New York-based indie studio Dang! is making its debut mark with a catch and release. Immediately, their upcoming game Boomerang X boldly jumps into 3D territory with a cel-shaded first-person shooter. In the likes of Killer 7 or XIII and its remake, players can feel a sense of warmth in Boomerang X from its sombre atmosphere. This helps alleviate some of the adrenaline players will feel with always being on the move.
Unlike most shooters, Boomerang X manages to add a new entry into the genre without firing a single bullet. Players will use the titular boomerang to fight waves of enemies under its unique mythical setting. But this gives veteran publisher Devolver Digital a bigger reason to polish the experience, which falls in line with its many steady anthologies of releases and self-contained worlds. Boomerang X’s world benefits from not being grounded by reality, channelling most of its imagination towards the level design at hand.
Players are mysteriously shipwrecked on an island, segmented with a variety of crumbled ruins of a lost civilization. The island is also occupied by demons connected to a higher being that players are bound to encounter throughout their journey. But early on, they’ll find themselves getting familiar with the land’s tight corridors before expanding into open arenas. These larger range sections become Boomerang X’s playground for zipping around through increasing amounts of creatures high and low.
The game stacks these odds against players who don’t use their signature weapon to the fullest. Within 20 seconds of starting the game, they quickly find themselves powerful by finding the boomerang, imbued with different types of abilities. As the sole weapon, players navigate through the ruins of an ancient civilization with it while sending demons back from whence they came. What makes the boomerang more special is how it becomes an extension of players. When the combat gets too overwhelming, players can toss the boomerang across an arena. A second press of the throw button lets players zip straight to their weapon instead of vice-versa. It adds a new level of strategy for beating enemies along with navigating past platforming sections which break up Boomerang X’s combat.
Boomerang X also uses its levels to give players new ways to toss their weapons. Each stage grants a new ability to learn, including a deadly shotgun-like blast which wipes out groups of targets at once. It is part of a few saving graces for players, constantly cornered in a space that closes in with cel-shaded monsters. Luckily, this also comes to a player’s advantage as they can find inventive and precise ways to clear a room. In its wave-like structure, there are only a limited number of enemies they are required to take out, with key targets being marked with a symbol. Boomerang X keeps players on their toes this way, balancing a frenetic rhythm of juggling non-essential enemies and attempting to take out the important ones.
There is less story exposition and more time to think about precisely hitting a variety of creatures. Many of them consist of some familiar fantasy forms. Floating eyeballs, inky squids and large spiders are just some of the basic ones that can be taken out easily. It’s worth noting that all of Boomerang X’s enemies can be killed in one hit. The game’s early levels make this clear, until different types make this strategic by hiding weaknesses. It becomes up to players to use their zipping and resources to get around enemies before landing a satisfying one-hit kill. It’s the type of combat which closely resembles DOOM, where players are always encouraged to stay in motion. This level of fast-paced combat works effectively to give each level a run for a player’s money. Creatively, the boomerang’s various abilities also must be unlocked with certain killstreaks. Using the close-range blast takes two enemy hits in one boomerang throw. It’s a give and take mechanic which makes the combat even more satisfying as they start a new encounter.
In many parts of the game, abilities are unlocked by falling into a void, taking players out of the empty world and into a cosmic chamber. This is part of its sublime, magical aesthetic, which feels incredibly soothing to see before jumping back into the fray. Players do a bit of work by tossing their boomerang and strumming a series of musical strings around the room. Doing so grants a new ability which adds to the number of ways to dodge, throw and clear rooms. It feels like a roguelike mechanic in terms of progression and enemies, but Boomerang X keeps it simple enough to keep players in a traditional room-after-room experience.
But from its early build, there’s much more work to be done with Boomerang X’s story and bugs. There is only a slice of its plot in our preview, leaving us with many questions over who our main blade-throwing protagonist is and why their hands are bandaged. The world itself is scattered with high-fidelity jungles, abandoned armouries and temples. But there is still a disconnect in using a story to add context for its straightforward combat challenges. In other words, Boomerang X leaves too much to a player’s imagination; a common trap in many indie games that leaves the simplest stories hanging.
Boomerang X has an unspecified release window for 2021. But its preview suggests an early access or launch date could be sooner than expected. The unique spin on a first-person shooter is there with plenty of potential for polish. Fortunately, its combat is enough to keep players wondering if there is more to come; even before they’ve made it halfway through the game.