Nuclear Throne

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Vlambeer for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2015.
Nuclear Throne, known during some of its development as Wasteland Kings, is a post-apocalyptic roguelike shooter featuring a colorful cast of characters blasting their way through hordes of enemies across the Wasteland to eventually reach the titular Nuclear Throne. There are no humans, nor any indication of what has happened to them; instead, the world’s remaining life forms are mutants, and survival means exposing themselves to more radiation in order to gain advantageous mutations to aid them in combat.

The Wasteland has randomly generated layouts, spawn points, and weapon/item drops spread across seven themed areas. There are 15 levels along the main route, but there are also numerous hidden levels – with unique themes – and these levels are often discovered by accident, as unlocking them often requires a very specific set of criteria.

When the game begins, only two characters are available to the player: Fish and Crystal. Additional characters are unlocked as the player makes progress in the game, but some characters are only unlocked upon meeting specific criteria, which are not divulged during gameplay. Each character has an active and a passive ability which can drastically impact how the game is played.

Fish’s active ability allows him to roll to avoid enemy fire, making him speedy and maneuverable in tough situations, and his passive ability grants him bonus ammo pickups. Crystal, on the other hand, is a more defensive character, starting with 10 units of health (compared to 8 units for most other characters). Crystal can also transform into a crystal, deflecting most bullets, which can damage nearby enemies, although this transformation does not offer protection against melee attacks and explosives.

Additional characters include an eyeball-covered creature that can see in the dark – very useful in the sewers – and can use telekinesis to draw in enemies and deflect bullets. A skeleton with melting skin can make dead bodies explode and gains XP bonuses from radiation pickups, but he only has 2 HP. The robot is adept at finding tech upgrades and can eat weapons for HP and ammo bonuses.

These are just a few examples of the dozen or so characters, and each lends itself to a different playstyle. As such, newly unlocked characters aren’t necessarily better than others; they are simply different. Players may find themselves leaning on certain characters more than others to complete the game’s many optional challenges, which are designed to encourage replay and offer something new to expert players. That said, the game is quite difficult…

Being a roguelike, you are sent back to the start of the game upon death, and there are many ways to make simple mistakes that will get you killed quickly, such as getting hit by explosives or allowing yourself to be surrounded. Additionally, characters have no invincibility period upon taking damage, and health restoratives are infrequent, making it more difficult to recover from your mistakes.

The random nature of the game also requires you to constantly be aware of your surroundings as it is possible to be surprised at any moment by a swarm of enemies or a powerful boss. Even moving to a new level does not always grant a reprieve from the minute-to-minute running and screaming, as you are sometimes spawned into immediate peril.

Fortunately, the game offers many tools to aid the player in his quest to cross the wasteland, which appear in the form of weapons and mutations. Weapons appear in many varieties, and all of them have limited ammo… even your default pea shooter. As such, accuracy and ammo conservation are paramount, especially in later areas, as it is possible to run out of ammunition and leave yourself defenseless, unless you happen to have a melee weapon handy.

There are more than 100 weapons – with better weapons becoming available as the player makes progress – and these fall into several basic types: shotguns, handguns, machine guns, energy weapons, crossbows, and explosives. Each of these weapons uses a different kind of ammo, and the HUD indicates how much you have of each.

This is important since weapon drops are random and the player can only carry two weapons at a time, so it pays to carry two different weapon types. If you have plenty of bullets and not many shells, you’re better off switching over to an assault rifle or machine gun instead of a shotgun. There are even specialty weapons such as the Disc Gun, borrowed from the developer’s own Super Crate Box (see below), and just like that game, the projectiles bounce and can harm you if you get in their way on the return trip.

Mutations occur between levels, provided the player has exposed himself to a sufficient amount of radiation, which appears as enemy drops and in special canisters tucked around the environment. If the player crosses the threshold for the next experience level, he will be offered one of four random mutations for his character, most of which are ability upgrades.

Mutations allow players to attract drops from further away, increase the number of HP and ammo drops, increase HP and ammo capacity, have a random chance of earning ammo or HP upon killing enemies, slow down enemy projectiles, make enemies weaker, etc. Some are single use abilities, such as Last Wish, which restores the player’s health meter and provides some ammo before going into the next level, and there are also abilities that only become active as the player drops beneath a specified HP value.

There are 30 possible mutations in all, some of which can provide the player with a significant combat advantage. Of course, given their random nature, it’s also possible to be faced with a selection of less useful abilities, which can make a successful run more difficult… and this is core to the game’s design. The game enforces on-your-feet thinking and essential combat tactics as opposed to a planned strategy, and players who cannot adapt quickly to change will be just as quickly killed.

The challenge never lets up, and players will be constantly faced with overwhelming odds and just enough resources to scrape by. You may try to take things carefully and pick off enemies from a distance, but even early enemies will chase you down, and later enemies pull nasty tricks like playing dead or exploding after being killed. Fortunately, independent movement and aim allows you to retreat while still dealing damage.

