On the mayhem-filled streets of a hyper-violent future version of society, marauding criminal gangs have taken control. Police are all but powerless – fighting desperately in the face of overwhelming odds – the public is in hiding and it's now down to hardcore bounty hunters with an insatiable hunger for cold-hard cash to wade into the bloody morass and take down the thugs that have turned the city into a smouldering warzone.
Easy Trigger Games' Huntdown is a retro side-scrolling arcade shooter that takes the 16-bit stylings of the classic run n' gun games it seeks to emulate and ramps up the graphical detail and wanton destruction beautifully. Meaty gunfire rips through walls, splinters wood and tears human targets limb-from-limb in fantastically gory detail; the game's glorious cyberpunk battlefields left a bloody mess of broken bodies and busted backdrops as your stone-cold bounty hunter shoots their way from contract to contract, taking down the bosses of various gangs as they wrestle back control from the vicious thugs and hooligans who have made every street corner and alleyway their home.
The tone here is very much The Warriors, the gameplay a direct call-back to classics such as Contra, Metal Slug, Robocop and Renegade. Platforming, for the most part, takes a firm backseat to straight-up shooting as you mow your way through short, fast-paced levels stuffed full of roller-skating hockey thugs, leather-clad punks and bike-riding greasers wielding everything from iron bars to the very latest in futuristic automatic weaponry.
Choosing from one of three bounty hunters – the zero-tolerance Anna Conda, cyborg John Sawyer or hard-boiled recon droid Mow Man, you (and a friend if you're blasting through the campaign in local co-op) receive your orders from the Wolf Mother, spokesperson for the Shimamoto Corporation, who'll provide you with intel on the whereabouts of five bosses for each of the gangs spread across the various areas of the city. Take down the five bosses and you'll loosen the grip of that gang on their respective area.
Each of the three bounty hunters at your disposal in Huntdown has a different primary weapon but all share the same move set, alongside the ability to pick up a ton of secondary weapons that they'll find strewn around the game's various battlegrounds. As well as getting tooled-up with rocket launchers, remotely-detonated bombs, sniper rifles and futuristic machine guns, your avatar can also dash to avoid attacks, kick nearby foes, slide across the ground, take cover behind objects and in shadowy corners as they march into relentless enemy gunfire.
The ability to push up on the D-pad, Rolling Thunder-style, in front of darkened doorways and alleys to take shelter, popping out to return fire at a goon who's doing exactly the same, is just one those gaming mechanics that immediately makes the gunfights you're involved in look and feel super cool. These moments are further embellished by the whizzing, whistling and loud pings of bullets as they fly by or ricochet off nearby surfaces. Your hunter can only shoot horizontally in front of themselves and – although this rather unique restriction takes a little getting used to – it helps focus the action, making taking cover and using platforms to get a clear line of sight on enemies a vital part of staying alive.
The various areas that make up Huntdown's futuristic cityscape are each broken up into five short zones which all follow much the same pattern; you'll jump out of your futuristic sports car, blast your way through an initial open area then head indoors to fight through a few screens-worth of scum before reaching a boss battle. Clear the boss and you'll get a chance to return to your vehicle before heading back out to rinse and repeat in the next zone of the mission. If there's one aspect of the game that we did feel a little disappointed with it's this lack of diversity in structure, having the flow of levels play out more or less the same every time. Sure, each area is stuffed full of new types of goon and each has their own flavour and style, but there's no escaping the fact that they all follow the exact same script with a little bit of outdoors, then indoors, then boss.
However, this lack of variety in how missions flow is more than made up for by just how good it feels to blast through these deadly gauntlets, the fine detail in every aspect of the pixel-style graphics infusing everything you do with a real sense of satisfying momentum and weight. Your bounty hunter feels great to control as they manoeuvre through gunfights, their clothes swooping and swishing as they jump and slide, their weapons turning enemies into bloody giblets and scenery into smouldering ruins as they leap around platforms and take cover from the crazed mobs piling out of subway trains, emerging from sewers and arriving on all manner of vehicles in an attempt to take you down.
Adding to this is the constantly high quality – and quantity – of the boss battles you'll come up against. From fast-paced shootouts in wrestling rings to face-offs against cocky greasers riding hoverbikes, sneaky snipers and a standout dust-up against a crazed hockey goalie in a monolithic stadium full of goons, all of the many boss battles here manage to strike a perfect balance between being challenging without punishing you to the point of rage-quitting. Indeed, across the board, Huntdown does a great job of resurrecting this old-school style of run n' gun gameplay whilst leaving the often soul-destroying difficulty of coin-up classics at the door – well, at least it does on normal mode.
There's also a surprising amount of spoken dialogue for your choice of hunter as well as all of the bosses and thugs you come up against during the campaign. The bosses, in particular, are a standout element in this regard and there's lots of personality injected into each and every one of them as a result. There are also lots of fun little retro pop-culture references to pick up on as you blast through Huntdown; one early boss with a very familiar Russian surname repeatedly tells you that she must break you as she tears around the screen, whilst another, a crazed war-veteran, constantly rambles on about "the horror, the horror!" as you attempt to avoid his heavy machinegun fire and grenades. The soundtrack too, an excellent mixture of atmospheric retro-futuristic synth and heavy metal elements will, from time to time, drift into a few bars of something very familiar – there are smatterings of Terminator and Robocop in there for sure, and it's a ton of fun picking out all these little references as you blast through the game.
In terms of replayability, there are three difficulty settings to choose from starting out in Huntdown, with a punishing Badass mode unlocked once you play through the entire campaign, and each level also has a few hidden stashes to uncover or retrieve from fast-moving couriers in order to earn a perfect ranking – you'll also need to kill every goon in an area and avoid death completely if you wish to gain all three medals that net you this achievement. Local co-op is also perfectly implemented and blasting through levels with a bounty hunter pal really does add to the longevity here. Performance-wise on Switch, Huntdown manages to stick to a flawless 60fps in both portable and docked modes, looking and sounding excellent whilst doing so and we didn't experience any crashes, bugs or other issues during our time in either solo or co-operative play. Overall this is a super slick and stylish package that's packed full of excellent boss battles, meaty weapons, satisfying controls and some top-notch graphics and audio.
Huntdown is a delightfully detailed and expertly crafted throwback to old-school run n' gun arcade shooters. The 16-bit graphical style is immaculately recreated whilst adding lots of modern bells and whistles to proceedings, including a fantastic soundtrack and audio design, optional CRT filter and an arsenal of heavy-duty weapons that chew scenery and enemies to pieces as your bounty hunter makes their way from boss fight to excellent boss fight. The flow of levels may be quite repetitive but the moment-to-moment gameplay, overall sense of fun that comes from the level of carnage you can dish out, surprising amount of hammy spoken dialogue and constant pop-culture references all combine to make this one an easy recommendation, and another excellent addition to the Switch's action catalogue.