Some games we enjoy for the story and narration that can elicit strong emotional responses that resonate with us. Other games we play because there are mechanics that are so deep or change so broadly that you never feel like you can get a complete grasp of the controls until the very end. Then there are some games like Cycle 28, or should I say Cycle 27, that are bullet-hell shooters that are simple to play and minimal in story but have loads of fun within every playthrough.
I use a bit of foreshadowing by saying Cycle 27, because the game begins with you reliving each playthrough on the 27th cycle, much like the movies Edge of Tomorrow or Groundhog Day. You are a pilot in a space ship trying to figure out what is going on by getting to the end of a countdown timer that begins with a little over 20 minutes play time. A pretty simple story that propels you forward only by a sense of wonderment and unknown. Really, the story is not the hook here but it's the solid gameplay that shines through and makes you sink hours of your time into the game.
Cycle 28 plays in the same vein as the stellar indie title Luftrausers by Vlambeer. You have no tutorial, as none is needed; no insight of the controls, you pick them up by the third or fourth restart; and no hand holding either, and the game is far better because of that. It takes only two minutes to understand that the game wants you to die, repeat and go further based on skill and upgrades that you acquire from each playthrough. You propel yourself forward with controls like a space simulator; using a thruster assigned to the back button to incorporate a propulsion system that really gives the game a unique and very specific sense of movement. It's very easy to understand how the game moves but it takes time to master the controls and really dodge around the map.
The enemies you face in the game do not come in a wide variety but there is enough of them to keep you on your toes. Simple single turret space pods to four-turret massive gunners spew out drones that seek out your spaceship litter the map, as well as ‘splitter’ space ships that home in on you in order to fly right through your ship with a laser. You start off at a disadvantage, but the more you play the more upgrades you get, which you can add to your ship in order to help you mow down your combatants. Double front, back or side guns, light or heavy drones to help you attack, or extra drones on colliding with ships; each these upgrades come with advantages but you have to pick them wisely because you can only have two of them in each playthrough. Of course there are some upgrades that are gimmicky, such as the collusion drones, but once you find your nice set of upgrades, you can really start to find the groove in the gameplay.
The music is very limited, two tones or beeps here and there. It does a good job at setting up a space ambience but I wish there was some more dramatic music or a more robust soundtrack to keep the vibes going strong. I do like the sound informing you of damage getting heavy on your ship which lets you know to slow down and stop attacking. By dodging projectiles and evading enemy ships you can gain your health back and continue with the current round. There's also a limited color palette that helps to differentiate between your blue ship and drones from yellow enemies. I enjoy the colors because again, space is limited, but having some far-off planets or stars in the background would have made for a livelier universe.
As fun as it's seeing how much further you can go and your top score getting higher and higher, there are some downsides to Cycle 28. Luftrausers did a great job at changing your weight, adding more variety of different enemies and giving you strategic missions throughout each playthrough. I try not to compare one game to another game’s own merit, but these two are so closely related that you cannot help draw comparison and see where one shines and the other falls just a little short. Cycle 28 is good at what it does but missing some of the key components to make it a game out of this world which is where it takes place. This strong judgement is not to say that Cycle 28 isn't a blast to play. It's a fun to have on hand for a quick pick up and play or to have it for a long flight. You can spend as much or as little time playing or enjoying Cycle 28 as you want. Even though there a few things I wish to have been added, I for one found Cycle 28 a joy to play, fun to blast through and a game that would be a nice addition to any gamer’s library.