Squad Killer Review: A Killer, Sometimes Clumsy Throwback

by David Sanchez April 3, 2021 @ 11:10 am

Squad Killer boss battle.

Reviewed on PS4

Squad Killer hates you. If you understand that, you should be fine the moment you start playing the game. Well, sort of fine. When you play Squad Killer, you’re going to die a whole bunch. Sometimes within minutes. Sometimes within seconds. Almost always during a boss battle. That’s just the nature of the game. Yet there’s this allure to it that will keep you coming back. And barring some setbacks, the game is a solid trip back in time to the days of punishing arcade games… that also hated you.

No Squad Goals Here, Just Chaos

Squad Killer gameplay.

You play as the titular squad killer, which is to say you’re a little pixel dude out to kill squads of enemies. Every stage, which is randomized, is set in a single screen. Typically, there are multiple floors and platforms, each with a few enemies. Some enemies stay in place and fire at you from a distance while others roam the entire area. There are a few that also fire at you the moment they catch sight of you.

Due to the frenzied, unpredictable fire patterns that come from enemies, Squad Killer is right in line with old school arcade bullet hell shooters. This unpredictability means the game won’t be every shoot ‘em up fan’s preference, but for those who love the intensity of this specific type of game, you’ll likely dig it. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s super addictive. Had this been released in arcades back in the ‘80s or ‘90s, kids would’ve likely been spending countless quarters just to try and get a little bit further than their friends.

Squad Killer worm boss.

For as tough as Squad Killer is, it plays mostly really well. Moving through levels, avoiding enemy fire, taking out bad guys while jumping up from behind cover — these actions all feel satisfying. Everything you do in the game needs to be deliberate, though, or you risk getting hit and being one step closer to restarting from the beginning. Thankfully, enemies sometimes drop health, though this is pretty sporadic. Mostly, you’ll want to collect the coins dropped by your fallen foes so that you can purchase upgrades every few levels.

Upgrades include extra health, rapid fire shots, and extra damage, among others. You can skip an upgrade if none of the random options available to you are enticing, or if you want to save up for the chance that a better upgrade will appear after a few more levels. The random nature of the available upgrades makes this system somewhat hit-or-miss. You can go multiple rounds without finding something that’s worth it, and in those moments, the upgrade system feels like a wasted opportunity to provide meaningful character progression.

Squad Killer PS4 gameplay.

For the most, the controls in Squad Killer work fine. It’s pretty easy to move around the screen, fire at enemies, and lob grenades. At times, though, the controls seem a little too rooted in old school setbacks. For starters, flipping over tables for cover is a one-button move, but if you’re even a hair off from where the game wants you to be, you won’t be able to flip the table, which in moments of intense battle can be a huge detriment and even cause you to see the game over screen. Climbing ladders also feels wonky at times.

Arcade Chaos and Pixelated Mayhem

Gameplay aside, Squad Killer pays proper tribute to old school games with its two-tone pixel art style. There are a couple customization options, but everything you see in the game is heavily stylized with very minimal color usage, which gives it a nice retro flair.

Squad Killer drone boss fight.

The music is equally old school-sounding. Unfortunately, while catchy, a lot of the music is somewhat forgettable. It does the job, but there’s nothing here that’ll stick with you after you’re done playing.

This is the type of game that can be played in various ways. You can sit down and play for a few minutes to pass the time, or you can play for hours to try and dominate it. You can play alone, or you can pass the controller around with others to see who can get the furthest. In that regard, it’s the best kind of old school. It does suffer from some slightly dated design flaws that keeps it from being as great as it could be, but Squad Killer is still a good, incredibly brutal time.

Score: 7 out of 10

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