Thursday, January 24

Review: Utopia 9 - A Volatile Vacation [Nintendo Switch eShop]

If you’ve followed my reviews by now you should be quite aware that I’m a fan of shooters, and when you throw roguelike into that mix I have a tendency to get excited. With so many great titles that fit that bill out there on the eShop the Switch is a great system to own. The thing is, with so much greatness available when you have a title come along that’s not quite in that same league it also tends to stick out all the more. Sadly, that’s very much the case for Utopia 9: A Volatile Vacation.

Starting with what’s positive it does have some good ideas and it does inevitably get tense in places. Every run you’ll start out with pistol and your suitcase, fitting with the vacation theme. You’re there, enemies armed with all manner of weapons and gear will try to kill you, you kill them first… you get the idea. Random upgrades are found in containers and the first bit of challenge thrown at you will be inventory management. You have two alternating major slots to work with, smaller weapons and gear can fit half of that slot, allowing for a small weapon or another piece of gear (small arms, a shield, a small melee weapon) in each hand. Weapons that pack more of a punch take up the full slot though, so before long you’ll need to start making some tough choices.

Ammo and health management play a major role in things, though you can earn perks called mutations that may help you out in those areas. In general, keeping a melee weapon handy isn’t a bad idea, though your starter suitcase is only so effective. The big honking wrench you can wield does serious damage but is slow to swing and takes an entire slot. To the game’s credit balance is generally well thought out and when combined with the random nature of what you may get made available to you in a given run it makes things reasonably challenging. As you complete areas you’ll get to choose where you go next in the branching paths on the map and some hints at what type of gear is generally there, at least putting some ability back in your hands to pick what you prefer but always keep an eye on what other options remain after that so you maximize your potential at every step of the way.

Where things go south unfortunately begins with the controls. The biggest problem is the means of switching weapons, which is mapped to the D-pad buttons. Since this is a twin-stick shooter that means changing between your weapons on the fly is a royal pain in the ass and that’s a bit of a crippler. Movement is also a bit slow and wonky as a whole and it hinders any sense of there being a flow to combat. In particular I didn’t like that when you go inside buildings in search of gear the very small rooms and forced proximity to enemies, especially as they get stronger weapons, tended to be a cheap means of chipping away at your health, and replenishing it is slow at best. One curious feature is that when you die one of the enemies will pick up your gear and become a sort of powered up nemesis creature of some kind but though you could then get back those same items on the next run in general that feature didn’t add much to the fun. There is an option to play co-op with someone but with the core experience being very middle of the road another person playing with you just doesn’t move the needle much, if at all.

Perhaps is this had come out earlier in the system’s lifespan there would have been more room for cutting it a break but almost 2 years in the competition is pretty fierce and comparisons really chew Utopia 9 up. It’s not fast and furious, it’s not full of crazy weapons and the unexpected, it’s just reasonably average with pacing that trends towards being slow. I have no doubt if you’re looking for something a little different this will put up a challenge for a few hours but with so many white-knuckle shooters already available it’s also hard to recommend with any enthusiasm.

Score: 6.5

  • Weapon management forces making tough choices
  • A variety of means for killing enemies including melee, beam, explosive, and more traditional bullet weapons
  • The perks made available to you are varied and random, helping make runs feel different each time

  • The controls, specifically the buttons for changing weapons, are not well-conceived for intense play
  • Health packs are limited and there are too many cheap ways to whittle away your health in general
  • There are simply too many games in the genre that play better in the eShop to give this one a pass