To be or not to be Arnie? Embracing explosive chaos over control in modern 2D shooters

By Neil Merrett

Door Kickers: Action Squad, released on Nintendo Switch in 2019, published by Killhouse Games & Broforce, released on Nintendo Switch in 2018, developed by Free Lives

This is the tale of two shooters – Broforce and Door kickers: Action Squad.

While they both have a similar visual style and seek to accomplish much the same thing – in this case putting a bullet in a bad guy’s head – they go about the task in very different ways.

In terms of similarities, both games are side-on 2D shooters with a retro-aesthetic that brings more than a little pixel art charm to the gallons of blood, stabbings and explosions that are central components of both games.

Despite the surface similarities of Broforce and Door Kickers, the respective gameplay experience of both games are worlds apart from each other in terms of their influence and approach to conveying brutality and violence.

Doors Kickers is designed to evoke and recreate the experience of a modern tactical shooter. The retro visual style is underpinned by a game that demands precision timing, tactical distraction, gadgetry and even long-range sniping to limit collateral damage.

It has a range of modern gameplay mechanics, such as different character classes that can be levelled up and customised to a certain playing style – from explosive experts, to a shield carrying tactical support player, or perhaps a double pistol wielding federal agent with a mean evasive role.

The player’s preferred choice of weapons load-out, which can be unlocked and upgraded as Door Kickers: Action Square progresses, allows a more considered and thoughtful approach to gameplay that suits an individual’s preferred approach to urban combat.  Certain weapons can allow for a single, more accurate and highly lethal focus shot to snipe a single enemy by surprise or at distance through an external window.  Others may prefer a more random and wider reaching spread of bullets. 

A sea of troubles

Like a number of 2D shooters that have been developed during the current console generation, there are many different ways to convey violence, much as how movies have evolved to treat the subject.

One such approach is to take a more choreographed, almost balletic bout of simulated violence that brings a sense of style and rhythm to causing chaos and death.  The ramifications of a player’s action may be terrible – but its digital setting means that violence can be as stylish and breathtaking as it is brutal.

Door Kickers takes the form of a taut, action thriller where the player, either alone or playing on a couch or online with a partner, must coordinate every action for fear of tipping off opponents of their presence elsewhere in a level. This may result in finding innocent bystanders massacred or caught in your own crossfire.

In our modern times, where action movies are increasingly ripped directly from a sometimes painful, violent real world, Door Kickers can be an intense game where almost every move, every kick of a door, every explosion and every shot must be considered and well-timed, particularly when considering their dense real-world implications.

The game’s retro visuals mask a somewhat complex and tactical shooter. Yes, there are sometimes level bosses, life bars and even the possibility of extra lives – not to mention an additional zombie-mode, where the real-world challenges are balanced with an interdimensional invasion of the undead. But there is a modern intensity to the game that is intended to invoke a more chaotic and complex world.

Outrageous fortune

For hundreds of years, storytellers of all different backgrounds have sought to capture the central dilemma and human desire for violent retribution as a means to address terrible injustice.  What for instance might we lose in wreaking a wrong against someone who has violently wronged us or those we love?  Are we in the end a coward, or a good person for failing to act on these impulses and lose the name of action itself?

There are other storytellers, of course who – with great and not so great aplomb – give us tales of the righteous, unquestionable good of violence when used in the just cause of stopping the ‘bad guy’, or at least fatally inserting a length of piping into them.

If Door Kickers is a game that wants you to feel some basic consequence for pulling the trigger, Bro Force only really wants you to question whether dropping explosive canisters on a bad guy or beast is preferable to the more time-consuming method of machine gunning them into pieces.

It is a game where you might chose to hurl an explosive-vest wearing terrorist into a unsuspecting throng of his fellow bad guys, or perhaps cause a cave-in to mush them into a bloody paste.

Violence here is less about the consequences of your actions, as much as it is from getting maximum explosive reward.

Broforce is a game whereby the player has a chance to unlock a group of non-copyrighted, but strangely familiar action heroes of all genders, creeds and various species, to utterly destroy the villains – or as the game calls its “freedominate” your opponents. These are just bad guys that have infested, both figuratively and literally, the jungles and streets of the non-American world.

One character may be a generic musclebound commando, a seemingly indestructible Vietnam vet, or a heroic cop in a vest packing duel pistols. You may also get to play a leather-clad cyborg that as a special move can transform into an indestructible robot skeleton hidden under its skin. 

There is a yellow-clad female ninja with explosive punch powers, a sword man who gets the ability to erupt into an explosive lightning storm after removing the heads of his opponents, or a trench coat wearing martial artist that can take a red pill to distort ‘reality’ and be effectively able to avoid bullets and other harms for a brief period.

Other warriors may have chainsaw appendages, or be able to manufacture a bomb from some tape and a roast chicken – there is even a seemingly family-friendly warrior with a flame thrower, excessive levels of jewellery and a “bad attitude”, although it is uncertain if he has a fear of planes or not.

Whether you consider the game’s characters as parodies, homages, or charming rip offs of some of the most iconic characters from US action movies of the last 50 years, Broforce is a love letter to a certain style of film making that has persisted, in some cases, to this fast and furious modern age.

Slings and arrows

This is a style of storytelling where outrageous action is used to offer plain and easy solutions to the tangled moral labyrinth of a world that exists outside your local cinema  – they are modern-ish cowboys or cowgirls.  In this world, a bullet, blade or bomb, wielded by a true hero can overcome any adversity if done in the name of right or good.

With its destructible environments, Broforce seeks to recreate this kind of action story.  However, it can at times also start to resemble a puzzle game or retro title such as Dig Dug, where the player can shoot or blast their way through walls and structures to build their own paths and traps for the enemy.

At the end of most Broforce’s early levels, the player is charged with toppling the main bad guy – a literal devil in a suit – before escaping last minute via helicopter rescue as the world left behind is flattened in explosions.

Later in the game, Broforce is turned on its head by the introduction of acid blooded, unworldly monsters that not only feed, but can use the player, and its human opponents and allies to impregnate and use as incubators to make entire armies of their sharp toothed kin.

Having bathed in other enemies’ blood, the player is charged with suddenly not getting coated in these creatures’ acidic remains that can melt off skin.

Ultimately, even with these new opponents, the game is about sticking it to the irredeemable bad guys.  Helpfully, these opponents are a faceless collection of violent terrorists, unthinking monsters, or a technology-enabled mixture of the two.

There is the good player and pretty much the armies of bad.  As you literally flatten levels in battles with monstrous bosses and giggling henchmen, the main objective is to have fun and cause chaos. After all, truly bad guys deserve whatever happens to them when good must be done.

Like Door Kickers: Action Force, the game also comes with both couch and online cooperative play.  But by introducing another real world player/s to the mix, the game for the first time forces you to face some consequences for your actions.  With an ally suddenly in the mix, the careless decision to shoot through a roof to eliminate your opponents can see a rockslide that flattens and murders your partners, or leads to a cascade of explosive barrels that blow out the floor from underneath them.

Careless play that can be so enjoyable in single player can be almost game breaking when the player is sharing lives – or playable heroes – with another human. Here, they must suddenly consider the implications of death or a carelessly discarded air strike on those around them.

What is violence without consequence?

At its best, Broforce is a game where a player can leap from a giant death robot as it is bombarded by its own homing missiles and then making a last minute death defying leap onto one of the few remaining pieces of land, digging into the safety of a wall with your combat knife.

It is a game that charmingly simplifies violence and loss of life to a simple case of taking some form of action, be that guns, fists or explosions, the only choice is to act.  It’s amazing how simple such an ethos can make even the most complex stories…

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