After finishing the full version of Vampire Survivors, my fingers are limbered up for a livelier arcade walk-o-shooter. I’ve turned to Brotato, a game whose demo I enjoyed in the Steam Next Fest, and which launched into early access in September. I say with great affection: it feels (and looks) like it could have been a Flash game on Newgrounds. Plus it’s only £4.
Brotato is a wave-based arena shoot ’em up where you, a potato, blast and bash alien invaders using an arsenal spanning murder history: from sticks and stones through turret-summong wrenches all the way up to laser guns and a Fallout-esque power fists. The game does the shooting for you, automatically targeting and attacking, so you’re focused moment-to-moment on movement while planning a build in the back of your spudbrain.
Gathering the Nuclear Throne-esque green globs dropped by baddies gets you both XP and money. At the end of each wave, you can pick a stat bonus for each level-up and go wild spending cash in the shop. Along with passive items boosting stats or offering new abilities, you can buy and upgrade new weapons to fill your six slots. In the style of auto-battlers, you can combine two identical weapons of the same tier into a more powerful version. You can spend a lot of time here, min-maxing stats and your economy. I’ve come to quite enjoy that micromanagement, even when a misplaced point or two becomes increasingly insignificant in the endgame.
If you’re looking for simply more Vampire Survivors, Brotato is not that game. It is too fast (and dare I say furious) to offer that same sort of pleasant murder troll where you can enjoy pottering about and watching explosions. You certainly cannot step away to brew a cup of coffee and return to find your run still going just peachy, as I did in a Vampire Survivors run today. But I do find in there a similar feeling of slipping empty-headed into the vibe of a run and the flow of combat, coming to intuitively understand my strengths and weaknesses and moving accordingly.
For example, a simple problem: I want to take out the monsters who are buffing their friends. These buff-givers shuffle away, so lots of monsters are between me and them. Well, many of those are diddy ones who chase me and will die in one hit, so I can charge into them and trust they’ll be dead before they make contact. But I can’t run directly to the buffers because ranged attackers are hanging back and filling the screen with shots, so I’ll need to dodge shots and clear out the spitters. But I can’t snake too wide or I’ll run into the chunky lads who are basically harmless until I hit them, at which point they’ll spawn a brood of wee ranged radges. But I do need to snake enough to dodge the big guys who charge up into a dash attack, and sustain the snake long enough to take down the armored ones. And ideally I’d like to swing by that huge pile of XP blobs sitting over there, or chase down the treasure, or I could lead them past my turret, or… this is less than a second of thought and action which becomes instinct as you weave through dozens of enemies onscreen. That’s fun.
Your options can change a huge amount depending on the class you choose. While some are basic ‘melee spud’ and ‘ranged spud’ types with appropriate buffs, others entirely change how you fight or how you build a run. What if you’re rewarded for not killing? What if you can only carry one super-buffed weapon? What if you fight by running into enemies and exploding? I quite enjoy thinking about the game from new perspectives with the weirder ones, a huge range of experiences across runs.
A gripe I had about the demo remains: runs die far too quickly. A run often feels fine right up until the final few seconds. Death is rarely fun or interesting, rarely leading to a desperate struggle for survival or a chance for a dramatic comeback. And when several important offensive and defensive stats are chance-based (critical hit, dodge, and lifesteal), the odds might simply work against you. With a tiny (possibly nonexistent?) window of invincibility after taking a hit, one poor decision or lapse in attention can end a 25-minute run. It’s anticlimactic. Brotato does have options to turn down enemies’ health, speed, and damage (or turn them up) but this feels like it needs to be resolved deeper and by the devs.
That big gripe which does lessen the “Ah gwan, just one more run” feeling after death but I’m still enjoying dipping in and out. I’m slowly unlocking more classes and items, and have a long climb ahead of me through difficulty levels.
I would believe you if you told Brotato was magically pulled from another timeline, where it was a hit Flash game on Newgrounds in 2006. It has that same clean cartoon art, that same sprite-squishing animation, that same zany attitude that sees your potato increasingly dripping with wacky accessories, that same blast of numbers and stat screens, that same moreish arcade action. A paid game in 2022 is a different prospect but even if I do soon tap out in deathy frustration, I’m quite happy with the fun I’ve already had for a couple quid.
Brotato is out on Steam Early Access for £4/€5/$5. You can also get a small discount if you buy it together with 20 Minutes Till Dawn, a survival shoot ’em up I’ve also enjoyed this year. That one’s kinda like Vampire Survivors except you have to aim and shoot (or like Crimsonland, if that comparison means more to you).