Games used to be a lot simpler back in the arcade days, and that's the idea behind Astrosaurus Games's first foray into the Wii U eShop, Collateral Thinking. Taking cues from the simpler games of yesteryear like Donkey Kong, Mario Bros. and Wrecking Crew, Collateral Thinking gets back to the basics as a new construction action game.
Unlike the games that inspired it, there is a bit more story to be found when you load up Collateral Thinking. The titular construction company is happy to take any job, no matter how tight the deadlines or how poor the pay. Spearmint the Bear, a greedy fellow who wants to be better than everyone else in the world, decides to build a massive tower to show off his greatness.
Because of his ridiculous demands Spearmint can't find anybody to build his tower until he happens upon Collateral Thinking, who agree to start right away even though the site is on a buried alien graveyard. Not long after, the bear gets abducted by the aliens and it's up to the construction workers to climb the tower and rescue him.
Collateral Thinking is divided up into over 100 floors. Each of them tasks you with completing a challenge in 30 seconds, but with different objectives; the three types thrown at you are titled Bust, Avoid, and Collect. Bust requires you to defeat all alien enemies, Avoid forces you to dodge enemies while unarmed, and Collect has you grabbing blueprints from around the stage. In addition to these, every 20 stages you'll face off against a boss — these particular stages have no time limit, so you can craft a plan of attack.
The simplistic nature extends to the controls. You won't find even half of the Wii U GamePad or Pro Controller's buttons utilized here — the only controls are moving, jumping, and attacking. The first playable character, Grin, has a wrench that can be swung at close range using the Y button, or thrown by holding the button for a few seconds to charge it.
The first thing to know before playing Collateral Thinking is that you should turn your TV volume down before starting the game. The sound balancing is definitely due an update; even if you have your Wii U menu music playing at a soft volume, you'll be greeted with a loud cacophony of bleeps and bloops when the game loads. Even during the game, certain notes and sound effects are much louder than anything else.
This is jarring, and the sound issues don't end there. The music itself is rather mediocre — you don't expect much from music that could have been at home on the NES or even the Atari 2600, but you won't find any tunes in here that you'll be humming after turning the game off. It's also repetitive, and we even had the music outright stop in the middle of a level once.
The retro-style graphics, while simple, get the job done — there are also nice little touches of detail like the tear in the eyes of enemies when you strike them. Ultimately, the modest aesthetics could be forgiven if the gameplay were exciting, but unfortunately Collateral Thinking falls a bit short in that regard,.
The controls, when all is said and done, aren't great. Grin stops instantaneously when you let go of the directional pad and his jump feels floaty, as pressing the button rockets him up in the sky (there's no way to do a smaller jump). In addition, when hit by an enemy your character flinches in his movement and isn't able to attack for a second — this can kill you if hit in midair over a pit. This, combined with the fact that you can take another hit just a moment after taking damage (plus the game's hit detection isn't great), means you have to be really careful when approaching enemies.
This game doesn't go easy on you — each level allows you to take three hits, and you only have three lives to use. Fall off a ledge, get hit too many times or fail to complete the objective within 30 seconds, and you'll lose a life. You can buy an additional heart or an extra life at the shop after every five rounds; these are vital to your success, so grabbing money pickups when you see them is a good idea.
Overall, the gameplay here struggles to be compelling. When you begin, the game asks you what floor you want to start on. You'll have to choose the Lobby until you clear the boss of every 20th floor, which gives you a checkpoint. This means that if you run out of lives, you have to tediously tread through earlier floors just to get another shot at a trickier stage. Thus, this is a game best played in spurts. Once you clear 20 levels you don't have to bother with them again, but mastering those levels to reach the checkpoint might be too much of a commitment for some.
This is exacerbated by some trial-and-error gameplay — Avoid levels come down to finding the right spot to avoid the constantly dropping enemies while hoping that the random flying aliens don't come out of nowhere and hit you. On Bust and Collect levels, you have to pick up your weapon before you can use it, which is a nice touch, but it isn't enough to help you enjoy doing the same levels over and over when you die.
There's also some lag that seems to occur when multiple on-screen enemies jump at once, which is poor for a game of this scope.
In the end, while Collateral Thinking could have been at home on an Atari system or the NES, its archaic gameplay doesn't have as wide an appeal today. The game's marketing claims that it blends the styles of arcade games like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. while peppering in some of WarioWare's craziness. In practice, this game doesn't come close to echoing the fun of WarioWare, which is a shame.
At a low price, to be fair, you could do a lot worse on the eShop. If you don't mind replaying the same levels over and over to learn patterns or are looking for something with retro difficulty, this game might be right up your alley. Its downsides, however, undoubtedly count against it even in the category of challenging retro-style platformers.
While not a bad game by any stretch, Collateral Thinking struggles to draw players in. Its control issues (which are apparently being addressed in a post-launch update) and uneven music only serve to accentuate the trial-and-error gameplay that will frustrate most casual players enough to make them give up early on. Give it a try if you're looking for a retro arcade experience, but be warned that you'll be replaying the levels a lot.