Gaming’s current giant genres are a curious lot. Roguelikes bring weight but excitement to every death. Looter shooters have evolved into the insidious peak of neuron activation. What happens, then, when you combine the two? Illfonic’s Arcadegeddon seeks to find out just that.
Dubbed by the developer as “an ever-evolving multiplayer shooter,” Arcadegeddon is a joyous mishmash of a few tried and tested ideas. You play as Plug, a young arcade-goer whose favourite arcade, owned by their Uncle Gilly, is at risk of going under at the hands of the evil Fun Fun Co. Luckily, Gilly’s got one last wild game innovation up his sleeve: Arcadegeddon.
Or, he did, until Fun Fun Co. went and hacked into that too. The levels of Arcadegeddon are now littered with FFC goons, hell bent on taking the system over by any means necessary. With his magnum opus on the fritz and a hostile takeover looming, Gilly entrusts Plug with recruiting the local gamer gangs and saving Arcadegeddon. It’s a simple story, but more than expected for a multiplayer-centric title. I was pleasantly surprised to see Plug’s quest actually progress between missions, with short cutscenes here and there to further the action. The tale is nothing to get invested in, but it’s a nice framework for gameplay nonetheless.
And what a pretty frame it is. Arcadegeddon sports a simple but effective aesthetic. Think the 3D cartoonish look of Fortnite or Splatoon, but with more rounded edges and stylised sets. Character models pop with uniquely androgynous designs, alongside fun cosmetics. The soundtrack flows between futuristic hip-hop and trap, with some tracks even composed by Illfonic CEO Charles Brungardt, a Grammy winner himself. Bursts of colour are frequent even in greyer biomes, and the music ramps up well with the action.
If only the action ramped up quite as well.
That’s not to say the action is bad! We’ll get to that. First, though, you may find it odd that we’re getting to gameplay five paragraphs in. This is to stay true to my experience: I only realised Arcadegeddon was a roguelike five biomes in. After an initial tutorial, Gilly tasks the player with recruiting various gangs to aid in the arcade’s fight against the FFC. Plug takes on a mission with one of the gang leaders, then heads into Arcadegeddon to carry the task out. After accomplishing such a task, players can then either continue onwards or end their current run to claim rewards. With this simple structure being the focus of the single-player experience, I concentrated on missions to progress in time for embargo. It was not until I decided to explore further that the many roguelike trappings of Arcadegeddon clicked proper.
Weapons abound in breakable crates, occasional enemy drops, and colour-coded chests. You’ve seen this scale before: blue is good, purple is great, gold is where the magic happens. Equippable Hack upgrades act as Boons do in Hades: incremental but meaningful stat boosts that last as long as your run does. Solid groundwork, but the looting aspect of Arcadegeddon is a tad imbalanced. I often found great guns that would last me a whole run early on, at low green or blue rarities. Rarely would I find a gun of higher rarity that actually performed better than my go-tos, unless they were literally higher spec versions of the same weapons.
Luckily, those weapons do the thing well. Arcadegeddon allows players to equip three weapons at once, with quick-switch button mapping available alongside the traditional Triangle/Y to cycle through. Gunplay initially feels a bit floaty: shots lack much weight. Shotguns and snipers offer little more feedback than the starting pistol. Damage wise, however, weapons scale nicely, and most guns feel satisfying to use. In particular, I enjoyed the Tracker pistol with its aimbot, Slicer shotgun for visually enjoyable damage, and Gillytine sword for maximum ridiculousness. This is to say nothing of The Professional sniper and trusty baseball bat. The variety is wonderful. Unique visual effects accompany every weapon: I was rarely bored playing Illfonic’s latest romp.
Traversal also feels great. Plug is equipped from the start with everything they need to make navigating the biomes of Arcadegeddon a fun time. Switching between weapons while double jumping and sliding through levels feels as rapid as it sounds on paper. A lack of mantling and some bouncy physics do hamper the movement enough to be noticeable, however. Some refinement to how Plug physically interacts with the environment would go a long way. Among other refinements, mind you.
