There’s something to be said for a twin-stick shooter that has a little substance to it in addition to function. What made games like Smash TV great was the overlay of a game show-style rhetoric alongside its chaotic death and destruction. Tower 57 is 11 Bit Studios and Pixwerk’s upcoming offering to this genre and it did more than bring the goods when we tried it at PAX South. It overachieved with a cool cast of characters, awesome weapons, creative upgrades and story elements that take this twin-stick shooter to a potent level of solo and co-op fun.

Tower 57 takes place in a dystopian world where the outside is polluted and dangerous. Humanity has gathered in massive towers where the lower levels live in sweltering poverty while the rich and affluent live lavishly near the top. Among these towers, the titular Tower 57 is reclusive and appears to hide a mysterious secret. A team of varied and interesting adventurers infiltrate the tower from the very bottom in an attempt to reach the top and discover the truth behind this dangerous tower.

11 bit Studios

At the beginning of the game, if running solo, you select three of the available characters. Each has their own primary weapon, but they’ve also got some pretty great secondary items that make a huge difference in how they play. For instance, in our playthrough, we chose the beggar, the spy and the scientist. The beggar has a shotgun that can devastate enemies close up, and his secondary is molotov cocktails that can be hurdled over walls and onto elevated surfaces to set enemies aflame at range. He also has the most starting money, which can be helpful. Compare this to the spy, who has a slow-firing railgun and a hack tool. The rail gun fires a powerful shot that can kill enemies in a line, while the hack tool can bypass any locked door through a hacking mini-game allowing you to take some hefty shortcuts through areas or reach otherwise unattainable bonus items.

When you’re playing solo, the three characters you select act as lives. If a character dies, they’re permanently dead unless you can find an item which can be used to revive them later. Then one of your other three characters is up to carry on the fight. You can also change between characters at special “closets” if you feel like changing your game up. Each character carries their own items, weapons and money, which is important to known because dying characters explode into bloody bits and all of the goodies they were carrying, making us frantic to get back to the spot and save all of that good loot. Though each character starts with a particular loadout, you’ll pick up other weapons throughout the game as well. For instance, destroying an automated turret blew the gun off, which we picked up and started firing at other enemies.

11 bit Studios

In fact, destructibility is a big part of Tower 57’s frenetic pace. There are tons of things in every level that can be destroyed in order to collect hidden coins and weapons or get to new areas. Walls and barricades can be blown apart by explosives or by shooting at barrels, making the levels more than a little flexible. Just be careful. Your body parts are destructible as well. In fact, there’s a chance that you could have your arms or legs destroyed by particularly vicious beasts, forcing you to hobble around on your torso or disabling your ability to use guns. Luckily, there are vending machines and shops that sell replacement body parts, as well as upgraded parts that can lend you special abilities such as legs with higher movement or arms that strengthen weapons.

The environments are pretty incredibly varied too. You start at the very bottom in the sewers where mutants and monstrosities run rampant. However, as you work your way up Tower 57, you start to get into more established and wealthy areas where humans will fight you as well. Fighting isn’t all you do though. Making it through a level can lead to hub zones where you can take a load off, investigate problems and do some shopping (such as for the aforementioned body parts). They’re a fine breather between the tenacious chaos of the dangerous levels that allows for some extra context to what exactly is going on in Tower 57’s world. Either way, the artistic visuals of the enemies, NPCs and environments are pretty lush. Whether you’re in a danger zone or not, Tower 57’s world is laden with a sort of Art Deco style that reminds of a pixelated Bioshock at times.

11 bit Studios

If you’re looking for a good twin-stick shooter, Tower 57 will give you more than just some guns and swarms of enemies to shoot. It’ll serve you up with an extensively chaotic and cool dungeon crawler where keeping your arsenal sharp and your body parts attached is key to surviving long enough to make it to the next floor. We played it solo, but we’re looking forward to taking a friend in to exterminate Tower 57’s dangerous denizens on our bullet-laden trek to the top.

Tower 57 is set for release in 2017 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac & Linux with plans for release on the classic AMIGA as well.