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UTOPIA 9 – A Volatile Vacation is a 3D rouge-like twin-stick shooter from the indie developer Whalegun. Released in 2016 on the Steam platform and receiving mostly positive feedback it is now getting a new lease of life on the Nintendo Switch thanks to QubicGames.
Holidays of the future have changed, we are no longer restricted to simply taking a break on Earth. After being terraformed alien planet UTOPIA 9 has become the number one tourist destination in the galaxy. It is a status symbol and a place people aspire to visit at least once in their lifetime but all is not as it seems. Upon crash landing on the planet, it soon becomes apparent that everything was a hoax. The outside environments are harsh, the beautiful beaches are nothing more than sun-soaked wastelands inhabited by mutated freaks that will do anything to kill you. Much like a cross between WestWorld, Mad Max and Total Recall – just on a smaller screen. It is your mission to survive this holiday from hell and find a way to escape UTOPIA 9 so at the very least you can sue the travel agency!
Visually the game is pleasing without every being exceptional, the textures are a little on the basic side. Overall it offers little more than what we have come to expect from a good looking mobile title. Playing in handheld mode goes some way to compensate for this at the sacrifice of screen size, some of the characters and collectable items become rather small. Importantly the gameplay is solid enough to help make up for these minor niggles although there is nothing groundbreaking to report back about UTOPIA 9. The soundtrack is surprisingly qwerky and the sound of a mutant exploding has a horribly splodgy, yet satisfying, pop.
The story is split into a number of chapters which are displayed on a progression map that is accessed after completing each. There are a few twists and turns along the way but other than that it is a pretty linear progression following one of two routes. What Utopia 9 boasts is the now magical wording of ‘procedurally generated levels’ – meaning no two playthroughs should be exactly the same with areas, items and enemies shifting around. For the most part, it works perfectly well and on my various runs through the main game it was definitely noticeable that things were different.
When first starting Utopia 9 the controls and character movement seemed a little sluggish but through item collection you can mutate your tourist and upgrade their stats, well at least until you die again. Picking up travel points is a worthwhile investment as you can boost abilities with these. The difficulty is moderate to hard and you will find yourself dying quite a lot which is a little annoying as it also features permadeaths. Each time you restart a run you character is affectionately given a number, our little guy is known around the office as Tourist #11592. Enemies will scavenge your dead body for weapons and items so keep a note of their names, which are often based an iconic sci-fi reference, and hunt them down on the next run to reclaim what is rightfully yours. As with this type of game, there is a heavy focus on looting crates, boxes and anything you can get your grubby little hands on. There are masses of offensive weapons to find, everything from laser-guided hooks, alien tech to the suitcase you landed with. Finding the perfect loadout will play a big part in how successful you are, ammo can be scarce so melee attacks from time to time wouldn’t go amiss. Saving the best weapons for the end of level bosses is highly recommended.
UTOPIA 9 isn’t overly rich of content, it is designed to be played over and over again in a bid to further your progress in reaching the end goal and a higher ranking. There are a handful of unlocks to find while playing, different character skins for example, but most offer little in the way of real assistance when compared to the scavenging of equipment. It does feature a nice little local co-op mode which is fun and makes the challenge easier in some respects but at the forfeit of having to share ammo and life. Just make sure you play with a seasoned pro at twin-stick shooters and not your nan because there’s no one else to entertain her.
UTOPIA 9: A Volatile Vacation is a fun title that offers an enjoyable experience. It doesn’t ever quite reach the heights of some of the all-time great shooters out there but it gives it holds its own. I often found myself running away from a fight for fear of death and cheesing kills at range. Controls for the weapon selection has been mapped to the broken d-pad of the left Joy-Con which was a little awkward to master whilst in the midst of a firefight and pretty much always ended with everything going tits up. For a short burst experience here and there UTOPIA 9 is worth checking out.
TBG Score: 5/10
Platform: Steam, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 19/01/2019
No. of Players: 1-2
Category: Adventure, RPG, Shooter, Action
Download link: eShop