Running VoltGun

A game by Sinclair Strange for PC, originally released in 2017.
Running VoltGun is a short game that was developed in under 72 hours for Ludum Dare 39, with a theme of running out of power. As with many Ludum Dare games, this is more of a proof of concept than a full-blown game. It borrows heavily from Contra in terms of its weapon design, but its overall speed, exuberance, and colorful designs fall more in line with games like Gunstar Heroes and Rocket Knight Adventures, featuring nearly nonstop running and shooting through obstacle-laden environments populated by cute enemies that explode when killed.

There isn’t anything in the way of story. You play as a fellow with a gun – possibly named VoltGun – who is able to jump, shoot, dash, air dash, and alternate between weak and strong attacks. Every time he shoots, some energy is drained from his battery, and taking damage drains it even more quickly. If his battery is drained completely, he dies and returns to the start of the level with his battery fully charged. Killed enemies drop small blue crystals that recharge the battery slightly, and the occasional large blue crystal restores a more significant chunk of health… but these must be shot to be exposed, requiring some energy expenditure in the process.

The battery drains when standing still as well, so it pays to stay on the move and kill enemies as quickly as possible, which keeps the pace up. It is possible to switch your weapon to a lower power mode to conserve energy, but this also means that you fire weaker bullets that take longer to destroy enemies. This aspect of gameplay isn’t terribly well balanced, leaving little reason for players to switch down to low power. As such, it is possible to run at full power for the duration of the game, only conserving energy by letting off the FIRE button when no enemies are present.

There are several weapons in the game, which are generally derived from the Contra playbook, and each weapon may be fired in low or high power mode. The selection includes a machine gun, laser, flamethrower, missile launcher, and the ever-popular spread gun, each of which may be collected by picking up the associated powerup icons spread throughout the levels. Weapons may be fired in four directions (down while jumping), and the player may also duck and fire.

Obstacles are traditional video gaming fare, and it’s notable that there is nothing that can kill you instantly, as gameplay is centered entirely around gaining and losing energy. As such, spikes, lava, and other typical insta-death traps simply drain some of your precious health, allowing you to recover and continue fighting.

Other level elements include Sonic the Hedgehog-style red bumpers that send the player flying into the air. A couple entire levels are built around this mechanic, requiring that players carefully ascend a huge tower – reminiscent of Sonic 2’s Casino Night Zone – while trying to avoid lasers, although the chaotic nature of these quick bounces makes it nearly impossible to avoid damage altogether. If the player is not careful, he can fall pretty far and lose progress, making it more difficult to reach the end of the level before his energy runs out.

One area turns this idea on its head and has player descending through rows of red bumpers, trying to avoid them so he can keep dropping down. Players must also contend with spiked pendulums, crumbling platforms, spinning sawblades, spurting flames, and the occasional conveyor belt. There are also a couple of sections where the player stands on a stack of destructible objects and must shoot downward to cut a path through them in order to descend, while also paying attention to lasers or rising and falling lava that permeates the level. There are seven levels in all, plus three boss encounters.

Enemies are fairly basic and look similar to one another, each appearing as reddish robots with big goofy grins that are reminiscent of the Grinning Darns from Noitu Love 2, with many wearing hats or sporting eccentric hairstyles. The three boss encounters take place against a single villain operating various sorts of machinery, similar to Dr. Robotnick, with the villain’s face exposed while he pilots a machine of destruction. Bosses take a ton of hits to destroy, and battles can be made easier by having a powerful weapon equipped. Bosses aren’t overly complex and don’t react much to your attacks, so most encounters involve holding your aim on the boss and unleashing as much damage as possible before it moves out of your line of fire.

Running VoltGun was developed by Sinclair Strange, based in the UK. The game that was developed in under 72 hours for Ludum Dare 39, with a theme of running out of power. Sinclair Strange also developed Jet Gunner, Crypt Stalker, Burning Ravager, and Hazard Saviour.