Is it possible to fall in love with a difficulty curve? One of my favorite things about games is how different they can feel from start to finish, how things that seemed hard become trivial and what was once impossible is within your grasp. I had a chance to sit down with Boomerang X, a first-person shooter developed by Dang!, published by Devolver Digital and slated for release later this year, which has some of the most innovative combat I’ve seen in recent years.
So, there’s plenty to love about Boomerang X. There’s a beautiful art style reminiscent of watercolor paintings, and meeting up with your one companion Tepan makes for a nice reward after a horde of enemies, but the gameplay is really what hooked me. So, all the gameplay revolves around an X-shaped boomerang you find early on…it doesn’t really look like a boomerang but the important part is it goes out and then comes back, slicing up things along the way. Sure, your boomerang can’t be used again until it comes back, but the enemies are slow and you’re the one with a ranged attack. Then everything ramps up.
You’ll gradually gain new abilities and fight new foes, like most games, but I was left to figure out most of the uses of said abilities on my own, and it didn’t fall into the typical “lock and key” issue a lot of games have. A key example is the slingshot ability. Relatively early on you gain the ability to reverse the relationship between boomerang and user and fling yourself towards your boomerang instead. There’s a basic tutorial where it tells you the command for it and gives a very straightforward task of clearing a wall too high to jump over. Fair enough. Sure is a zippy way to move around too.
Then they start introducing enemies that need to be hit in the back. Sure, you can try and nail them on the return, but that’s easier said than done when trying to hit a specific target. Slingshot behind them however, and they’re a sitting duck. Later enemies place weak points in harder to reach spots, basically requiring this trick you’ve surely learned by then. Further in there’s a large multi-tiered arena made of catwalks among the treetops. The sheer height needed to reach the upper levels means you’ll find out you can chain slingshots in midair if need be. Indeed you can play “the floor is lava” if you wish. Take a wild guess what state the floor is in on some later rooms.
The rest of the abilities follow a similar line: You learn them, you’re given one immediate puzzle that requires them, and then you’re thrown out into the world to figure out where else to use them. Very rarely is the practical application shaped like the lesson, and it makes you feel smarter for actually figuring out where to use them. Such examples include a shotgun-like blast that functions as a pocket defense by being usable when the boomerang is already deployed, and a long range enemy-piercing laser that’s powerful but requires getting a multi-kill with a special weapon… which includes itself allowing for repeated use with careful aim.
By the end of my preview run I was soaring through the air on a constant spree of slicing through an enemy and ending up on the other side like some flying samurai, always one step ahead of an absolute swarm of pursuers… and I look back at where I was just a couple hours ago at the start. The tools I’m working with are so much more complex, the horde so much more immense… and yet it never felt overwhelming. Every next step felt within my grasp, and by the end of my journey I truly felt like I had come far.
It’s not very long, coming in at around 2 hours, but those were 2 hours I spent absolutely enthralled in the flow of zipping around and slow-motion trick shots. I’ve seen so many fully released games that weren’t as fun as this, and I’m honestly a bit shocked it’s still in development. I’m eagerly looking forward to what they’ll add.
Preview copy provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Devolver Digital.