When one door closes another opens, and if it doesn’t, just break it down. KillHouse Games has created Door Kickers: Action Squad, a side-scrolling retropixel shooter that may appear simple enough but actually contains enough strategy and chaos that you’ll be entertained for hours.
Door Kickers operates arcade style, where you select and gear up one of six possible police offers to side scroll and shoot your way through various tactical levels. Missions involve infiltrating a complex to complete objectives such as eliminating enemies, disarming bombs, or saving hostages. Run the mission efficiently enough, and your can earn a grade of one to three stars that operate as currency you can use to upgrade your gear. As you play more levels, you can upgrade your officer as well to unlock secondary powers and abilities to utilize during your missions.
Aesthetically, Door Kickers straddles a happy medium between cartoony shoot ‘em up gore and hard boiled detective noir. The game’s setting of Nowhere City is a beautifully rendered 8-bit world filled with colorful ghettos, crime mansions, and warehouses where gangs of thugs are clearly up to no good. The enemies are hilarious, ranging from machine gun toting muscle heads in white tanks tops to lumberjacks with shotguns and even suicide bombers that run at you screaming gibberish (clearly these gangs weren’t picky with recruitment).
Much like the appearance of the enemies found in the game, the SWAT oriented action levels aren’t taken too seriously. Some missions get silly. During one warehouse run, the entire bottom floor filled with water. In another, I ran across the top of an Amtrac train taking fire from enemies while looking for a bomb to defuse. This cartoony vibe the game occasionally takes on compliments the old school, pixelated visuals.
The music soundtrack is a real standout feature — it’s loaded with cop drama tropes. I’m fairly positive the developers watched every episode of Law and Order and The Streets of San Francisco they could find and called it “project research” when making the score. The sound effects are near perfect. When you fire a gun in Door Kickers, you reel and half expect the recoil to hit your control. Explosions and screams are equally effective. The game draws you in with its sound.
I found the controls on console to be seamless and easy to pick up. That being said, I didn’t have just a simple romp through the game’s missions. Included with the audacious visuals and hard boiled soundtrack is some pretty hefty gameplay. Door Kickers is hard, man. It was a tactical ordeal to infiltrate some of these bases. Gang members duck and take cover behind chairs and tables. Others pick up hostages and use them for bullet shields. I almost broke a sweat trying over and over to attain three star ratings on some levels.
Ultimately, the difficulty is a wise choice. In order to successfully navigate through some levels, I really focused on selecting which character was best to work through the challenge. For hostage rescue, I favored the recon specialist, finding ways to sneak into certain buildings rather than going through the front door in order to snipe and surprise the enemies inside. Other times I picked the Berserker, a character that looked like Rambo in tactical gear, and jumped through a skylight in order to mow down the hordes of enemies waiting for me in one room. There’s a lot of diversity in the game, and with all of the gear and unlockable skills that come with leveling, there’s a lot of replayability, too.
The difficulty is also an incentive for you to grab a friend. Door Kickers comes with couch co-op and online play, a feature that really makes the game shine. Despite being a retropixel side scroller, I can honestly say the level of strategic gameplay that comes with an additional character is on par with tactical shooters like Rainbow Six.
A minor gripe with the game can be found in the additional game modes, which didn’t feel particularly fleshed out. The touted zombie invasion mode is really just the same missions you play in regular mode with the addition of an undead portal that you need to close, and once that’s completed, it’s just the same thing you played previously. The other mode, a randomly generated tower mode, just feels like one giant level. A little bit more variety and nuance to make these options stand on their on two feet would have made a difference in their playability.
This is a nitpicky gripe though. Overall, Door Kickers: Action Squad is a solid game to invest some serious hours into at a reasonable price tag. It contains an impressive amount of strategy, and if you’re a fan of swat simulators and tactical shooters, a 2D offering such as this will please you. You can find Door Kickers available here.