Matterfall is the latest game by Housemarque, the studio behind excellent twin stick shooters like Resogun and Nex Machina. The game is exclusive to the PS4 and is a side-scroller with tons of twin stick shooting and platforming thrown in.
In the vein of previous Housemarque titles, Matterfall is heavy on the techno music, flashy particle effects and lighting. While the audiovisual presentation is superb, the game falters in some key gameplay mechanics that holds it back from being among the best games the studio has made.
The game is based in a sci-fi future where heavy dependency on an unknown technology has led to a ‘bad situation’ for humans. You play as Avalon Darrow, as you set out clean up the mess while other humans are being evacuated. Unlike Nex Machina or Resogun – where the movement had more of a floaty feel to it, and you could focus on shooting and dashing – Matterfall has a lot of platforming involved in it. And while the concept itself is good, there are some really frustrating control issues that often times break the flow of combat and never really felt intuitive or graceful. You use the left and right bumpers to jump and dash, and use L2 to shoot ‘Matter’. R1 for jump feels really odd, and while the developers have already said that they have made the control scheme the way it is so as to never have the player take their thumbs off the sticks, it just didn’t feel right to me even after 2-3 hours of playing. I eventually did get used to it, but I missed the frantic the flow of combat from Housemarque’s previous titles.
When you dash, you can freeze enemies in your path, which opens the up for attack. You shoot the beam of ‘Matter’ using L2 to, and this activates semi-transparent floors and walls. This makes for some clever platforming, but combine that with dashing, jumping, moving and shooting and things can start to feel a bit clumsy and hectic. However, if you do stick with it, you can get a hang of it, and the gem becomes a lot more fun. While the initial stages are relatively easier, later stages can get insanely frantic with waves of enemies coming at you. This is where you’ll be putting everything you have to use, and with the beautiful particle effects, can make for a visual treat.
The level designs are varied and interesting, and each area ends with a boss. The boss fights themselves are tough and happen in multiple phases. Some of these can get really challenging, but winning is ultimately satisfying, and especially towards the end where getting to a checkpoint will feel like a huge relief.
There’s a also a ton of replayability here. You can go back and try to get the top scores on the leaderboards, discover hidden areas and rescue humans. Overall, Matterfall has all the makings of a Housemarque game, and is tremendously fun when everything clicks. However, it take a while getting used to, and if you’re not patient you could be put off by it.