I love a game with a good sense of humour and understanding of its absurdity.
Sure, some of the best games I’ve played have a layered, serious narrative, full of excellent character development, dramatic scenes and a great gameplay feel.
But sometimes you just want a guy who sounds like David Attenborough to tell you about an absurd, rare species of animal you’ve never heard of before, and explain why they’re more pissed off about losing their lunch than their children. Sometimes, you just want that hangry, random creature to pick up an AK-47 and go on a quest for revenge.
This is AK-xolotl, a game that looks, feels and plays a whole hell of a lot like the excellent Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon. If you love those games, you’re going to have a world of fun here.
You shoot things, kill enemies, gather lots of doraditos which can then be spent on new weapons and abilities, and then fight big bosses as you try to progress to the next zone.
There are some pivots and quirks of course, like a Tamagotchi esque mini game where you help little xolotl’s grow by nurturing and feeding them. They can then either grow up to become bad ass AK wielding xolotl’s like dear old mom and dad – you do this by spoonfeeding them, sticking a diaper on them and even giving them a bath – or you can sacrifice them for the greater good and get some permanent quirks for yourself, Cult of the Lamb style.
But yes, the principal aim of this is shooting your way through rabbits, raccoons – with shotguns, no less – foxes, turtles, crocodiles, even crabs – all of whom are armed with weapons, by the way – then moving onto another room in a bid to reach the boss of the zone. Maybe even a secret room if you’re feeling a little adventurous.
Each room is slightly different and defined by a symbol above the entrance way. For example, a bag of gold is a shop for you to spend your golden doraditos – I bet they’re chilli heatwave flavour – and a star lets you choose a perk for each run. Provided you can fight your way through the enemies standing in the way of your chest, of course.
This game has a fairly simplistic, yet energising formula, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find these games extremely difficult to put down. I put this on for review, looked up and five hours had passed. I am absolutely the target audience here. And particularly since you gradually unlock more things back at base after fulfilling certain conditions or coming back after a particular run.
The quirks, of course, can also make the gameplay feel quite different. Whether you’re increasing your damage output but slowing down your reloads or activating a battery to electrocute any enemy that gets too close to you. There’s even a powerup that sees you leave a trail of fire behind you. Told you they were Chilli Heatwave…
The core gameplay hook is perfect. There’s also the right blend of difficulty – at the start, you can opt for a slightly more casual mode with easier enemies, a bigger health bar and more healing properties or go for the more traditional roguelike experience – but also there’s enough going on back at base that you can spend a bit of time between runs optimising yourself and managing your resources to get in best shape.
Of course, as with all roguelikes, once you die during a run you’ll have to start right back at the beginning. These are hard times, but by defeating a boss for the first time, things do change over the course of the zones. You can start unlocking new areas to explore and find other ways to progress to the boss, but there’s also new guns to make the job a little bit easier. And, of course, new enemies to balance things out a bit.
That’s how AK-xolotl keeps itself interesting, continues to reinvent the loop over the course of the game and always keeps you on your toes in a wholly satisfying way. All while making you laugh. Rubbing my babies belly to get them to belch properly had me barrelling over.
And even when you’re building up your little creatures, from hatching to building them in a set defined way, giving them a specialisation by feeding them a cookie, and even preparing the correct dish which can give them a distinct boost, you start to find the perks and bonuses you best connect with to then make sure your run goes on as long as it can.
I fell into this game right away with minimal onboarding. That’s because the tutorialisation was clear, the game made me laugh out loud several times – this game is genuinely funny – and is really fun to get into and the bosses are an absolute blast, each with their own fun little quip but all representing their own unique challenge.
There’s a lot of surprises in store with AK-xolotl which I don’t want to delve into too deeply here, I believe this is a game you need to experience for yourself. But I will say that this set off the same kind of lightbulb moment in my head that Nuclear Throne did and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it or playing it since.
It’s out this week, it’s on every format imaginable and quite frankly you need to own this game, regardless of whatever else is releasing. It’s that damn good.
AK-xolotl is the most entertaining roguelike I’ve played since Nuclear Throne. It nails that sense of pacing, it adds some suitably fresh quirks to differentiate itself and it’s full of belly-busting humour that is rib-cracklingly hilarious. This is an absolute triumph and must-have looter shooter that’s one of the best indie games of the year.
+ Brilliant bosses
+ Fun mechanics to freshen up the formula
+ Great sense of humour that’s genuinely funny
+ Expertly blends the wholesome with the hardcore
+ Wonderful loop that you just want to keep playing
– Repetition can set in after a while
AK-xolotl is out now on PC, Switch, PS5 and Xbox
Code Kindly Provided by Playstack for review purposes
Tested on PC