Heaven's Machine is the first of Super Rare Games’ ‘Super Rare Shorts’ series; brand new indie games only released on the Switch in physical form and only available to buy during a short open preorder window. It's certainly an unusual idea but, unfortunately, this is probably not the start they were hoping for.
Heaven's Machine is a twin stick controlled action roguelite filled with guns set onboard a heavenly train — so far, so promising. However, it will kill you off very quickly if you try to play it like a twin stick controlled action roguelite filled with guns set onboard a heavenly train. Rush in guns blazing and you’ll soon discover that, due to the spread of bullets onscreen and often tight areas, your short dash is just as likely to get you into trouble as it is out of it. Getting hit seems to offer no grace period whatsoever: if four bullets are overlapping when they hit you, you get hit four times.
So, as getting in close or trying to dodge bullets will probably get you killed, the only alternative is to play the game like a cover shooter, ducking in and out from behind whatever random walls the latest rectangular room has been decorated with. It’s a dull routine that soon reveals how simplistic and same-y the AI used by the game’s small pool of enemies is, as well as how similar the guns feel to one another. The large multi-barrelled bullet-spitter lacks any weight to it and the shotgun has no kickback, so in practice the biggest difference between any two guns is whether you hold or tap the shoulder button to fire.
The roguelite aspects of the game are equally undercooked, the randomness feeling truly random as opposed to an unpredictable escalation of ever-changing events. We personally witnessed the first room of the first stage contain anything from zero to nineteen enemies, and every room in every stage after that had a similarly haphazard sprinkling of foes, ranging from literally empty to overwhelming. Even in a roguelite the difficulty should be modelled on a curve, not a staccato lurch between two extremes.
A litany of smaller unforced errors round off a disappointing package. There’s no way to pause the game short of hitting the Home button on your Switch; even if you’re looking at the inventory screen and completely blind to the rest of the game, enemies will still move in for the kill. The overly-long pick up animations make it not only possible but likely you’ll not actually acquire your end-of-stage bonus items unless you stand still and wait for them to play out rather than run through the door ahead. On death you're immediately sent back to the very beginning of the first level without even an end-of-run stat screen between the two. If you do clear the game, the only change is the appearance of a brief and unsatisfying credits sequence before being sent back to the title screen.
Basic stability isn’t something to be taken for granted, either; the game outright crashed on us once while perusing the inventory screen, and at other times UI elements failed to tidy themselves away. Even the simple act of progressing from one carriage to the next feels rough, the screen visibly taking a moment to clear and then refresh the layout as if you’ve caught the game before it’s ready.
As a small, short experience, it's not entirely without merit, but if you enjoy lightly randomised action then the Switch already has the likes of Enter the Gungeon, Dead Cells, and Hades for you to play. Heaven's Machine is sadly best left for collectors to keep safely sealed away.