Matterfall is a sidescrolling arcadey platformer released by Housemarque on the PS4 in 2017. It's centered around the destruction (and implied cleanup) of a whole pack of robots gone haywire.
Matterfall strikes me as a game where the plot was a complete afterthought. It's barely there, save for two cutscenes. That's probably for the best, since the game is meant to be replayed for highscores.
The design of the world is frankly quite generic. Not bad, simply there, serving its purpose. At least the robots look good.
I think the controls of Matterfall are its biggest flaw. I sense great intent behind them, but they did not work for me. Even at the final boss, I still fumbled and died because of them. My copy being the Asian version where X and Circle are swapped didn't help either, but that was only an issue in menus.
That's because the X button isn't used to jump, R1 is. I've only seen that in Ape Escape and it works there since its platforming isn't as hectic. Besides the jump and maybe the dash being on L1 instead of R1, I don't really have any further complaints with the controls.
But since you need to make use of those things to not die horribly in pits, it's kinda a big deal. Perhaps they bet on people getting used to the controls after a few playthroughs. But I only played it once and would have liked the ability to remap the controls.
The mechanics of the game work together in an elegant fashion. Let's go through them a bit.
You have standard stuff, like shooting being mapped to the right stick and there being a double jump. Once you kill enough robots and collect power-ups, you earn an Overdrive that slows down enemies for a limited time.
Very common stuff, but once you bring the Strike dash into the mix, magic happens. It can be used once per jump in any four directions and can of course be combined with the double jump as you please. But movement is really its secondary purpose, it's more of a combat tool.
Once it concludes (or if you use it while standing still) it emits a lifesaving pulse. The pulse stuns enemies and destroys bullets. The dash reminds me of the one in Mighty Number 9, except you use it before shooting robots instead of after.
I really like it, as there is some nuance to its use. There is a tiny cooldown between uses that can easily screw you over if you spam it without thought. Choosing the wrong direction to dash can also get you killed. It also disables contact damage on enemies, which feels really nice. There are many games I wish would let you do so.
Next up is the Matter Beam (that can also create a pulse if you stand still). It's basically a catch-all interaction laser. You use it to free civilians, materialize platforms (that you can dash through if need be) and trigger bombs that spawn randomly from enemies. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it adds quite a bit to juggle during certain sections. There are also a few equippable augmentations for extra depth unlocked by saving enough civilians.
Once you get going, it's a blast to dash into a group of robots to disable them, shoot them, spawn a bomb, trigger the bomb, dash away from freshly spawned enemies, lob a grenade, trigger Overdrive and then drown in points.
But I'll admit that I didn't really feel confident playing until I got the radius increase for the Strike dash. It felt a bit too risky in a few situations before then. I'm thinking the radius should've started somewhere between the normal and the upgraded one.
There are a few more things in the game for extra flavour. About once per level, there is a Zero G section where the game basically becomes a twin stick shooter with the same mechanics. The transition is quite natural and makes me wonder if this was the original version of the game.
Seeing as you can't jump in these sections, my major gripe with the controls goes away, at the cost of some lost depth. But it's a welcome diversion every time it comes up.
Since there are only 3 sets of levels, the amount of bosses is equally low. They're pretty fun, but there is something that they're missing. I can't exactly say what more I want out of them. Some character and standout music, perhaps?
They are all solid and make good use of the mechanics. Nothing more to say really, except that the final boss has a ridiculous amount of health and consequently stands at the edge of my limit for boss length in action games.
As I played Matterfall, I could just feel a speedrunner on my shoulder, silently judging me every time I stopped moving. It strikes me as a game ripe for mastery, especially if you aim for both time and score.
There is a fun multiplier system that rewards you for not taking hits, and acts as pretty good positive reinforcement. It also makes you humble when the sound bite for losing a multiplier stacks with itself and the sound bite for critical health, thus making the DS4 speaker's output a garbled mess.