A lot of the indie titles that are launching on Nintendo Switch now are games that I missed when they were originally released and Inversus Deluxe is no exception. The newly-expanded top-down shooter is a game that I actually hadn’t even heard of until I saw it on the Nintendo Switch eShop, where it launched alongside almost a dozen other indie titles this past week. Intrigued by its minimalistic design, I sat down with the game this weekend to see if it is a worthy addition to the ever-expanding Switch library.
Much like its art style, Inversus’ core gameplay is very minimalistic. Up to four players jump into a match and attempt to destroy their opposition by shooting at them. Each player’s limited set of actions includes moving, firing a single bullet in any of the four cardinal directions, charging up a three-bullet barrage that is centered on the tile that you are currently on, and picking up quick shots that spawn at set locations around each map at varying times. Players can hold up to five shots at a time, with ammo regenerating slowly over time. Any quick shots that are picked up will replace your current ammo and then subsequently fill empty ammo slots up to five quick shots. Your ammo is shown on your character, which allows matches to be completely HUD-less.
Maps are tile-based, but players can move around freely. Each team plays as one color—each team’s color is determined by your chosen color palette(s), but the two teams’ colors are usually black and white—and can only move through tiles of the opposite color. As they shoot, their bullets will turn tiles that they can’t move through into tiles that they can move through until the point where they hit a wall or the edge of the map. Certain maps feature a different power-up, which allows you to temporarily move through the opposing team’s territory and change it to your team’s color without shooting at it, which is represented by your character turning the color of the power-up. Some of the game’s maps allow you to wrap around to the other side of the map, usually only on either the horizontal or vertical axes, but sometimes on both. Fortunately, each map is carefully designed so that no bullets can continue to travel endlessly.
These simplistic mechanics carry with them a surprising amount of depth. Because you have to change tiles to the color that you can move through, the shape of the map is constantly changing; you not only have to worry about where you and your opponent are, but also where you and your opponent can actually travel to. You constantly have to spend ammo ensuring that you aren’t going to get trapped in a small area and subsequently killed. You also have to be careful on maps that wrap around, as, depending on where you are on the map, your character may appear on the screen twice, which is a clever way of disorienting unsuspecting players.
Simply choosing when and how you fire at your opponent(s) has nuance, as well. Bullets can collide in midair, canceling each other out. Spinning up charged shots takes time, which means that their use can be a gamble. However, firing off a barrage of single shots can also be a gamble, as ammo regeneration takes even more time. Additionally, charged shots can be used to shoot around corners without risking getting shot at, as you can sit at the edge of a corner and fire one of your three shots into open space, even if it wastes two.
An interesting side-effect of the way that the game is designed is that you aren’t actually killed by the bullets themselves. Instead, you are killed by the tile that you’re standing on when its color is changed to one that you can’t move through. Because of this, the key to survival is ensuring that you aren’t on a tile that is in the path of a bullet, rather than ensuring that you just barely avoid the bullet in question. It’s a small difference, especially given that bullets effectively take up half of the width of each tile anyways, but it’s one that adds to the game’s unique concept.
This core gameplay is utilized in three different modes: an Arcade mode, a 1v1 deathmatch mode, and a 2v2 deathmatch mode. The Arcade mode allows one or two players to fight against an increasingly large number of AI in an attempt to get the highest score that they possibly can. Some of these are red-colored squares that move towards you and slowly turn the map into tiles you can’t move through while others act more like players. Because enemies can explode and destroy each other, the key to getting a high score seems to be lining them up properly and using one well-placed shot to destroy the lot of them. Enemies normally drop a single quick shot, meaning that ammo is fairly plentiful compared to the competitive modes, but successfully comboing several at a time will cause the enemies that you destroy to drop three-shot pickups. While this seems easy enough on paper, the limited range of explosions and the ever-growing threat of an AI getting too close to you as you try to line them up make the Arcade mode fairly challenging.
The 1v1 and 2v2 deathmatch modes are fairly self-explanatory. Players simply duke it out on either maps of their choice if playing offline or random maps if playing online until one team wins enough rounds to win the match; the number of rounds that you need to win to win the match can be set if playing offline, but is three if playing online. Bots can be utilized if playing offline, and are fairly competent, but the game really shines when playing against other players. The game’s simple mechanics come together in a ballet of bullets, different parts of the map constantly changing as you continue the fight. It can become a dance not unlike that of the average fighting game, with two evenly-matched sides deftly deflecting death the moment before it would otherwise strike. The fast pace and resource management elements make battles tense in a way that few other competitive top-down shooters can match.
I personally found that the 1v1 mode is where the game excels. The Arcade mode is a nice touch, but the game’s focus is clearly on competitive multiplayer and, unless you find yourself constantly striving for high scores on the game’s online leaderboards, you probably won’t spend much time playing it. I also felt that the 2v2 mode’s added chaos ruined the game of careful calculations and exacting execution that is the 1v1 mode.
In all modes, you start out with only one map. In the Arcade mode, you earn new maps by achieving high enough scores on each map that you earn stars, which are then used to unlock new maps. Each Arcade map has a total of five stars that can be earned by achieving increasingly higher scores.
Maps for the 1v1 and 2v2 deathmatch maps are unlocked separately, but the process is the same. You start with one map and unlock them in the order that they are displayed. The simplest way to unlock them is by winning an offline match on that map, whether versus AI or another player. However, they are also unlocked at varying intervals through the player progression system, which I will explain in more detail in a bit. This does mean that playing offline is the best way to unlock levels, but matches are quick and the AI are customizable, so you can unlock every level fairly quickly, should you be so inclined.
As you play matches, you will earn experience and either earn or lose ELO-like Rank Points that are meant to give an estimate of how often you win. As you earn experience, your account will level and you will be awarded various cosmetics, including new color palettes and new emotes. Attaining a certain level can also unlock maps, albeit at much greater intervals. Additionally, you have separate Arcade and Versus levels, which are tracked on separate online leaderboards. While I’m not fond of having to earn color palettes that I could potentially like far more than those that you start with, the system does manage to reward you for simply continuing to play the game and does so without any sort of increase in power.
While the core gameplay is great, Inversus also does a great job of simply being comfortable to play. It allows you to play with up to four players offline and against random players or a friend online. You can form a two-player party with either another local player or a friend that is playing on another Switch console. You can even play a local match versus bots or other players while waiting for an online match; if that match is interrupted when a match is found, you can resume it while waiting for another match. You can choose any number of color schemes that will rotate between rounds, removing any that you don’t like. Shooting is done via the face buttons, rather than the right joystick, meaning that the game can easily be played with one Joy-Con or two. No matter how you want to play Inversus, it will let you play that way. The value of that fact alone can not be understated, especially on a console like the Switch.
I went into Inversus Deluxe unsure of what to expect and ended up finding a polished, well-designed top-down shooter. If someone had asked me a week ago what I considered to be the gold standard of perfected minimalist design, I would have, without a doubt, answered with the wonderful competitive iPad game Shot Shot Shoot, but no longer. Inversus is one of a small number of games that truly thrives in its minimalism, offering an experience that is easy to learn, hard to master, and exceptionally comfortable to play. Because it’s a top-down shooter, it may not be the next big party game, but it may very well have just become a go-to of mine for quick bouts of smooth top-down shooting action.
Inversus Deluxe is available on the Steam and the Nintendo Switch eShop for $14.99. An Xbox One version is set to launch on the Microsoft Store on October 4th, while a PlayStation 4 version is set to launch on the PlayStation Store in early November.
Important note: Hypersect sent us a copy of the Nintendo Switch version of Inversus Deluxe for the purpose of writing this article.