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Bartlow’s Dread Machine

Posted by GG Goblin On September - 29 - 2020

An old-timey arcade machine twin-stick shooter with oodles of style.

 
Back before the existence of video games, arcades still existed to offer the paying public various forms of entertainment. The most well known would have been the shooting range, but the arcades were also home to strange mechanical games, made from tin and wood, that seem almost alien in modern times. Tribetoy and Beep Games’ Bartlow’s Dread Machine, which is now available on Xbox One along with leaving Early Access on PC, channels these early constructions to provide a twin-stick shooter with a very unique style that can be played in couch co-op. As if that wasn’t enough, the game also challenges players to save Teddy Roosevelt from some kind of satanic cult. What more could you want?

 


 
The unique aesthetic of Bartlow’s Dread Machine is probably the most stand out feature of the game, so let’s start there. It is designed to look like an old-timey arcade machine, with simple scenery that looks to be made out of tin and wood. While simple in their detail, they have an authenticity about them that looks absolutely great, and the way that they pop into view as the player moves forward adds to this charm. The players’ character, whoever they choose, is also simple in design, as if crafted from metal, but looks the piece and fits in nicely with the rest of the theme. The same can be said for the enemies who all look good, and the big bosses that really stand out.

 
The style also runs through into how the game plays. Rather than being given full freedom of movement, the player will be guiding their character along tracks in the levels. Much of the time this is presented from a slightly raised side view, and levels will often give the player a number of different tracks to take as they make their way though, giving the game an almost maze-like approach with the player trying to choose the best, or safest, track to reach the end. The enemies that the player has to face are also limited to moving along these tracks, and the way that the models on screen move is exactly how they would have done in arcade machines of this type, wobbling along with style.

 
Throw in an audio design that also follows this theme, and Bartlow’s Dread Machine is the perfect package of authenticity. From the rumbling and clanking of behind the scenes mechanics moving the little characters around on the screen, to the old fashioned carnival soundtrack playing alongside the action, the audio fits perfectly.

 


 
When it comes to the gameplay, aside from having to stay on the tracks, it is fairly straight forward. That is not to say it is easy though. The player will be travelling from New York to San Francisco in their pursuit of evil, and saving Teddy Roosevelt, across six different chapters. The left stick will move the character on screen, while the right stick will be aiming whatever gun the player has equipped. This can present a little difficulty in that using an analogue stick to travel along fixed paths is not always precise. As the enemies mount up, and they will, the player will find themselves quickly trying to move away from the hordes, and quick movement can sometimes frustratingly go wrong and lead to being overwhelmed. The enemies come in two different types, with one type running in and getting close for melee attacks, and the other keeping their distance and using ranged attacks. There are also the big boss encounters that require different approaches to taking down. There are some quite obvious difficulty spikes to be found along the way, which will cause some players problems.

 
However, the player is given ways to make their playthroughs easier. When an enemy is taken down, they will drop cash for the player to pick up. The cash doesn’t stay around for long, so the player will have to be quick to collect it. Then, in-between the levels, the cash can be spent in a store that provides a variety of different upgrades, from new clothing that can provide more health and such, to a wide variety of different weapons. The weapons selection is great and each different weapon has its own use, allowing the player to tailor their character to their play style. The cost of new weapons or outfit pieces does mean that players will have to grind the levels to collect enough cash to get everything they want. Weapons have limited ammo, but ammo boxes can be found throughout the levels, along with health boxes, to keep the player topped up. Also to be unlocked are new characters that can be used for future playthroughs, each of which coming with their own starting weapon, giving plenty of reason to come back for more.

 


 
Twin stick shooters always need a gimmick to make them stand out from the competition, and Bartlow’s Dread Machine has managed this with a unique visual style that carries through into the gameplay. While difficulty spikes may prove to be a hurdle for some players, the game is fun to play and delightful to look at. Any fan of the twin stick shooter who yearns for something different from the rest should check out Bartlow’s Dread Machine.

 

 ★★★★★★★★½☆ 



 

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