I was pretty much set Voidrun as a dare by the Buried Treasure Patreon peeps. Too scared to try it themselves, they turned to me, renowned hero and legendarily great arcade game player. Famous for my love of high-difficulty gaming and incredibly tough bossfights, who better for this task?
Well, goodness me, Voidrun is absolutely brilliant, and I am of course absolutely terrible at it.
This utterly beautiful pixel art arcade-em-up looks like it might be any other bullet hell schmup if you glance at the screenshots, but let me break that delusion in six words: you don’t have a fire button.
Instead your nippy ship drops “magic balls” (quotation mine), which if successfully placed in a connected circle around an enemy causes them to asplode. This scatters your “voidballs” (quotation theirs) farther afield, and you need to zip about scooping them back up again. That’s the process! Successfully surround moving, attacking enemies with a contiguous circle of balls, while all the other enemies are moving and attacking too, then hoover up the voidballs and extra Power drops while also not dying then too.
It’s really refreshing to play a bullet hell game which isn’t a twin-stick mechanic (much as I love such things), and while it certainly is enormously fiddly, it’s all balanced extraordinarily well. I completely suck at this, whether playing the classic, arcade or adventure modes – each of which change how you approach the levels – but it’s so well made that I thoroughly enjoy sucking at it. The latter mode is the most interesting to me, as it’s the most forgiving. You complete an area to unlock the next, and carry forward as many lives as you kept on the previous level – but failure doesn’t make you start the whole game over, and you can go back to replay earlier areas to see if you can take more lives with you this time.
Yes, this certainly does bear something of a resemblance to Namco’s 1983 coin-op classic Libble Rabble by Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani, which I of course thought of straight away when I looked at it and didn’t get told it by my friend Stu at all. I’ve definitely heard of Libble Rabble before today and certainly never thought it sounded like some nonsense he was making up. But at the same time, it’s completely different, and has nothing in common with Qix, and I only brought it up to successfully look very convincingly knowledgeable and clever.
The only thing I don’t like about Voidrun is, in Classic and Adventure mode, when you destroy enough enemies to move to the next stage, it doesn’t let you collect all the drops the final baddy left behind. It matters none, because it deliberately starts you off with a set number of magic balls on each level, but it’s enormously frustrating to see all those Power capsules released only to have the controls yoinked away before you can rewardingly pick them up.
Beyond that, everything is just spot on. The music’s amazing, the art is – as you can see – a delight, and most crucially, the controls feel precisely perfect. The levels have an Asteroids sort of 360 degree wraparound effect, meaning you’re always around the center, but anything going off one side will appear on the other (imagine a tiny globe, but presented as a flat 2D space). There’s a huge variety of enemy types, each frustrating your attempts to surround them in their own ways, and sure, I’ll never beat the first Adventure boss if I live to be a thousand, but shut up, I’m enjoying myself. (I HAVE COME SO CLOSE THOUGH.)
I love this. It’s just so splendid, and I’m absolutely bloody determined to keep getting better at it. It’s a slow process for me, but I’m definitely improving! And in the game.