Genetic Disaster by French developer Team8 Studio is co-op, multidirectional shoot ‘em up in the style of Enter the Gungeon and similar titles. You and three other players can use the more than 65 weapons to fight through a procedurally generated cartoon mansion. Genetic Disaster is a casually enjoyable twin-stick shooter, but it doesn’t really do much to make itself stand out against the pack.
My first impression of Genetic Disaster was, “huh, this isn’t that bad.” Genetic Disaster has been out since at least December, and during its release didn’t receive stellar user reviews. It touts its “appealing accessibility” on the product page, and I wouldn’t say this is inaccurate. Genetic Disaster is extremely easy to pick up and play, even with gamers without experience in this specific genre to draw upon. There are four characters to choose, each with their own power-up that is easy to understand and use in combat. Its Saturday morning cartoon meets steampunk aesthetic is great, and beautiful, and mixes well with a soundtrack that sounds like it took inspirations from Danny Elfman circa 1990s. It leaves a great first impression, but unfortunately that impression doesn’t last.
Let’s go back to those four anthropomorphized characters you can choose between, all with their own special abilities. The characters are visually distinct, and each of their special powers are effective, but some characters are objectively better than others. That’s not a good look for a game with four player co-op, and unfortunately, those powers don’t get more effective with a full complement of players. Partially because there is little synergy between character powers, and because the difficulty level scales the more people are playing. These characters each look great, and visually they have a TON of personality. One of the characters is even a fish in a fishbowl controlling a robot and looks like something that jumped out of Earthworm Jim or some other part of my childhood.
But for everything that Genetic Disaster does well, it does something else sort of “meh” or sucks the fun out of it. The guns are probably the first thing that comes to mind here.
There are ostensibly 65 weapons, but they lack variety. Most of the guns we came across in our playthroughs were variations of machine guns, SMGs and the like. The few unique guns, like those with boomerang projectiles or other more unique variations just lacked any feeling of power. After playing titles like Enter the Gungeon and the like, Genetic Disaster’s weapons and gunplay itself felt a little lacking compared to its peers.
The levels are procedurally generated. As you and your friends make your way up the mansion the intention is for you to be met with an ever-different combination of rooms. Unfortunately, the procedural generation is a bit lackluster, and even a bit annoying—with bridges leading to nowhere, and the occasional odd side rooms, or dead ends with no purpose.
Between levels you can purchase power-ups that persist through your single playthrough, like faster character movement speed or ignoring damage taken when falling into pits, etc. These are pretty standard fare, and there isn’t much that is very noteworthy.
While you play through each level there are various mutations that rotate out, some beneficial, and others that harm you. This is a pretty neat idea, but it is mostly unnoticed or broken in implementation. Sometimes projectiles will bounce off of walls, or enemies will drop bombs that will harm you when they die—each of these mutations are displayed in the upper right corner. Quite often these mutations would sometimes not even work correctly, with a “null” being displayed where the current mutation should be.
That isn’t the only bug, or instance of non-polish in Genetic Disaster, as there are a ton of little quality of life issues it suffers from. You can’t rebind controls, for instance, and we encountered quite a few consistent problems trying to get co-op games going. Though these were problems that were solvable by restarting the game, it would be a shame to have a run ruined by such a bug.
The game’s pacing is pretty abysmal, and probably what killed my desire to put any more effort into Genetic Disaster. The enemies are okay—mostly standard fare (more of that “meh” factor) but the first boss really destroys my desire to start new runs. As far as I can tell, you can only harm the first boss when he does a specific attack, that appears to be random. I have wasted too much of my life fighting him, and I have to say it is probably the most garbage, frustrating boss encounter I’ve ever had in this sort of game. And it’s not for its difficulty, but its slow, agonizing pace.
Genetic Disaster seems great at first. You can probably happily sink a few hours into it. But it just doesn’t have the staying power and polish of its peers. Its whimsical cartoon art style and soundtrack can’t save it from its own mediocrity and rubbish first boss.
Genetic Disaster is available now on Steam.
A copy of this game was provided to us for review purposes.