Twin-stick shooters are ten a penny these days. Circuit Breakers tries to stand out from the crowd with its retro looks and a unique ammunition mechanic but is that enough?
Circuit Breakers tasks you and up to three friends with blasting through room after room of murderous robots programmed to destroy you. To achieve this aim, you can select one of five initial characters, all of whom come equipped with a different weapon. These include a machine gun, a shotgun, an unwieldy laser, and a chain gun that pushes you backwards when you fire it.
Unlike some other games in the genre, you can't just blast away constantly in Circuit Breakers. Here, shooting costs energy (or Energium as it's imaginatively called) which depletes as you fire your weapon, levelling it down and making it less powerful. The only way to get your firearm's level back up is to collect more Energium which fortunately explodes out of your adversaries in fountains of blue capsules whenever you dispatch them.
This mechanic initially feels rather counterintuitive in a game where there are so many enemies onscreen. However, it doesn't take long to get used to. You'll learn to conserve your ammo and only fire in short bursts as well as pick off enemies at certain angles in order to make their dropped energy more easily accessible. On top of killing robots, you'll also want to blow up crates that contain health, more Energium, and explosives. The last of these can be used strategically to take out groups of enemies without expending much ammo.
As you might expect from a twin-stick shooter, Circuit Breakers' control scheme is rather primitive. Other than the analogue sticks, the only button you'll need is L2 for your shield which consumes Energium, too, but it's a lifesaver when you're getting crowded by enemies. You can also employ it to make dashes through packs of opponents in order to scoop up energy from their fallen comrades.
Graphically, Circuit Breakers has gone for a decidedly retro style which is no doubt intended to bring back fond memories of genre classics like Smash TV. However, its level design is generally quite bland and unremarkable. Stages are also repeated over and over, sometimes with just slight variations in their backgrounds which feels pretty cheap.
This leads to one of the main problems with Circuit Breakers; it quickly becomes samey and monotonous. In its Arcade Mode (which constitutes the vast bulk of the game), you're forced to slog through dozens of levels repeatedly dispatching giant hordes of enemies with little in the way of variation. You encounter a boss every ten levels which changes things up a bit but then it's back to mowing down scores of more hapless robots. This wouldn't be so bad if Circuit Breakers had some checkpoints along the way or if it were split up into separate sections. Instead, whenever you die, you go all the way back to the beginning. This can happen quite a lot, too, as Circuit Breakers is very unforgiving especially in its later stages. In fact, it feels practically impossible to progress past a certain point while playing solo as there are so many enemies that they inevitably overwhelm you.
You can make things slightly more bearable by increasing the player count. For example, two player games are somewhat less boring as you can at least clear out the enemies faster. You also have unlimited lives whereas in single player, you just have three. When one player dies, they're timed out for ten seconds before respawning making for some tense moments as the other player struggles to stay alive.
Circuit Breakers might be better in its three or four player modes but I wasn't able to test those properly given that I only have two controllers and there is no online component. I did attempt a game via the PlayStation 4's Share Play function but the connection was too laggy to be playable. However, even if you possess a good enough internet connection for flawless Share Play, you'll still need to have two people on both consoles in order to begin a four player game. That, or be rich enough to own four controllers. I'm guessing that scenario won't apply to most gamers so they'll be stuck playing on their own or with one friend and in those modes, Circuit Breakers is frankly a chore. I know some games are meant to be played cooperatively and suck while playing solo but if you're not going to put online play in your game, you really need to make it fun for one or two players as well.
Circuit Breakers manages to recapture some tropes of classic twin-stick shooters but sadly their fun factor wasn't one of them. It might give some old-school gamers a burst of nostalgia but its repetitive nature and unfair level of difficultly will make it unappealing to most.
- + Responsive controls
- + Might give some players retro nostalgia
- + Respawn wait times can make for some tense moments
- - Levels are uninspired and repeat often
- - Starting over from level one after dying is extremely tedious
- - One player mode is a boring slog