Vicious Attack Llama Apocalypse, hardly roles off the tongue, does it? The very name of the game clearly points out that it doesn’t take itself seriously, at all, which is exactly what you can expect. The game is described as a frantic top-down twin-stick shooter that throws you into the role of a Llamazon employee. Your duties include overseeing and piloting assault mechs from the safety of your offshore ocean carrier, well out of the way of the current Llama-fueled apocalypse. Wait, Llama-fueled apocalypse? I hear you ask? Yes, this is the backbone of the story. You see, one ex-employee decided that enough was enough, and somehow managed to reprogram your company’s Llamas to do his evil bidding, and now, they’re everywhere, and it’s up to you and your trusty mech to remedy the issue.
The gameplay remains fairly straightforward from the onset. Movement is controlled via the left stick, weapon aiming is tethered to the right stick, and two primary weapons can be fired using the triggers. There’s also three abilities that can be used, providing you have the energy to do so. This comes on top of a single use super power, as well as passive perks that can be picked through natural progression. It’s as basic as you would expect any given twin-stick shooter to be, and I have to say, it’s remarkably fluid, if indeed lacking in other departments. The short yet informative tutorial gifts you with all of the insight that you need to make it through, which ensuring that by the time the game stops holding your hand, you’re well equipped to get from A to B.
The aim of the game typically sees you clearing out one area of Llamas before moving to the next. You can also aim for in-game challenges, which range from destroying a set amount of objects, to a set amount of Llamas. It’s hardly a game changing inclusion, but it does give you something else to work towards while moving through the main event. So long as you have access to the more devastating weapons later in, you can mix and match your firepower until your heart’s content. On this score, VALA doesn’t hold back. There’s a wide collection of different weapons to chase after, all of which come with their own sets of pros and cons. This power can be further enhanced with those aforementioned passive perks, which grant you with added buffs such as increased movement speed or increased damage output.
It all sounds great on paper, but there’s one baffling design choice that drags this game from greatness, its rogue-lite element. You see, when you work your ass off and unlock a new weapon, you’re not given the ability to equip it right off the bat. Instead, it will added to the loot pool, meaning that your chance of actually obtaining it is exactly that, chance. It would have been much better to be able to equip unlocked weapons via a loadout, rather than going through the game with crossed fingers. This wouldn’t be such a nuisance if it wasn’t for the fact that most of my drops consisted of the lower-end lackluster weapons, regardless as to which weapons I had unlocked at the time. This system is further hindered by how long it takes to unlock the more capable weaponry, only to have it completely gated by randomality. That’s not to say that VALA isn’t enjoyable, on the contrary it’s a blast, the longevity struggles to maintain this excitement throughout.
It doesn’t help matters that there’s only a small band of different enemies to take on. I understand that this game is centered in the midst of a Llama-fueled apocalypse, but would it hurt to throw in more interesting foes to tackle? Most of your time in this game will consist of killing Llamas; bouncing Llamas, spitting Llamas, large Llamas, and so on and so forth. This repetitive design is made all the more noticeable when you factor in that the location of Santa Llama City just doesn’t do much to entice. Of course, there are varying locations to wade through, but many of them lack diversity. The visuals are great, I’ll credit the game for that, but for an experience that’s so reliant on replay value, it would have been nice to see more than just city landscape, despite the few interesting areas that pop up infrequently and the unique layout on each run.
In regards to the difficulty curve, VALA is more about endurance than anything else, mostly due to the lack of any health regen. On the flip side, you can indeed pick up energy cells to replenish your energy, but that’s about it. The gameplay never really evolves, and remains a constant chase to unlock new weapons for the pool, as well as upgraded variations of them. The overarching story doesn’t really do well to sell itself, but it is held up by some decent voice acting. The writing can be both hilarious “s-Llama-Dunk”, and cheesy “a-Llama-nate them immediately”, I mean, really? But it does set the silly mood of the game quite well. VALA is an Xbox Play Anywhere game, meaning if you pick it up for Windows PC or Xbox One, you’ll get a free copy for the alternate platform. It goes without saying that this is a game that’s best played with your buddies, to which VALA houses drop-in/drop-out four player local co-op support. It’s a solid game, but niggling issues sadly hold it back.
VALA offers up heaps of action-packed twin-stick shooting madness, with a great deal of content to work toward and unlock. However, the lack of interesting locations, repetitive enemy variations, and the tedious random weaponry system, ultimately holds it back. Better gameplay structure and less grinding would have done VALA some justice.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.