Gearshifters Review – Highway To The Shoot ‘Em Zone

Developed by Red Phantom Games

Published by Numskull Games

Available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch

MSRP $24.99

I’ve got a confession. I’m not one for shoot ‘em ups. I’m bad at focusing on several things, especially many of the same things that are going in different directions on screen that I have to avoid (though I did put about a hundred thousand hours into Nuclear Throne, only to loop maybe twice). So I was hesitant to try out Gearshifters, because what if I can’t beat it? Thankfully, the game was cool and different enough from Cuphead and Galaga that I was able to wrap my mind around it and have a great time to boot. 

Gearshifters takes place in a sort of Mad Max world. Specifically, the first Mad Max movie, when there were still police and infrastructure and just some societal collapse into a muscle car apocalypse. You play as the latest addition to a team of expert drivers. You’re tasked with traversing through dangerous enemy territories in order to bring supplies to those in need. There are some deeper story elements, with a mysterious organization called the Citadel in which you’re trying to join, as well as actually pretty harrowing sci-fi elements. But really, at the end of the day, it’s the icing on the road rage cake.

The gameplay for Gearshifters at first looks like a classic arcade shoot ’em up. All the elements are there; shooting up, and ‘em. But there are actually some significant additions to the genre’s style that make it unique. Gearshifters has a handful of car-based mechanics that make the gameplay really pop. Pull the handbrake to zoom backward on the screen. Shoot at an angle by doing a powerslide. Avoid homing missiles by rapidly rotating. Okay, that last one isn’t really a thing cars do unless hydroplaning. It’s still cool though.

The car upgrades are pretty neat. Gearshifters has a pretty solidly customizable vehicle. There are probably 10 primary weapons, 10 secondary weapons, and a handful of non-gun powers you can activate. On top of that, you can upgrade the armor, the tires, the engine, passive buffs of that nature. None of these particularly shake up the gameplay as much as, say, items in The Binding of Isaac. Having multiple cars to choose from a la FTL would be neat too. But the streamlined nature of the combat meant that the gun varieties were good and fun. 

Although it’s advertised as such, I wouldn’t exactly call Gearshifters a roguelite. There are some random elements, like when or where an enemy is going to drop an upgrade blueprint. But it’s lacking the in-run items that would constitute different “builds.” You can also choose up to three different bonuses between levels, though these don’t really do much (ie you get 10% less damage when under 50% health). Not exactly a problem with the game, as I still thoroughly enjoyed it. But it was something that I was hoping for.

One of the strongest aspects of Gearshifters is the rate of progression. The game is divided up into 9 “zones,” stretches of road with unique enemies and a boss. With a limited amount of upgrades per zone, you can only get just strong enough to make it through alive. It started out simple enough, but pretty soon, each zone was a desperate fight for survival, with trucks dropping flaming barrels, suicide drag racers, technicals firing sawblades, and more. 

Those are the generic enemies—the bosses are much crazier. Gearshifters has something like 10 bosses. Each is creative and challenging and often pretty funny. The only downside of this is that once you beat a zone, you can’t go back and fight the bosses again. You can do a perma-death mode, which hardcore shmup fans will enjoy. The rest of us, however, will probably just use the checkpoints. 

Other than that, there’s not much more to say. This is a very straightforward game, which I really appreciate. Gearshifters may not live up to the roguelite adjective, but it makes up for it in most other ways. Besides, that just leaves room for growth when we get Super Gearshifters Rising: Revengeance – New Ultimate Horizons, Ruby, and Sapphire editions.