My iPhone now has an identity problem thanks to Cascadia Games. You see, whenever I load up 2-Bit Cowboy, my last-gen console crushing smartphone thinks that it’s a Gameboy Classic. This in itself is not a bad thing however, as 2-Bit Cowboy is retro platforming shooter with brilliantly accessible gameplay, excellent controls and charm to spare.
Placing players in the frayed boots and rusty spurs of the titular cowboy, Cascadia Games effort makes no attempt to hide the fact that this is one humdinger of a nostalgia trip. With gorgeous monochrome aesthetics generously draped throughout and charming animations to boot, 2-Bit Cowboy really does look like a Gameboy Classic title brought to life on today’s mobile hardware.
As to the gameplay, 2-Bit Cowboy gets it right where it matters most with ultra-responsive controls that transcend the traditional awkwardness of touch-based controls and compact but challenging levels.
Like everything else in the game, the setup in 2-Bit Cowboy is pleasingly simple. Each level has a whole bunch of coins dotted around that the player can collect and then use to purchase a variety of different upgrades for their character. These range from the cosmetic such as a variety of hats and other clothes for your gunslinger, to an array of drinks that can make our plucky hero jump higher or take more damage. Where things get interesting though, is in the inclusion of various bounty-giving mission objectives that are layered atop of every stage.
Triggered by picking up ‘Wanted’ posters that are dotted throughout each level, the missions try to sound like they’re asking you to do different things like ‘stop the gang’ or ‘kill the scorpions’, but in reality it all boils down to basically the same thing; namely shoving hot lead in the faces of these designated targets as quickly as possible. While the missions themselves provide ample cause for prancing about the game’s Old West themed retro-worlds, each level has enough secrets, crates which can be destroyed (watch out for snakes!) and coins to find that exploration becomes something you’ll naturally feel inclined to do, rather than forced.
Oh and whilst we’re on the topic of level traversal, a horse pops up from time to time that can be used to get around much faster than your avatar’s stumpy legs can manage. Be careful though, this trusty steed is pretty swift and often, it can be all too easy to find yourself plummeting into chasms that you really don’t need to be.
Elsewhere, the levels themselves are a challenging bunch and were it not for the pixel-perfect agility afforded by the fantastic touch-screen controls (you have just four on-screen buttons for moving left, right, jumping, shooting and that’s your lot) frustration would set in far earlier than it currently does. Certainly, don’t let the saccharine retro visuals fool you; at the monochromatic core of 2-Bit Cowboy beats the wicked heart of an unforgiving platforming monster that is every bit as difficult to master as it easy to pick up and play.
Make no mistake this is a difficult game. From every errant bullet your hero soaks up to every hostile bat or scorpion that they bump into, having your modest health reserves reduced to zero happens often and the complete lack of a checkpoint system means that such failure is compounded by the frustration of having to start the level again in its entirety.
That said, it’s the sort of frustration that’s hard to be properly angry at, since the player becomes acutely aware early on that the weight of such failure falls not on the shoulders of shoddy game design (though the lack of checkpoints is harsh) but rather on their own skills and the need to improve them.
With its freakishly tight controls, lovely retro visuals and substantial challenge, 2-Bit Cowboy’s ‘Westernvania’ trappings might be a little too harsh for platforming rookies in the early going, but for practiced hands and those who persevere, Cascadia Games have crafted a frankly excellent retro platform shooter that can be yours for the price of packet of Walker’s crisps.
An iOS copy of 2-Bit Cowboy was independently purchased by the reviewer for use on an iPhone 5.