Before release, Nuclear Throne accumulated two years worth of community feedback through various balance tweaks, fixes and updates, and it clearly shows.
The game is tough, but never unrealistically unfair. The balance is refined, and the mechanics are tight. The roster variety keeps the action fresh and furious, and the environments and enemy-types constantly keep you on your toes.
Development time has been well spent and this is among Vlambeer's best work to date, but there are some drawbacks.
Throne in at the deep end
The premise is simple. You must reach the mysterious and unhygienic sounding Nuclear Throne by opening power-up filled chests, killing wave after wave of bad-folk using various weapons - such as mini-guns and pistols - then jump through a portal to the next stage.
If you were expecting an intricate George R.R.Martin style plot with politics and pre-marital intercourse, the main art featuring a fish playing a banjo should have been your first clue to the contrary.
You can choose between a Normal, Daily, or Weekly run, then select from a diverse cast of characters with varying attributes. The Fish, for example, can roll out of the way of enemy fire, while Plant has faster movement speed, and Crystal can morph into an impenetrable shield.
Normal is the standard campaign for the game, with procedurally generated environments ensuring each playthrough is different. The game also has both daily and weekly challenges for you to test your skills against others on global leaderboards
In the early stages, you'll have to blast your way through oversized worms, bandits, and cacti as you traverse a treacherous desert. But later levels see you wrestle with rats in repugnant sewers and pick the legs off laser-beam firing spiders in crystal caves
A Game with a Throne in it
Each enemy you kill drops rads, a type of gel that gradually fills up a levelling canister. When it's filled you can evolve your mutated character by selecting between 1 of 4 random Mutations. These mutations vary from increasing your character's health to slowing enemy bullets and extra chest spawns.
At level 10, your character achieves their final form - known as the Ultra Mutation - an attribute unique to each character that makes full use of their specific skills while also developing new ones.
While Nuclear Throne unfortunately suffers from frame-rate hiccups, slow loading and irregular hard crashes, it runs well on Vita for the most part. Despite not having local co-op and screen-shaking, it's currently the best place to play Nuclear Throne outside of PC as many of these issues aren't as severe in handheld form compared to home console.
While it takes some practice to get to grips with it, the analog control is responsive and compliments the fast-paced, twitch nature of the game exceedingly well. The pick-up and play fervour of Nuclear Throne is also well suited to Vita, allowing you to tackle a run whenever you're feeling particularly inspired.
Unfortunately there's no cross-save file functionality, meaning any unlocks achieved on PS4 won't carry over to handheld, nor can any run progress or stats be shared between the systems. The game also doesn't make use of touch.
These issues are far from deal-breakers, however, as you'll keep playing Nuclear Throne whether you like it or not, and find it increasingly difficult to stop.
A Fish, a Plant, and some Steroids walk into a bar
There's a competitive market for roguelikes on Vita with the excellent Rogue Legacy, The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, and Don’t Starve, among others, comfortably finding a home there. However, Nuclear Throne is more than a match for them.
Its emphasis on balance, strategy, depth and substance mean it deserves a place in your library, but with a brutal difficulty curve and some rough edges, Nuclear Throne can be a bit of a hot mess at times.
Despite that, it remains agonisingly addictive and effortlessly engaging, and will unquestionably leave a lasting impression. It's just that sometimes that impression involves testing the limits of your patience, rather than filling you with satisfaction after a successful run.