I’d never thought of myself as someone who would enjoy wave based arena shooters until the modern DOOM games came out. DOOM Eternal in particular crafted some spectacular arenas to test your combat skills, but were interwoven throughout coherent levels so that it never felt like you were just moving from arena to arena.
Boomerang X, on the other hand, embraces its nature and emphasises the arenas, whilst ditching everything else in between.
Can it provide the same enjoyment? Let’s find out.
Boomerang X is pretty light on story: the protagonist – someone covered in so many bandages that they look like a character from Sonic Boom – is shipwrecked on a mysterious island. After disregarding a nearby broken dagger, you conveniently find the titular Boomerang waiting for you in the next room.
From then on, you need to traverse through the absolutely beautiful cel-shaded environments fighting swarms of black bug-like creatures that have taken over the island. There’s an NPC who you can chat to along the way for a little more backstory, but things really don’t develop much beyond that. The game world exudes mystery, so it’s a real shame that they didn’t flesh it out a little bit more. It’s a bizarre world, and I really would have loved to know more about its history and inner workings.
Not only are the environments jaw-droppingly stunning, but the creatures are surprisingly impressive too. They’re all essentially black creatures (mainly bugs), but there’s a lot of variety on offer – especially as the game progresses. At first, you’ll be fighting either spiders or flying insects, but later there’ll be giraffe-like behemoths and spinning wheels to content with. They all offer something different and are a joy to take down; what’s more, the pitch black colour scheme really helps to make them stand out from the colourful environments. Essential enemies – ones you need to defeat in order to progress – also have a handy yellow outline around them, meaning you’ll never be searching around for that one last enemy. The creatures may not be quite as fun as the ones in Eternal, but Dang have concocted some impressive foes nonetheless.
Of course, the main sticking point with the game will be the gameplay itself. As aforementioned, this is an arena shooter, meaning that combat is based around a singular environment and you need to take down various waves of enemies. Each level usually consists of an arena, plus an extra upgrade to either your health or arsenal. The latter usually provides a brief tutorial where you need to use it once before proceeding, which is a nice touch but provides a problem which I’ll go into in a moment.
With these types of games, the most important part is how movement and combat feels and – for the most part – the game succeeds. Armed with the singular boomerang, your moveset is relatively simple. Throw it, and it’ll come back. A button press can recall it earlier, or you can press the fire button again to warp to where your boomerang currently is. There are additional upgrades that can aid you in battle, but that’s the gist of what you’ll be doing most of the time. It can be a little fiddly trying to move around the arena, especially as the warp doesn’t exactly teleport you to the exact spot, making it a tad difficult to move to precise locations. There’s also a button to stop in midair, but timing on it can be tricky; later on there are tiny platforms with healing spots, but landing on them can be extremely tricky to do. In the final arena when things gets brutally tough, I found myself getting frustrated at not being able to land on these spots and would inevitably take more damage during the process.
Things improve over time, as you get used to the mechanics, but the game suffers from being really short. With only twelve levels (and the early ones are extremely simple), there’s simply not enough time to really nail movement perfectly over the course of your playtime. There’s a new game plus mode, which makes even the initial arenas a challenge, but I feel like the game should have allowed you to master the mechanics before that point rather than expecting you to go through NG+. I think having longer sections between arenas that can help you hone the general movement and combat without waves of enemies on your tail would have really helped with making people more comfortable before entering the arenas.
The game does offer a wide variety of customisable options to help make the game more accessible, from lock on modes, to even the new flick stick control method (which I found unusable, but someone out there might dig it). It knows that the game has a very specific audience, and tries its best to be extremely accessible to help widen that circle just a tad. Unfortunately the gyro aiming goes in the opposite direction to the stick aim (and cannot be changed), so I had to turn it off due to it messing up my aim all the time. Hopefully they patch in some more options in the future to make up for this oversight.
Despite my issues, Boomerang X is still an exhilarating experience with some great arena designs and wide variety of interesting enemies. It probably won’t appeal to anyone who doesn’t care for fighting off constant waves of enemies, but if that doesn’t bother you then you may find the game to be right up your alley. If you find yourself getting hooked, the New Game Plus mode helps make the initial areas more fun – but be warned that you start with everything except the slingshot ability for some bizarre reason.
Overall, Boomerang X didn’t quite impress me as much as I had hoped it would going in, but there’s still a fun time to be had. Considering this is one of Devolver’s more expensive titles on the console, there’s surprisingly little content on offer here if you don’t fancy replaying it, but the developers should still be applauded for the unique gameplay mechanics, gorgeous visuals, and manic soundtrack. If the game still seems appealing to you, I’d recommend holding out for the inevitable sale before taking the plunge.