Many jobs seem to make us automatically assume traits about those employed in the role. We expect surgeons to be precise and specific, cleaners to be organised and immaculate and train conductors to be timely and observant. That said, there are always exceptions; Charlie Knight, developer of Son of Scoregasm, was a gardener by trade, yet the game is neither relaxing nor calm, and, by design, it is most definitely not a walk in the park.
Son of Scoregasm turns traditional twin-stick arcade-shooter mechanics on their head, with each of its levels and waves either carefully designed or programmed to act responsively to the player. If there is any random-number work going on here, it is carefully hidden behind reactive (or simply cunning) waves of enemies. The real stinger, that which makes the game both memorable and unique — even more so than some of its levels, which I’ll get to in a moment — is the combat mechanics.
Most arcade shooters tend to fall into one of three camps: 1) one constant, steady weapon, an occasional, screen-wiping bonus weapon and an endless flood of enemies; 2) alternating weapons versus carefully constructed, steady-paced waves; or 3) one weapon, a lot of enemies and a mass of pick-ups. Son of Scoregasm breaks from these moulds by having the aforementioned, carefully laid-out levels, as well as two weapons, each with a different role within the context of the game.
The first weapon is a rapid fire weapon, capable of destroying almost everything in one shot. The second is a pulse attack which purges or pushes everything within a small radius of yourself. The latter doesn’t just fire quickly, it also earns you score — which seems like a strange thing to say, but might make more sense once you’re aware of the role of the pulse. The pulse weapon, which is the only way to destroy bullets, will build up your multiplier as it neuters bullets and destroys your foes.
This combination of two weapons creates two extremes in the gameplay: survival and score chasing. Survival is definitely the name of the game on earlier plays. Each of the levels use different mechanics and are split in half between a steady, introductory phase and a manic, high frequency phase — the second prompted by a ‘Get Ready’ message. Players must clear levels in order to unlock the next, so early plays are best spent simply concentrating on getting through — using the pulse and cannon to get you out of a pickle, rather than trying to build scores.
As mentioned earlier, each of the Son of Scoregasm’s levels are hand designed. There’s massive variety from an early level, where you must shoot (and pulse) rollers on either side of you to crush enemies who are rushing the stage. There are also bosses to beat, each with different mechanics, from simple, beautifully patterned bullet waves to deflective shields and ‘charge’ attacks. Levels on the level select screen are laid out in a branching web, organised by difficulty, with paths linking between them through completing previous or adjacent levels — like in Star Fox, or OMG Zombies. It culminates in six boss fights, each rewarding a pleasant biscuit and contributing to Earth’s salvation.
Once you’ve fought through the levels, it’s time to return and earn some medals and high scores. I confess, I’m no pro at shooters, however due to the bespoke nature of each level it’s fairly easy to learn (before the ‘Get Ready’) where enemies come in from. At that point the game becomes more about identifying patterns and ensuring that you don’t overuse your pulse (which charges both over time and as you kill with your primary weapon) so you can bail out from bullets in the later parts of the level.
While most of the enemies in Son of Scoregasm, with their various designs, drop in a single shot, there are giants hidden among them: cannons, giant rolling nuts and more. These only tend to appear in a few levels and must be observed and studied in order to best them efficiently. Some simply need to be pushed back into a wall, others require sustained fire and many of them move differently to one another. It’s an interesting inclusion and underlines that Son of Scoregasm is a game best enjoyed through repetition, rather than a single, deep dive — it rewards players who like the snap-second restart on level failure.
I did experience some controller issues with it, namely that it didn’t quite seem to know what to do when I loaded up the game and decided to play on keyboard and mouse after a short time playing on controller. Outside that, however, the game performs flawlessly, the music (and what music!) performed flawlessly and I didn’t notice a dropped frame despite everything going on — and in the busier levels, there’s a lot going on.
For the launch price of £6.99, Son of Scoregasm is an amazing capture for fans of twin-stick shooters. That said, the genre regularly fails to launch over that price due to the niche. Son of Scoregasm is more a game about building up habits and finessing your way of dealing with the routine, tweaking and pruning your reflexes and reactions, than it is a traditional shooter. For that, and every effort the developer has made to turn their original concept on its head, it deserves attention.