And now we come to the previously teased ramping issue. Arcadegeddon is, quite frankly, a bit of a cakewalk for most of a run. Difficulty levels are naturally increased on a numerical scale with each biome, though too slowly to really be of much effect. Players can also manually increase difficulty at the midway rest point of every biome. To try and find more of a challenge on one run, I cranked the difficulty level from 1 right to 8 in the first level. I then proceeded to breeze through the next five levels. I only ended the run because I finished my current mission. I am by no means a pro gamer. I can get good, but it still takes me time to get used to a challenge. Here, there is little to get used to… Until the bosses.
That isn’t a segue to better days: boss fights in Arcadegeddon are their own issue. The four bosses bring their own variety, and are aesthetically interesting from character design to arena layout. With difficulty, however, the jump is straight from 0 to 100, and it is mildly obscene. The first phase offers only cheap challenge. Boss movesets are simple and even fun to learn, but you’ll have to deal with an invulnerability/shield phase and tens of minions at once before you can do any damage. Come the second phase, the increased intensity of attacks from the boss and its minions alike is ridiculous.
Even while being cognizant of cover and maintaining mobility, as the official media guide suggests one does, I found myself utterly deleted by unfair moves in every boss’s second phase. The Data Daemon Prince, for example, gains a massive AoE attack. When he unleashed it in one of my runs, I was: behind cover; on the other side of the map; at 100% shield and around 75% health. I was also immediately one-shot killed.
This is to say nothing of the CEO who can teleport right next to you before mini-nuking.
I managed to beat each of the four bosses when they happened to be the first in a run: they only have one phase at that point. No matter how prepared I was for a second phase, though, I kept losing out to cheap moves that did not feel well designed.
Bosses, thankfully, are optional for biome progression. That then just leaves the other issues to deal with. Objectives are often placed in a cumbersome manner, with the actual Thing You Must Shoot one or even two rooms behind where you find the main objective. Careful on your backtracking, though: Data Daemons, a common zombie-type enemy, balloon your hitbox to no end. Either kill them the second they wind up or take needless damage, as they hit regardless of dodge distance. It’s alright, though, you’ll see them coming. Assuming you can see through all the bullets, coins, energy trails, and other enemies flying your way. The screen is hardly messy, but boons and banes both look so similar, it’s hard to tell which is which when all hurtle towards you at once. Just like the rewards for every mission debrief. In a laborious, unskippable manner.
You may have noticed, dear Reader, that this review ramped up in intensity of criticism. That’s what playing felt like. A simple bullet ballet for the main gameplay, an uppercut to shoddy difficulty shortly after.
The final thing I must note is the dialogue. There is a lot of it. None of it is particularly good. While I can forgive the odd cringe-inducing quip, Arcadegeddon goes far beyond that. Other notable roguelikes in recent years have leaned into wit, charm, and delightfully cryptic storytelling. Arcadegeddon? Writing to a comical and downright egregious degree of “what a middle aged person thinks sounds funny and/or vaguely youthful.” Sk’Daddle, the leader of one gang, grossly misuses and overuses the word “innit.” As a Brit, I went from laughing to skipping through everything they had to say. Meanwhile, Label, another gang leader, frequently employs what can only be described as bootleg AAVE (African American Vernacular English). Half of their dialogue sounds painfully awkward, and it is most certainly not the voice actor’s fault.
At the very least, everyone looks cool as they spew nonsense. The customisation in Arcadegeddon is substantial and versatile, offering plenty of fun options with currency earned solely through gameplay. Premium options exist, but are far from the only cool looks in Plug’s wardrobe.
I’d comment on the multiplayer, as that is a key element to Illfonic’s shooter. However, due to conflicting schedules with developers and co-op just refusing to work for my brother and I, I was unable to participate before launch. I can say without doubt, however, that Arcadegeddon has all the makings of a brilliant time with friends. As a single-player experience, where I am wont to pay closer attention, various cracks show. Blasting through with friends, however, only requires fun gameplay and good vibes. Thankfully, Arcadegeddon has those in spades.
TL;DR: not a bad time innit.
Sarim played Arcadegeddon on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher. Arcadegeddon is also available on PS4 and PC via the Epic Games Store.