When you play a shmup, you’d expect yourself to be shooting tons of bullets, leveling up like a madman as you continue improving your weapon as you take on hundreds of foes that swarm your position. Circuit Breakers, by Triverske, breaks away from the norm, as players lose weapon levels while they shoot. It’s a weird and original take on the classic multidirectional shooter formula, and while it’s occasionally fun, it doesn’t really work.

Circuit Breakers

Developed by Triverske / Published by Excalibur Games

Available on the PC and PS4. Reviewed on the PS4.

*Review code provided by Excalibur Games

Circuit Breakers plays and feels similar to the classic arcade title Smash TV, with players navigating through a series of top-down rooms that quickly fill up with robotic enemies looking to end your life. Players can freely move about and shoot in eight directions using the face buttons or the analog stick, and use a shield that consumes energy. It’s a fairly normal shmup that looks and feels familiar, but the main gimmick comes from the fact that shooting bullets uses energium, a crystal that can be collected from destroyed enemy robots and specially marked crates that can be destroyed.

The problem is that the energium mechanic doesn’t really work. While most shmups have players strengthen their weaponry as they continue facing off against increasing difficult hordes, Circuit Breaker punishes the player for shooting too much, as reckless shooting will lower the level of the weapon. While this adds a risk factor that adds to the game’s challenge, it actually makes the game harder as each room contains increasingly larger waves of enemies, and tougher ones to boot. Each character comes with their own weapon, and some are better than others when it comes to energium efficiency, so not every character will suffer like the other when it comes losing levels, but it’s frustrating that you have to be careful shooting or else risk being underpowered.

Tons of enemies and leveled down weapons? Check.

The game is mechanically sound and controls as well as it should, but it isn’t that fun when your weapon keeps leveling down because you’re shooting too much, unless you like the added challenge. It gets increasingly annoying when a message pops over the character’s head indicating that you leveled up, for then it to say you leveled down when you shoot. There are plenty of energy crates to give you a boost in energy if you need it, but with some weapons like a shotgun using a lot of energy, it gets old fast.

Then the A.I. occasionally has some problems, with enemies getting stuck in little rooms they can only enter, requiring players to bait them out so that they can be fired upon. It’s not a big deal, but it happens often.

The game comes with two main modes: Arcade, which pits players against unending waves of enemies as they push from room to room and the occasional boss battle, and Score Attack, which lets players compete in short circuits to gain the highest score possible and compare themselves against others on an online leaderboard. Playing single player is okay, but there’s no real variety to the game, with similar looking levels, and a small variety of enemy types. The real entertainment comes from playing with others, teaming up and blasting away at robots room by room. The game comes with co-op, which is great, but lacks online multiplayer, so buddies from different places won’t be able to blast away at enemies together.

Circuit Breakers isn’t a bad shmup, it’s just not as good as the others with its weird leveling down mechanic, repetitive gameplay and couch co-op only multiplayer. Some players might find something to like here, but others might find it to be an average arcade experience.