UTOPIA 9 – A Volatile vacation, was an interesting game to spend some time with. I have played a few twin stick shooters in my time, but it isn’t a genre I delve into often. A good twin shooter is able to capture its audience using solid gameplay, and precise controls. If there’s a solid plot, or something to make it different from others in the genre, that’s great too. UTOPIA 9 is able to do this to an extent but, as I spent some time with it, I realized it’s shortcomings more, and more.

Vacation Gone Wrong

UTOPIA 9 – A Volatile Vacation, is a 3D rogue-like twin Stick shooter developed by Whalegun, and published by QubicGames. UTOPIA 9 sees you guiding an unnamed (but numbered) tourist, through different levels to reach the customer service department, and file a complaint. You will accomplish this goal, by shooting, and beating down, aliens.

There really isn’t much story to be had besides the goal of reaching customer service. Luckily, this doesn’t really detract from the game because the focus is on the gameplay and not the story.

Your tourist has 4 slots available. One weapon will go in each hand, and then you have two slots in your holster. There are a diverse amount of weapons in the game, which definitely helped make each run feel fresh.

You have two types of weapons. Guns, and melee weapons. You start each run with a pistol and a briefcase. Some of the different weapons you can get are a shotgun, rifle, taser, wrench, and many more. Some of the bigger weapons will take up 2 slots in your holster. This forces you consider carefully, when choosing what you want to take with you.

There’s also armor you can find that gives you extra, temporary, health. You also have a special camera ability that you can use to temporarily stun an enemy. UTOPIA 9 does a great job at giving you different options, for what you want to use to take down your foes with.

Gameplay Mechanics, Good & Bad

UTOPIA 9 has an interesting system that helps you through each run using mutations. Every time you kill an enemy, they will drop items that increase your mutation gauge. Each time you fill the gauge, you will receive the option of choosing a new mutation you keep for the rest of that run. They can be faster reloading, parrying bullets with your melee attacks or, my personal favorite, enemies have a chance to drop liqueur that restores some health.

The perk system definitely helps better the gameplay. Unfortunately, there are limited mutations to choose from, and the game could have really benefited from more variety.

At the end of each run, you accumulate tourist points, and you use these to purchase permanent perks that you equip at the exit of the first level of each run. These are interesting enough, and they’re great to have to help you out, but they aren’t overly unique.

Unfriendly Locals

One of the problems I had with UTOPIA 9 were the enemies. There are plenty of aliens to fight, and the AI is decent, but they all feel very similar. They all look and act, very similar to one another, minus very few differences. They will rush you, and after being hit a few times, they might retreat for a few seconds. Then, when you chase them, they’ll come back after you.

It made the gameplay get tedious pretty fast, and it would have been nice to see more differences in the enemies. The only enemies that strongly differentiate themselves are the ones that manage to kill you.

Once you die, the alien that killed you, will loot your corpse and steal your weapons. This enemy will become much stronger, and will remain in that same level, until you come back and kill him. When you do kill him, he’ll drop your old weapons. It’s nice that you can get your weapons back from the previous run but, if you aren’t well equipped, you’ll end up dying again.

These aliens are more difficult, and have way more health than the others. This means you have to get lucky, and hope you got good weapons to face off against him. If not, you might be right back at the start again.

The system kinda feels like a watered down version of the nemesis system from Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor. It adds some spice to the enemy design, but sometimes it felt unfair.

Extras

There are a couple extras in UTOPIA 9 to give incentives to continue runs even after beating the game . There are over 40 different achievements to get while playing. Some of these achievements range from collecting a certain weapon, or reaching a certain level. The achievements are at least a little extra content, but you will end up getting most of them without really trying to.

There’s also an item codex, that will fill in the empty spots with all of the items you find. It’s also a nice addition but doesn’t really add much extra. Finally, a tour guide character can be unlocked after beating a run with the tourist. A local-co op mode is available as well, I didn’t get a lot of time with this mode, but it was a nice addition.

Not My Utopia

UTOPIA 9’s presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Each of the levels has a different color scheme, but the layout and environments are bland, and all very similar.The cartoony look of the game is dull, and lacks anything interesting in its environments.

Once you die and restart a new run, you will essentially be playing through all the same levels again with the layout changing a bit, and different weapons to be found. There’s some decent gameplay to give replay value, but it just gets so monotonous, looking at all the same stuff, every time. This monotonous feeling might have been avoidable if each level had different occurrences that could happen. Instead, returning to each level felt nearly exactly the same, every time.

Many rogue-likes suffer this same problem, but at least have a wider variety of enemies to add a bit more flavour. There are few surprises in UTOPIA 9’s world, and once you have played through it for a few hours, you really feel like you have seen everything.

One of my biggest gripe’s with UTOPIA 9 was the sound design. The soundtrack of the game felt poorly done. It really didn’t suit the action oriented gameplay, and I felt like keeping it on mute throughout the entire playthrough. The sound effects from the weapons were fine, but enemy sound effects were hard on the ears, and really took away from the presentation. The sound design is definitely an area that could have used more polish.

Technical Tourism

I can gladly say that, for the most part, UTOPIA 9 runs well on the Nintendo Switch. Gameplay was almost always smooth, except for a few slowdowns in handheld mode, when there were a lot of enemies onscreen. The game does have slightly long load times when transitioning between levels, however they aren’t intolerable.

UTOPIA 9 does have some pretty clunky controls, that can cause some grief when trying to aim with the right Joy-Con’s control stick. It’s not unplayable, but it’s frustrating at times. And, with no option to adjust sensitivity, there’s simply no fix. The ability to jump is also an unnecessary addition to the game. It feels like it would have been better to leave out the platforming segments all together, since there are already so few of them.

Conclusion

It’s hard to write a review for UTOPIA 9 because I think the developers put some hard work into this game, and it does show through in its fun gameplay, and diverse weapon design. The game does fall short in quite a few areas though, with its repetitive level design, dull environment, lack of content, and mediocre sound design .

There’s fun to be had in UTOPIA 9’s gameplay, it just feels like you see everything the game has offer too quickly. I think the developers worked hard on this, and I look forward to see how they can improve, and produce an even better game in the future. I recommend UTOPIA 9 if you’re a big fan of the twin stick shooter genre, but if you’re just getting into the genre, there are better starting points. There’s just not enough to make this a solid recommendation. Utopia 9 is available on the NA eShop for $9.99 USD.

6/10 A fun, but lackluster vacation

Pros

  • Satisfying Gameplay
  • Diverse Weapon Options
  • Co-op Mode

Cons

  • Enemy Design Feel Too Similar
  • Dull Environments
  • Reptitive Level Design
  • Poor Sound Design
  • You See Everything the Game Has to Offer Pretty Quick

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