There’s just something about art deco that makes me sit up and take notice. The glitzy, over decorated skyscrapers, big band music, and the zeitgeist of anything is possible makes it such a perfect style to juxtapose against. Tower 57 captures this amazingly and in a very attractive 16-bit pixel art style that, at least artistically, makes it one to look into.
Tower 57 is a top-down neo-retro twin-stick shooter that eschews the modern desire for the procedural buffet and instead brings us a well crafted three course meal. Each level has been designed (and redesigned after launch) to pack the most fun. I never got the chance to play it before the levels were revised so I can’t say to what level there has been improvement but apart from getting lost once and repeatedly walking past my exit, the game was an absolute joy.
At the start of the game you’re given the choice of three characters from a roster of six, each with their own unique tool, weapon, and special attack. The scientist gets a tesla gun, the spy has a hacking tool, and Abraham Lincoln has a flamethrower.
Throughout the game you control one of your chosen three, switching out whenever one gets low on health or when one dies. It creates a nice jarring mix-up of the old lives system of the 16-bit era and forces some thought into how you balance yourself out. Although in some cases it was just better to game over and reload an old save rather than pay out the nose to resurrect them.
Tower 57’s twin-stick shooting is reasonably tight, allowing for well executed dashes between bullet hell style projectiles and the damage of most guns – excluding the un-upgraded starting gun – feels satisfying, taking most enemies down in a few shots. To call back to the well crafted comment, the encounter design in Tower 57 is spot on. Bullet sponge enemies like the armoured turrets accentuate swarm encounters, tight hallways are made into deathtraps by charging beasts, and open arenas force you to dodge and weave as you fire off shots in all directions. As each enemy has its own patterns and behaviours Pixwerk have cleverly designed the levels to teach you and once you’ve learned, they introduce something new.
Throughout the game you earn coins for breaking stuff (crates, lights, fixtures, pillars, statues, and a hundred other things) and killing enemies. These can be spent on items (the waterproof trousers are a must), weapons, weapon upgrades, and cybernetic limbs. The latter of which you will need to buy a lot if you aren’t careful. Shark dogs and psychotic doctors both have devastating attacks that can dismember, leaving you unable to use your weapon/tool or force you to crawl to an Arms machine.
The Arms machine perfectly sums up Tower 57’s theme. The tower, while embodying an art-deco/dieselpunk art style focuses on the corrupting influence of power and money: routinely informing the player through the news monitors that anything above Floor 34 is much better. Workplace injuries are so commonplace that literal vending machines for replacement limbs exist AND you have to pay for them, even if your legs have been chopped off.
All of this is a [SPOILER ALERT] wonderful lead-up to the revelation that the people in the better part of the tower are being lied to. A news story about unemployment mentions the record height in Amor’s Den (the slums) and the record low in the Penthouse (the rich part of town). But all of that pales in comparison to the final reveal [MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT] that everyone except Mother are clones in a cyclical experiment to discover what went wrong with the human race that led to our destruction. An amazing, thought provoking and morally grey ending that was completely and utterly undermined by the fact that you just straight up fucking die if you haven’t got one of the secret weapons and upgraded it completely…[SPOILER OVER]
Pixelwerk are a small team and seem genuinely dedicated to making Tower 57 a shining experience. They are constantly working on new content, porting, and fixing bugs which is a refreshing sight. But, and you know there’s a but, that doesn’t meant Tower 57 is excused for some annoying bugs. During the boss fight in the sweatshop I repeatedly got stuck in the fence after losing my first character and just had to lose the fight, a loss made even sourer by the fact my companion was usually stuck in a bin several areas back.
I never got a chance to play Tower 57 in co-op but I found the singleplayer to be a tight, enjoyable, and fun experience that, due to its four hour runtime, I might actually play again one day. If you like running and gunning and want something new (that feels old) then Tower 57 is definitely recommended.
You can find Tower 57 on Steam HERE