All the singulaladies, all the singulaladies
If there is one thing my Apple Arcade subscription has taught me over the past few years, it’s that games designed around gacha mechanics don’t necessarily have to be the type of whale-hunting monstrosities that result in terrible YouTube “influencers” bragging about how they can’t play anybody online anymore because they spent $100,000 in it. Games like World of Demons and Star Trek: Legends are enjoyable gacha games in part because you don’t have menus popping up constantly goading you into dropping cash in them. With that monetary incentive removed from these titles, players are free to enjoy the actual gameplay without worrying they’ll miss out on something huge if they don’t buy a loot box or start a game-specific subscription service.
That’s the idea behind Super Bullet Break, a new deck-building RPG with roguelike elements releasing tomorrow for PS4, Switch, and PC. It has all the makings of a game Belgian politicians would trot out on the chamber floor to publicly chastise. But because it’s not free to play and everything is included with the price of purchase, you’re left with a fun and fast gacha game that won’t ask you to break the bank.
Just try not to break your controller while playing it.
The world of video games is in danger and it’s up to three expert gamers—Akari, Hikaru, and Sumire—to save the day. Our trio of heroines is contacted by a mysterious AI known as Nayuta who needs their help fixing some of the most popular games on the market that have become corrupted. In each of these games hides a Singulalady that is unleashing buggos on these digital worlds, changing how the characters act within them. To save the day and save these games, the girls will have to investigate, which in Super Bullet Break means working your way across a randomly generated map fighting monsters.
The combat here has its roots in the CCG genre. As you adventure through each corrupted game, you earn bullets to use in battle. These bullets are usually represented by a cute anime girl with a predetermined set of skills. Some only attack your opponents, some attack and heal in the same move, and some can have their skills altered by other bullets in your deck. Once a bullet is used in battle, it’s sent to the discard pile until your deck reshuffles. With more than 160 bullets to unlock, you can build a pretty eclectic and powerful deck.
Don’t blow in these cartridges
Collecting the right bullets for your deck is important, but you’ll also want to pay attention to the cartridges they’re attached to. Each bullet you obtain is paired with a randomly selected cartridge that has active or passive skills that can alter the bullet’s effectiveness or provide buffs for the player. Cartridges are not permanently tied to a bullet, and you’ll often encounter two of the same bullets with different cartridges attached.
The key to making it through this game is building your deck with the best bullet and cartridge combinations. But doing so has its hurdles. First, outside of a few that can be purchased in shops and those you get for defeating bosses, all of the bullets you earn in Super Bullet Break are random. Second, you can only carry a limited number in your deck. Finally, because this game is a roguelike, you lose all of your earned bullets when you either fall in battle or free one of the games from a Singulalady’s control, reverting your deck back to its original build that’s determined by which of the heroines you choose to play as.
That final point really bothered me for my first few run attempts. “Monochrome Tactics,” the first game you’re trying to save from a Singulalady’s control, is shockingly tough for what is essentially the tutorial mission of the game. Looking at my log of attempts, I actually failed this map 11 times before beating it. Maybe it was my poor luck with bullet pulls, my unfamiliarity with how this all worked, or maybe my deck never shuffled in my favor, but that opening investigation nearly had me smashing my $70 controller in frustration.
Imagine my surprise when I beat the next three games within this game in a single go. The difficulty went straight out the window the second Super Bullet Break started introducing gimmicks to groupings of cards. These gimmicks, like the enemy-delaying ‘Heartsplosion,’ can easily turn the tide of battle in your favor. In fact, some of these gimmicks are so powerful I didn’t even have to strategize with my deck. I just played whatever bullets were in my hand and watched my enemies meet their demise. “Monochrome Tactics” is without any gimmicks, and I can’t quite figure out why the developers decided on throwing players directly into the deep end rather than sticking it later in the campaign to craft something of a logical difficulty curve.
As headache-inducing as those first 11 failed attempts were, I will say they got me to look at Super Bullet Break in a more laid-back light. It took me a while to realize this, but this is a very noncommittal game. When you’re always starting from scratch, no matter if you beat the final boss or lose to the first grunt to cross your path, the game becomes something akin to solitaire: something you play for fun or to pass the time. In fact, I wish I would have requested a Switch review code for this because, win or lose, this is the type of game I would have loved to have played in bed each night before going to sleep.
If you want to find true enjoyment in Super Bullet Break, don’t go into it thinking it’s going to be anything substantial. Like the free-to-play gacha games that inspired it, it’s a very casual experience with a win-some/lose-some philosophy that I found to be refreshing. This won’t be a game I have deep memories of in a year’s time, but for now, it’s a pleasant palate cleanser to the heftier games that demand a lot more of my time, energy, and concentration.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]