Twin-stick shooters generally have a lot in common with one another. Most of the time, they’ll throw an absurd amount of enemies in your direction, and it’s often an exercise in basic survival against the odds, with bullets flying in every direction possible. Colt Canyon certainly displays aspects of this, but it’s an altogether more subdued, deliberate experience – and it’s all the better for it.
Set in a typical Western setting (meaning cacti and tumbleweed are particularly abundant), Colt Canyon sees you take on the role of a cowboy who must save his partner from a gang of outlaws. As you progress through the game you’ll quickly unlock new characters, each of which are equipped with their own unique weapon and traits. It’s a fast-paced experience, but there’s a surprising focus on stealth, and it actually feels very similar to games like Hotline Miami in this regard; you’re rewarded for meticulously combing the environment and taking out enemies without being seen, and there’s a wonderful rhythmic feeling to the gameplay once you overcome its steep difficulty curve.
The view is top-down, and graphically the game is heavily pixelated. This artistic style certainly won’t be to everyone's taste, but it works well for the most part and suits the grimy, brutal setting of the Wild West. But really, it’s the gameplay that truly shines here. The game initially walks you through how to shoot, reload, and all the other basics, but crucially it also teaches you how to unleash a stealth attack.
It’s tempting, at first, to treat Colt Canyon like every other shooter and go in all guns blazing, but that simply won’t work. For starters, you won’t have enough ammo, and you’ll frequently need to plunder crates for more, but the enemies in this game are also incredibly adept at killing you. Once a group of them notice your presence, it can be very difficult to make it out alive. This is where the stealth attack comes in.
Pressing ZL allows you to perform a dodge roll, which on its own is great for leaping out of the way of incoming bullets. But if you also press R mid-roll, you’ll perform the stealth attack. This is a one-hit kill move that you’ll quickly become reliant on if you’re to make it through the levels alive; not only is it deadly, but it will also grant you bonus ammo if executed perfectly, which definitely helps to even the odds a bit. Plus, it’s incredibly satisfying to perform, as each successful attack is accompanied by a spray of blood across the sepia-toned earth.
Of course, the gunplay itself is also incredibly fun. You’ll constantly have fairly limited ammo, so it’s important to make every shot count; moving the right analogue stick brings up an aiming reticle that you can move in and out as well as every possible direction. Moving it further out causes it to expand, which makes missing your intended target far more likely. Some enemies die with one shot, while others may take 3 or 4 to defeat, so you need to make sure that if you are discovered, you’re always fully prepared.
To help you along the way, you’ll also come across prisoners that you can free in exchange for an upgrade. You’ll generally have a choice of about 3 or 4 to choose from, and these can include boosts to your health, premium arrows that deal more damage, and more. You can also hire the prisoner to help you take down enemies, if you wish. It’s a simple system overall, but the upgrades on offer make a real difference to your chances of survival.
As is the case with all roguelikes, the levels themselves are procedurally-generated, meaning no two playthroughs are the same. Roguelikes seem to be like Marmite a lot of the time, but if you’re one who’s normally not too keen on randomly-generated games, we’d urge you to give this one a go. Its level structure is fairly open, meaning that you’ll always have multiple options available to you, so you can tailor your approach to each situation. Crucially, the game never feels like it’s unfairly stacked against you.
We should also note as well that the developer has informed us of an upcoming patch that wasn’t quite ready for review. This will apparently unlock more weapons and loadouts, make smashing loot crates faster, and improve the overall balance of the game. We didn’t have much of an issue with these aspects in the first place, but it's nice that they’re getting improved regardless.
Colt Canyon is an excellent roguelike with razor-sharp gameplay that’s incredibly addictive. The rhythmic action is comparable to titles like Hotline Miami, and there’s a constant temptation to have ‘just one more go’. Some may not be too keen on the heavily-pixelated graphics, but it’s the gameplay that truly shines through here, and once you’ve conquered the steep difficulty curve you’ll find this to be a fine addition to the Switch’s growing selection of roguelikes.