When the official trailer for Huntdown appeared, it was hard not to be impressed with its blend of 80s futuristic action and voiceover ripped from the grindhouse movie scene of the 1970s. Throw in high quality sound design, thanks to crisp firearm blasts and chunky synthwave music, and you wouldn’t be at fault for thinking that perhaps the game itself would look and feel a little different. This was a trailer worthy of the VHS-era depicted, so maybe it was a brilliant cinematic homage. Some clever marketing. Maybe the voiceover and high-quality audio would be absent when playing the final product.
That isn’t the case, and it’s this presentation that sets Huntdown apart from many other pixel-heavy arcade-action releases – adding a layer of cool to the often simple but engaging and challenging combat. Within its arcade-era pixel art there’s a staggering amount of detail too, meaning this is an experience more akin to seeing Metal Slug at the arcade for the first time versus firing up Super Contra (or Super Probotector) on the SNES at home. That isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with the latter. Huntdown even borrows a few ideas pioneered by Konami’s classic. It’s just that the animation and sheer number of sprites make it the style of game you could only find at an arcade back in the day.
"Within its arcade-era pixel art there’s a staggering amount of detail too, this is an experience akin to seeing Metal Slug at the arcade for the first time...”
There’s a lot happening on screen at any given moment. From checkpoints being run by a fully voiced and animated mobile surgery vehicle to the lively backdrops that draw on everything from The Terminator to Robocop and even a little Blade Runner. Plus, plenty of cyberpunk-style neon love. There’s a ‘let’s throw everything in’ tone to a lot of Huntdown, and throughout the journey to, err, hunt down various criminal gangs throughout the different city districts you’ll go from cyberpunk neon skyline one moment to a industrial zone filled with biker gangs and continuously burning oil fires the next.
The setup is as simple and classic beat-em up as that, with each stage pitting you in a run and gun arcade side-scroller of a level against a stream of no good-bits before you then face off against the boss – the bounty. Complete enough bounties and stages and your final showdown in any district will be against the gang leader in a grander and more involved multi-stage battle. Like a quasi-wrestling match in an underground arena or trying to fend off incoming mortar fire whilst battling on a moving truck. With each stage ending in a boss battle, Huntdown features its fair share of duels. And in a nod to the talented team at Easy Trigger Games each one has a distinct feel to it.
Even though for the most part they’re all about figuring out the attack pattern and reacting accordingly. And eventually saving the best weapons and limited high-powered ammo for the more difficult ‘final phase’ of any boss encounter.
As alluded to earlier, Huntdown’s combat and action offers up a fair bit of challenge. Calling on those long-since dormant skills of dodging projectiles whilst keeping an eye on many moving 2D objects and reacting and timing jumps and shots just so. Watching out for traps and obstacles too. Huntdown is entirely accessible though, the first few stages are straightforward and comfortable, allowing the presentation and style to take centre-stage before the real action kicks in.
Local co-op allows you to team up as two of the three playable bounty hunters, each offering some slight variation in terms of how they behave and take out the bad guys. Being able to select a difficulty level makes a lot of sense here, especially if you’re looking for some quality VHS-era fun with a friend or someone close without having to worry about too many checkpoint restarts.
"Huntdown’s combat and action offers up a fair bit of challenge. Calling on those long-since dormant skills of dodging projectiles whilst keeping an eye on many moving 2D objects and reacting and timing jumps and shots just so.”
On that note it would have been nice to see some form of online co-op included – ala Streets of rage 4. Huntdown is entirely playable solo, and in fact you could say that the challenge and increasing difficulty of the later stages is better suited to going it alone. A one-person army cleaning up the streets has the right grindhouse feel to it. Especially when most story (outside of the scene setting opening crawl and mission breakdown) is essentially a handful of expletive-filled phrases thrown around. The bosses are all lively and talkative, adding flavour to the many encounters.
But in the end, where Huntdown falters brings us back to that one area it excels - presentation. Where the music, art, sound design, and detail work wonders to keep you engaged. Unlike the excellent soundtrack, once the gameplay and mechanics find their groove there are very few moments of surprise outside of the major boss battles and few new obstacles or enemy types thrown into the mix. In fact, there’s a sense that traversal and movement is a little half-baked when you can probably play the entire game forgetting there’s a button to dash.
Also, little touches like kicking enemies when they’re close into the air and then blasting them before they hit the ground is the sort of style needed to match Huntdown’s, well, style. Again, if the aesthetic grabs you it won’t let go until the final scumbag meets the end of your firearm. Just don’t expect your moves to match that of the funky synth-lines simmering below the neon, vibrant, and pleasantly grimy surface.
What we liked
Wonderful presentation from voice-over work to music and art
Cheesy VHS-vibe channels 80s and 90s action
Challenging boss fights and encounters
What we didn't like
Simple arcade beat-em up setup means there's not a lot of depth to the action