They say that one's home is his castle, and Gunhouse from Necrosoft Games puts you front and centre to defend yours. Part sliding block puzzle game, part tower defence, the two radically different gameplay styles come together to produce a radical experience. Although mobile ports are becoming more prominent on Switch, and matching puzzlers are ten-a-penny, this colourful combo tries to add enough to the formula to separate it from the competition.
From the outset, looking at our screenshots of Gunhouse might have already nudged your opinion one way or the other. Suffice to say that the ludicrously unique neon pastel graffiti art style is immediately alluring, and the soundtrack is simply excellent, ranging from smooth ambient saxophone to wild jazz fusion chip tune to didgeridoos with a light drizzle of funk. Its soundtrack is eclectic, catchy and completely left field every note of the way.
Despite its surreal visual style, The premise is rather straightforward. You are protecting your house and a group of orphans against attacks from a seemingly endless onslaught of wacky, weird and wonderful characters, ranging from dis-proportioned anthropomorphic animals with mechanical grabbing hats to demonically possessed vehicles. They're all delightfully demented and have a ton of personality.
Whether it's with the aid of power ups in the regular campaign, or the stripped-down hardcore mode, the stages are split into waves (dawn, noon, dusk and night). The exotic locales and colour palettes might change, but the objective remains the same: clear the stage of all the enemies before you run out of hearts and have to try again. Now, in order to achieve this, there is a grid (your house) on the right hand side of the screen with rows of different coloured blocks. Later on, this depends on which suitably cartoonish and bonkers weapon load out you have chosen for that particular level.
Moving a row one tile at a time, you'll have to make bigger blocks of matching colour (a minimum of 2x2) and shift them left or right, depending on which side they are on. You have to go hard and fast, as the shutter on your house closes every 18 seconds, and then the weapons you have accumulated during your turn are at your disposal to protect yourself. There are different variations depending on the side they were shifted to, such as a giant ice wall as opposed to a more offensive snowball gun, but the priority is to equip yourself with as much artillery as you can.
You can also match your tiles to the ones shown in a small window at the top of the screen for extra bonuses. There's almost a Rubik's Cube-like methodology to master for the most efficient turns, as the opening stages can feel a bit imbalanced. As tempting as it is initially to take a 'fire everything' approach, it is necessary to exercise caution as the game gets more difficult, as the other side of the frantic weapon gathering coin is that things just might not go your way, and you'll be stuck just hoping for damage limitation until you get another crack at it.
You'll then select the weapon you want to fire as the opposing forces advance to deplete health, take away the aforementioned orphans and generally cause destruction to your precious residence. As enemies drop cash that can be vacuumed up and spent on weapons or upgrades in addition to replenishing hearts, there's a fair amount of resource management and risk reward of balancing variety against power at play. In addition, there are three objectives in each stage, ranging from having a certain amount of money in the bank to using a particular weapon a certain number of times.
Although the shop where you can buy upgrades and new types of weapons is far from intuitive, it isn't the main issue with Gunhouse. It might well come down to personal taste, but the process of making blocks, and in turn, weapons, is a bit more restrictive than it could have been. While the turn based mechanic is a novel twist on both the puzzle and tower defence element of the game, a greater variety in the shapes you can make would have added another dimension to the combat.
As it stands, witnessing a downpour of grinning skulls or a bright sonic boom from an orange mechanical dragon is a more than reasonable return on the repetitive nature of the gameplay, but then there is the control scheme. The game still maintains the touch interface present from the mobile and vita versions, which works pretty well. However, using the sticks and 'A' to confirm your selection is another option, but it feels nowhere near as fluid as the touch controls. The payoff is that on a big TV, Gunhouse is a psychedelic, wide-eyed and gloriously vivid experience.
Even if it sounds cliché, Gunhouse really is a game of two halves. On the one hand you have an immensely attractive looking title with a wonderfully unique art style, some amazing music and over the top characters. After a few rounds though, it feels like they are trying to mask what is underneath - a simple and sometimes frustrating sliding block puzzle game. The rules seem a bit too restrictive given the interesting melding of genres, especially how the controls in docked mode aren't ideal compared to using using the touchscreen in handheld mode. When things do click though, and there's a barrage of crazy firepower at your disposal. If you can embrace the craziness and forgive the missteps, the game becomes an immensely satisfying and addictive experience.