FREE GAMES REVIEW: Johnny Trigger
Armed to the teeth, but is it a repeater?
On 26th December, I was at a family Christmas binge in a room full of nieces and nephews needing entertaining. And because it’s the early 21st century they all had access to phones or tablets. And because I don’t have children and am unconcerned about what they’re exposed to, I suggested they play free mobile run and gun game Johnny Trigger. And it was a big hit.
It’s not surprising. It’s a simple and instantly appealing game. You play the part of Johnny Trigger, some kind of agent whose entire existence is running from place to place leaping into the air and firing at bad guys from audacious angles. Sometimes even bouncing bullets off multiple walls to eliminate the goons.
It’s obviously poking fun at action movies. The joke is further developed by having the bad guys hanging from plant pots, air balloons, up ladders, unwisely sheltering under heavy weights and (of course) casually stationed next to explosive barrels. This gives you more angles to kill them from in more interesting ways. You can also collect some cool action hero outfits, including Rambo, the Terminator and Boba Fett. Solid references.
So far, so good.
And then there’s the fact that blasting holes through your nameless legions of foes makes their rag doll corpses fly off in various directions. You feel like they’ve put some time into the physics. This has an especially pleasing effect when one of these hapless victims is caught in the gust of an explosion and their lifeless ragdoll plops down in front of an unconcerned Johnny Trigger as he jogs onto his next massacre.
And the music and sound effects, though a little laggy on my phone, are very good. It’s all very good. It’s a really good idea. It almost feels like a lost arcade classic.
So what’s the problem?
The game and the concept are very simple but so is its main flaw.
My nephews and nieces were entertained. They were excited by the game. We even had a little vocal meme. We’d all call out “Johnny Trigggger.” I even have video to prove this. The game went viral in our house amongst a group of people aged between 4 and 40. Almost for an afternoon.
And then people started to get bored. The thing is if you’re going to have levels and bosses to fight and money to collect to buy better weapons and all that tried and tested stuff, there needs to be a sense of progression. You need to feel like the game is getting harder. And you’re getting better. But it doesn’t really.
Given that there seems to be limitless levels but only a limited number of generated scenarios, Johnny Trigger gets very repetitive. Yes, doing a power slide while knocking enemies from plant pots directly above is great fun the first dozen times, it becomes less fun when it in no way changes or gets any more challenging.
If you went through hundreds of levels with a pistol and it required immaculate timing to kill everybody, then well done you. But I suspect that most people use a machine gun or super weapon as soon as they get access. Which makes it easy. Plus, unless you’re willing to sit through ads, it takes a good long while to save up the 20k for the next big gun. And, when you get it, it’s…really underwhelming. Dumb and Dumber 2 underwhelming.
The only slightly more difficult thing is that you can’t kill the bespectacled hostage. As the levels go on, terrorists stand slightly closer to the John Oliver style captive — making it a tiny bit harder to not kill him. But not much harder. Oh, also you can skip levels. So it doesn’t matter anyway.
The other problem with this set up is that you don’t choose to move through the levels. It’s like an old rail shooter game a la Time Crisis. You can choose to do the gunning but not the running or gunning. So really it’s just a compulsory conveyer belt.
This becomes abundantly clear when you take on a boss. The boss stands stock still as you leap around him firing off rounds at a very specific times and, if you fail to hit him, you’re instantly dead. Whether he hits you or not. It isn’t really a run and gun game at all. It’s just mildly demanding ballet.
If you could, say, select from a selection of jumps to make depending on the set up of baddies, it would give the feeling that you’re making more of a choice. It would certainly give you many possible combinations. And there may be excellent reasons why the developers chose not to do this, but it basically means the game feels really limited. Great initially, but really limited.
I’ve seen some people complaining about the amount of ads, but it really isn’t a problem. Turn off WiFi and data and you completely skip them. Plus, I didn’t see any expensive upgrades you were tricked into buying — so really it’s fairly unobtrusive stuff. It doesn’t try to make you play more than you want. There’s no urgency to it. There doesn’t seem to be any end point to it. And unless there’s a community or things worth collecting, a game should really end.
Presumably the levels go on and on forever. Johnny Trigger, lost in time, blasting away, totally oblivious of the futility of his actions. Charlie Brooker could write a good Black Mirror episode about it, if he wasn’t having his eyebrows plucked.