A retro game with a modern soundtrack, “Luckslinger” brings a cute twist to side-scrolling jump-and-shoot games: a randomized luck element that can change the way levels unfold. These unexpected elements are fun to watch play out, but the game’s brutal challenge might keep players from ever riding into the sunset.
Set in the Wild West, “Luckslinger” borrows heavily from Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” Spaghetti Western anti-hero. The Luckslinger himself is a bounty hunter (with a pet duck!) who ends up helping a nearly abandoned frontier town named Clovercreek. The sheriff is a drunk. The buildings are falling apart. Ever since a posse of bandits stole the town’s mysterious good luck charms, poor old Clovercreek has lost its luster.
To locate those missing talismans, you must navigate a charmingly pixelized world that brings to mind 1980s classics like “King’s Quest” and “Super Mario Bros.” As you travel, your current amount of luck can trigger bad or good events to happen. A low level might cause an additional enemy gunman to step out from behind a rock, while a high amount might make a friendly mole appear to save you from missing a jump. One of the best lucky tricks also happens the most often: good luck can make enemy bullets veer wildly, hilariously, off course.
Retrieving the charms from the bandits will help resurrect Clovercreek, bringing back townspeople and cleaning up the old buildings. Unfortunately, the gotta-earn-it gameplay of “Luckslinger” does not offer much leeway to get you to that happy conclusion. Similar to old games like “Mega Man,” you will need to memorize how enemies attack and where they appear while managing a limited life bar. However, memorization is made more complicated thanks to the luck effects, plus the control scheme involves not only jumping and shooting but also reloading and dodge-rolling.
But “Luckslinger” has a second hook that keeps you playing through the frustration of frequent restarts and sore reflexes: a fantastic hip-hop motif. Cowboy musical riffs are turned into modern soundtrack beats, and vinyl turntables dot Clovercreek’s landscape. It’s an anachronism that is fully baked into “Luckslinger,” and it informs so many great details and visuals.
“Luckslinger” combines so many things to such great effect – the luck, the music, the art, the duck – that it is almost treasonous that the game sticks everything behind a crushingly difficult “old school” play style. It’s clear “Luckslinger” is aimed at the gamer who wants a challenge, but also appreciates a unique and unforgettable setting.
This review is based upon product supplied by the developer. “Luckslinger” is available for PC and Mac OSX via Steam. Image courtesy Duckbridge.