It was once said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and with the icon / box art being a homage to a certain hellish current-gen first-person shooter, 10tons' most recent port - Crimsonland - tries to establish its similarly savage tone and style right from the off. It's such a brazen reference that you'll feel like you've been caught in the blood soaked crossfire. Although it's a top down, twin stick shooter, the game is certainly a callback to the gratuitous violence and sly wit of early '90s gore fests as well as basic yet addictive arcade classics.
Originally released on PC way back in 2003 and later brought to consoles and mobile in 2014 / 2015, the game finds a new home on Nintendo Switch with no new bells or whistles to speak of, aside from the obligatory local co-op taking advantage of the hardware. Performance wise, Nintendo's hybrid console is more than up to the task and everything runs smoothly- dealing with tens, sometimes even hundreds of enemies on screen at once, as well as all sorts of lasers, explosions and liberal splatterings of the red stuff.
Crimsonland spends very little time attempting to set up a scenario - it's a standard post-apocalyptic invasion, and it's pretty inconsequential in any case. Upon starting the game you are presented with two gameplay options. A survival mode and a criminally misleading quest mode. In order to fully get the most out of survival mode, however, you'll have to wade through the campaign made up of six sets of ten levels that are as limited as they are repetitive.
The goal is to kill all of the various beasties that appear in order to fill up a green meter at the top of the screen and progress. Each level is intense but normally over quickly - you'll see the statistics-laden end of level screen within a couple of minutes. Hit accuracy, the time taken and your weapon of choice are all logged, as well as any new power ups you have collected along the way, but more on that later. You'll get more enemies or a combination of different critters as you plough through. Lizards, spiders and the undead will bother rather than cause serious trouble, but the further into the campaign you go spawn points start to appear, which need to be dealt with quickly.
There is a decent range of weapons to try out from your trusty - if pretty rubbish - pistol, to shotguns and assault rifles, to flame throwers and rocket launchers. These are all handy in taking down the handful of different enemy types, and bigger enemies take a bit more firepower to mow down. The difference between the levels, however, is aesthetically as well as geographically negligible. There are no additional objectives, no architecture to navigate or verticality to utilise, no destructible buildings, nothing. Just the odd skull, road or helipad on a slightly different shade of muted, earthy colour to cover in the remnants of your foes over and over. Likewise, the chugging guitar soundtrack, serviceable weapon sound effects and various agonising groans as you plough through zombies or get 'caught by the reaper' try to enhance the overall presentation. It's a real shame that these aspect don't have more impact, as the action and the perk system are what makes Crimsonland a fun and frantic experience.
As the action ramps up - and it does, rapidly - enemies continually drop power ups which are instantly usable. These orbs are the backbone of what make Crimsonland as fun and as addictive as it is. In addition, the four different perks are offered each time the blue bar is filled, and are both great in number and wide in variety - mixing luck, extra speed and accuracy, to health and damage, to freezing or slowing down everything on screen to give you the upper hand. They add a thin layer of strategy as each involves a balance between attributes, and selecting the right perk at the right time can be key.
There are even bits of cheeky humour in the description that amuse during the brief breaks from the carnage. The item drops and perks keep things both fresh and fast paced, and it is constantly entertaining to see dozens of zombies get wiped out in a few short seconds. Turning evasive manoeuvres into devastating chains of attack makes for some genuinely thrilling and cathartic situations. Backing away from a seemingly impenetrable and ever increasing cluster of creepy crawlies, only to clear just enough of a path to snatch a weapon that spews out spiralling fireballs and obliterates anything on screen is incredibly gratifying.
When you head back to survival mode there are variations on time limits, using certain weapons, sacrificing mobility for increased damage and so on. The local multiplayer for up to four Joy-Con wielding troopers is fun in short bursts, and the global online leaderboards will likely keep high score junkies coming back for just one more round.
Progressing the twin stick shooter genre is no easy task, and Crimsonland makes a mechanically valiant if visually lethargic attempt. There are the foundations of a great game here - the moment to moment gameplay is a basic yet guilty pleasure of relentless, gratuitous violence, and the perk system and weapons within a level are consistently and immensely rewarding to use. While the action is ludicrous, fun, dumb and obnoxiously brash, the game is let down by its bland presentation, repetitive and uninspired quest mode and non-existent level design. It hides what is, at its core, an addictive and sadistically entertaining experience. It will make you realise how awesome it would be to have something like Dead Nation or even DOOM on the system. Oh, wait...