Boiling Bolt is a side scrolling Bullet Hell shooter that is a decent addition to the genre, but not without its problems. I love old school arcade games. Without my own disposable income or access to games as freely as they are today, games that were designed to be replayed endlessly, testing you to reach just that bit further to crack a high score or simply reach the next set piece were my bread and butter. I’ve always enjoyed the bullet hell style of games, even if I’ve never been particularly great at them so this caught my eye. From the off, there’s no messing about. Straight to the title menu, no faffing about. Arcade is the first option. Good, lets play. A brief tutorial, with some broken English? No problem. First level, OK, here we go. Dead. 2 lives left. OK, bit more cautious, my craft is apparently made of paper-mâché. Got a decent combo going…dead. 1 life left. Remember your training from 5 minutes ago. You have a dodge. Test it no…dead. Back to square one.
This cycle will be most players’ introduction to the game. A proper old school difficulty doesn’t hold your hand or ease you in. Persevere, and you’ll get the hang of the dodge. Its range is a tad too far however, meaning you are just as likely to dodge into an unseen enemy or bullet, but get the timing just right and time slows to a crawl, allowing your craft to maneuver out of harms way. Basic firing is handled by the right stick, your bullets firing at a steady, slow rhythm. Dodging slows this further, so while the enemies are briefly easier to move around, your attack is hampered at the same time. It stops this being an overpowering move, but can be a bit frustrating as it’s hard to properly aim due to the rhythmic nature of firing anyway. You just have to adjust the stick and hope the angle is right, leading to plenty of missed shots and score multipliers dropping.
To help with this, you have 4 special abilities, mapped to the d-pad and activated via the right trigger. A cone of vision hones in on enemies automatically, at the cost of damage output. Another has a short range laser, which deals big damage but you have to keep close and train it on them. These two I felt were fairly useless from my time playing as the benefits didn’t outweigh the risks. The other 2, a black hole that sucks enemies and bullets in before exploding – scattering the bullets, and an ice shield that protects you from harm, explodes on release but slows you down while activating, were my go-to choices. Firing the black hole, you can get sucked into it, firing the whole time, dodge out and watch as a barrage of your bullets spew off in all directions. Getting caught up when the action gets going though, it’s a little too easy to accidentally suck yourself in along with enemy ships and bullets, costing you a life. Again, I’m not the best at these games, but there were occasions where enemies would spawn in behind me just as I fired it, their bullets and craft being drawn to it and hitting me.
Dodging helps here, but the window to pull it off is quite small meaning a fair few cheap deaths. The linear tracks weave and wind around, which keeps things interesting as often you can see your objective in the distance, as well as incidental background detail. However, this can cause it to be quite hard to keep track of your craft in among all the carnage with effects, bullets and craft crowding the screen in such a way that you can’t see your ship until another life is lost. Lose all your lives and it’s game over, back to the first level. Another nod to arcade sensibilities, it is just as frustrating now as it was then to finally get that tiny bit further only to have it all stripped away by an unseen enemy, or a boss that comes out of the gate with an attack that fills the screen. At least you don’t need to insert another 50p this time…
It’s possible to upgrade your ship with 3 abilities at once. Increase your strength (shot power), speed (craft movement and firing speed) and defense (how many lives you have). More powerful versions usually upgrade 2 at once at the cost of the third and there is also an option to increase your bullet count from single shot, to 3 or 5. I tried messing about with different combos, but found due to the sometimes random deaths, keeping defense high was the best option. The 5 scatter shot was a must too, with speed being on the losing end of the battle for my third slot. There’s plenty of room for experimentation here, but any other combo for me made the game way too hard and simply not very fun. Get a good set up for yourself though, the game becomes a fun, challenging nod to the good old days. It’s very satisfying to clear a screen full of enemies using all the tools at your disposal, seeing that combo and score climb higher and moving onto the next, unknown area. There’s an overarching story, your typically arcade fare that only really serves to fill in the small interludes between more shooty-shooty-bang-bang.
The visuals are bright and have a nice style to them, the gameplay loop is fun and when things are going your way, it can give you a real adrenaline boost. A slow basic firing rate and some cheap lost lives can lead to frustration, especially in the later levels, but overall Boiling Bolt is a fun throwback to simpler times that is equally as challenging as it is annoying.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.