You can try to even the odds by adding a second player in offline 2P co-op (except in the Vita version), but this often results in simply increasing the amount of mayhem on the screen and the possibility of some accidental explosive-based friendly fire. Additionally, going in with a second player does not increase the ammo or weapon pickups, so players need to be equally mindful of expending their limited resources.

The game offers Vlambeer’s traditional over-the-top arcade-style antics with substantial screen shake and huge explosions. Players who have the giblets to make it to the end of the game have additional modifiers awaiting them as they attempt a second loop (and another after that), providing a hearty contest and additional variety for those who have mastered the primary challenge. In addition, there are multiple endings and a number of optional challenges tasking players to complete the game under specific conditions.

Nuclear Throne was developed by Vlambeer, which is based in Utrecht, Netherlands, founded by Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman in 2010, who are credited with producing and directing the game respectively. Art and character design were done by Paul Veer, who also worked on Luftrausers and numerous other Vlambeer games, as well as Celestial Mechanica and Hyper Light Drifter. Music was composed by Jukio Kallio, a.k.a. Kozilek, who also worked on Luftrausers, with additional tracks and lyrics by Adam “Doseone” Drucker (Enter the Gungeon) and Eirik “Phlogiston” Suhrke (Spelunky, Hotline Miami). And sound design was done by Joonas Turner, who also worked on Downwell, Broforce, Badland, and Environmental Station Alpha.

The game initially went into Steam Early Access in October of 2013 and the developers continued making changes until its full release more than two years later. As with many of Vlambeer’s projects, the game was developed using GameMaker Studio.

The first release under the Vlambeer label was the Flash-based Radical Fishing in 2010, followed soon after by the game that put them on the radar of gamers around the world: Super Crate Box.

Super Crate Box has a simple yet surprisingly engaging structure: You control a little squarish fellow in a single-screen environment, armed with a pistol. As you play, enemies constantly stream into the environment from the top of the screen, begging for you to toss them a lead salad. If you let any of the enemies reach the bottom of the screen, they will respawn at the top as faster tougher versions of their former selves. Fortunately, you have access to a variety of weaponry to stop this from happening.

Crates randomly appear around the environment, each of which contains a different weapon. Each weapon has a different firing type, which alters the way you engage enemies. While you start with a basic pistol, you can get dual pistols that fire to the left and right simultaneously, a short range shotgun, a wildly spraying machine gun, and the strong but slow bazooka.

Players are encouraged to grab as many crates as possible – and therefore constantly switch weapon types – which, in turn, unlocks new weapon types, more complex levels, and new characters. Unlocked weapons appear in crates in future playthroughs, expanding into more powerful armaments such as the revolver, laser, and flamethrower, as well as some stranger ones like the katana and an insane disc gun that produces bouncing projectiles that can (and will) kill you.

In 2011, Devolver Digital approached three independent studios and asked them each to develop a game based on the Serious Sam franchise, as a way to promote their upcoming release of Serious Sam 3: BFE. This led to the development of the auto-runner Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack from Be-Rad Entertainment, a gun-heavy shooter Serious Sam: Double D from Mommy’s Best Games, and backwards-running JRPG Serious Sam: The Random Encounter.

The Random Encounter takes the otherwise shooty Sam Stone and drops him into a turn-based environment with a few gun-toting pals. When a random encounter is initiated from the tile-based overworld, Sam finds himself running constantly backward and shooting (much like he does in the traditional 3D action games). As with most JRPG’s, players use a menu to select between the options to fight, swap weapons, or use an item. New weapons are discovered as you play, featuring many of Sam’s trademark weapons, including the dual pistols, shotgun, minigun, and rocket launcher. Many of the weapons allow you to configure their use, including their range of fire or trajectory.

Traditional Serious Sam enemies and bosses are in place, each of which requires a different strategy to dispatch, such as Gnaar that go down more easily with an up-close shotgun blast, and larger enemies that are best dispatched with something heavier. The menu reappears every five seconds, allowing players to issue new orders to the party. Players can move Sam and his party up and down to dodge bullets and make the most effective use of their weapons as enemies slowly approach from the left, often in swarms.

Vlambeer would later go on to revisit Radical Fishing with an updated mobile version called Ridiculous Fishing, released in 2013... but unfortunately, they were beaten to the punch by another developer who cloned their design – a now-common problem in mobile development – and released it well ahead of Ridiculous Fishing. Fortunately, fans motivated the developers to continue work on their own game, and the official Ridiculous Fishing release outshined the clone in every possible way.

The game is split into three sections. In the first, you attempt to get your lure as far down in the water as possible, avoiding fish (or smashing through them) until you manage to hook one fish. At this point, the lure begins reeling back in, and your goal is to hook as many other fish as you can on your way back up, avoiding jellyfish along the way. Then, once the fish reach the surface, they are flung high into the air, and you blast them out of the sky with a shotgun, like any ridiculous fisherman would.

Shooting down fish earns you money so you can buy better equipment to reach greater depths, catch more fish, and blast them into a bloody spray. The game also features larger boss-class fish, as well as a bottomless mode for score challenges.