REVIEW: Rock, Paper, Lazers

‘Another day, another twin-stick shooter’ has to be the refrain going through most outside gamers’ minds when peeking in on indies. The only thing they’re still taking bets on is if the game will meet the zombie quota. Less about the undead, and focused on shooting everything else repeatedly, Rock, Paper, Lazers (80 MSP) tries to escape stereotyping.

It does this by wisely avoiding outer space (another near-staple of twin-stickers) and setting the fight on the pages of a book. You are a rock that shoots lasers. Hence the clever title. Rock, Paper, Lazers is a wave shooter. Survive for the amount on the timer, advance to the next wave. Powerups like shields, rockets, and flamethrowers, appear on the page sporadically to better your chances.

Teleportation is the game’s big bullet point. During the rounds, switching from one page to the next makes sense given the action takes place in a book, but it doesn’t significantly alter the way the game is played, other than becoming an inconvenience in later waves or on a higher difficulty. In single-player, you teleport at random after a certain time. A few seconds before you transfer, a graphic stretching from the page you’re on highlights where you’ll land on the next. That illuminated path and accompanying sound effect, meant to be helpful, actually distracts in the thick of a fight. For me, it led to more deaths than combat.

Reading is fundamental. Also dangerous.

The battles start to stale, so the game tries out themed-enemy encounters and backgrounds (Halloween, Ninjas, etc.). This doesn’t require a new approach in tactics or otherwise buoy the combat, though it is variety. And yet, throw all the ninjas and powerups on-screen that you can, Rock, Paper, Lazers is just a wave shooter and little more. Multiplayer allows four people locally to take on the waves, which would probably be more fun, should you have that option. Even with friends, the game will struggle to retain freshness beyond a half hour.

Familiarity is what makes twin-stickers so accessible, the quick gameplay that’s instantly recognizable though difficult to master. That same familiarity tends to stifle originality, leading to a deluge of entirely competent, even fun games, that piggyback and eventually cancel each other out, their one of two interesting gameplay wrinkles not enough to salvage an identity. On XBLIG, that problem runs rampant. Thus, if you’ve played one twin-stick shooter, you’ve played Rock, Paper, Lazers.

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