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Friday, July 9, 2021

Review: Boomerang X (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Harvard L.

From its beginning, Boomerang X seems like it’d be a pretty unassuming game – the player washes up on a beach, comically tosses away a survival knife, and finds a four-bladed weapon (it looks more like a shuriken, but the game’s called Boomerang X so we’ll call it a boomerang from now on) before moving onto arenas to kill shadowy enemies. Movement is fun and the environments are interesting, and I had some mild enjoyment tossing the boomerang at enemies, but I did start thinking that publisher Devolver Digital has gone soft for picking this one up for distribution.

Then, a few levels in, I unlocked the mechanic which lets me jump in the direction of a boomerang in-flight. And from that point, the game stopped being mildly interesting, and started being Cool As Hell™.

Boomerang X is a game by indie studio DANG! that offers a frenetic sense of movement. It’s a constant barrage of flashy, cinematic moments, with levels and enemies designed to challenge players’ abilities to warp around huge environments while avoiding damage and landing precise ranged attacks. As with a few other games in Devolver’s wheelhouse, like My Friend Pedro or Ape Out, Boomerang X is wholly context-free hyper-stylised action. This game manages to translate the feeling of precision and movement from those 2D games to a 3D space, giving players various options which feel intuitive and powerful to use.


Gameplay is super simple – players are tossed into a large arena, with a floating purple jewel in the centre. At first things are quiet; you get the chance to jump around the various platforms and gain your bearings, but once you break the crystal, you’ll be faced with a few waves of increasingly difficult enemies. Each wave has a number of required “target” enemies, and others that are optional (but still remain threatening if left unchecked). As soon as the marked enemies are dead, the wave ends and the next begins, until the stage is done and players are sent hurtling down another blue tunnel in search of more abilities and harder fights.

The lack of narrative framing allows DANG! to be as visually striking as possible with its environment and enemy design. Players will find themselves hurtling down rocky caverns, wading through swamps and soaring atop enormous Gothic church steeples in moment-to-moment gameplay. Levels are massively vertical, requiring players to use the game’s various movement options to traverse the space and line up their shots on the enemies. The simple yet evocative graphical style allows for huge, visually memorable environments that still run perfectly on the Switch hardware, even in handheld.

The enemies are similarly creative and surreal. Although they all abide by the same visual code of a black shadowy mass with a glowy red weak-point, enemies soon vary hugely in size, speed and attack pattern. I loved how unexpected each new encounter would be, and how the enemies necessitated players to use all the tools given to them. Early on players get a scattershot, which immediately gets tested in subsequent levels featuring swarming enemies. Later on, a long-range piercing shot becomes the best way to take out mage-like creatures that teleport away if players get too close. As a sidenote, I also liked how enemies are more amorphous rather than biological, so unlike many of Devolver’s action games, the violence isn’t too visceral for younger or more squeamish players.


And that’s it – that’s Boomerang X. It’s a simple game with not a lot of fancy bells and whistles, but what it does provide, it really excels at. I think of the gameplay loop as being similar to something like Devil Daggers or Lovely Planet – no-nonsense action that keeps the adrenaline pumping, and constantly ups the ante with new and more difficult challenges. It’s the kind of game that has a speedrun counter built right into the options menu.

I’m not too sure the Switch is the best way to experience this game though. It does seem like more of a mouse-keyboard affair with all the 180 turns and precision aiming. The Switch port does offer gyro controls for the extra finesse, as well as a generous (and toggle-able) aim-assist which makes the levels all possible – but I can imagine this game being a lot more fun for the aim-training FPS crowd. Over time on a big TV I did also start feeling motion sick, likely from a combination of bright colours and gravity-defiance, so approach this one with caution if you’re susceptible to nausea.

Overall, I had a great time with Boomerang X. The action is tight and it always feels like an expression of skill whenever a level is successfully beaten. The surreal fantasy setting also matches the game’s tone perfectly, providing moments of surprise and wonder with each new level. The simplicity in DANG!’s design really works in their favour – it provides an excellent degree of challenge with unique, memorable mechanics and no wasted time. It’s a masterclass in fast-paced, precision-based 3D action.



- Harvard L.
Contributor

Review: Boomerang X (Nintendo Switch)
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