that is a bit weak, but auto-targets close targets, killing them one by one.
There's a Shotgun
that shoots only in a certain range that you assign to it when you choose your turn-action -- Trading individual damage for less, spread damage.
There's a big Cannon
that is piercing and very large shot, basically killing everything in front of it (or the direction you choose) -- however, you always have to wait for a turn for it to recharge! And using items doesn't count.
Then, there's a Grenade Launcher
and damage a radial area of your choosing.
I could go on, but this gets the point across. The weapons are really different from one another, and it adds quite a lot to the combat! It also adds interesting aspects to the weird, unique concept of this game.2. Dodging enemies and bullets with 3 characters
I've talked about my favourite aspect; now it's time for by biggest problem!
The game is very unbalanced. Period. There was certainly some thought put into it, since the game is beatable for sure, and item placement helps with that. However, this is a very byte-sized game, and such a thing wouldn't work on a bigger game. But I'm digressing.
The point is, when you're in battle, it's almost impossible to dodge enemies and bullets. Your only defense is actually a brutal offense. If you can kill everything before it gets to you, you're in a good spot! Otherwise, you're screwed.
I mean, there are 3 characters, with a decent space between them. So, if you want to dodge, you'll have to dodge with all three at once. Besides, with the amount of enemies that there are, you'll often be overwhelmed, at one point or another. It happens a lot, but you can be more prepared on your next try.Conclusion
The game doesn't require a lot of skill, directly because of this. It's a mindless game about slaughtering hordes of enemies at once, with big guns.
Still, it's chaotic and fun! If you want a short, little, but mechanically ball-sy game, look no further! It's not perfect, but it has its moments!