REVIEW: Super Bullet Break is a cute deck-builder that eschews microtransactions
Super deck building fun, without breaking the bank
Super Bullet Break sets out to be a hard-as-nails Rogue-like Deck Builder with Gacha mechanics (without the microtransactions!) draped in sweet-as-sugar anime styling - and it succeeds in every area. Whether that’s a good thing will come down to personal taste or preference, but as far as execution and value for money is concerned, it’s purrfect.
In Super Bullet Break, online multiplayer games have become corrupted by creatures called Buggos, leaving those games unavailable to play. Thankfully, a girl named Nayuta reaches out to three gamers and is able to sneak them back into the online games one by one. The goal for these gamers is to battle the Buggos and return each of the games to their pre-corrupted state, saving online games the world over. The rather excellent writing of the characters carries the bare-bones story throughout the adventure, as there is great banter between the cast and they all come across as charming, cute and cheerful! (Even the villains!).
All that said, beneath the bright lights and colorful presentation is a game that will kick your ass. The strategy in this game is deep and rewarding, but requires a lot of attention to detail, repetition and careful planning. If you try to rush through battle, the CPU can wipe you out in one or two moves.
Before the start of every run, you are presented with a very Nintendo Switch-like interface, where you can access messages sent by your in-game friends (ok… maybe not that Switch-like), the game’s settings, and the individual online Games that need clearing of Buggos.
Once a game is selected, you will be given a small deck of cards (which Super Bullet Break calls Bullets) that remain the same depending on which game you will be tackling. In addition, you can add one randomly generated “support” Bullet to your deck (called Magazine here) before starting. While there is a decent digital manual included, the volume of different effects that your Bullets can have over basic hit points and armor points is overwhelming at the start of each new Game. Since Bullets have different themes per Game and some status effects go undocumented in the manual, a trial-and-error approach seems to be required. This is where your personal preference will be important, as this can feel thrilling if considered discovery, or truly unfair if not.
Personal preference also comes up in the personification of the Bullets, with each being an anime-styled girl from the online Games. While these are beautifully drawn, lightly animated, and in high-resolution, some move away from innocuous designs and instead dive deep into fan-service territory. This means your appreciation (or lack-thereof) for these Bullets will likely impact your overall interest in Super Bullet Break.
Each of the online Games has at least three procedurally generated maps to work your way through, and they can be viewed from beginning to end. This lets you see the branching paths that lead to different types of Stages, and also allows you to plan your route to the boss. Each of the different Stages available can be useful in preparing you for the progressively difficult boss fights at the end of each map, so making sure you take a good route is crucial.
Battle stages are turn-based and use an Action Gauge to show the cost of each Bullet, and how long before the enemy will take their turn. Some Bullets can actually delay enemy turns allowing you to use more Bullets, others reduce the cost of Bullets or can add to the Attack power of other Bullets to make them monsters. Once you are able to appreciate the different effects each Bullet has, you’ll soon find the strategic use of each to be incredibly satisfying. Most Bullets will impact other Bullets in your hand either directly or indirectly, and using them in a successful chain to defeat a particularly-challenging boss is a fantastic feeling. Once a boss fight or a standard battle is won, you will be rewarded with a choice of one Bullet from three that are randomly generated.
To have any hope of defeating the boss at the end of each map, you will need these additional Bullets for your Magazine. As there are no microtransactions to be found anywhere in this game, the Devs have seemingly had quite a bit of fun finding ways to get these additional Bullets to you through the means of different Stage types.
There are Event stages which are always enjoyable and have a great variety, but can be negative or positive for your run’s progress. Sometimes you’ll bump into someone who wants to join your fight and will become a Bullet for you, other times they’ll battle you, and some will gift items or take them away.
Items and Bullets can also be gained from the Shop stages. There are a large variety of items like Health Packs, +5 Attack for the next Bullet played, -10 cost for the next Bullet played etc… but it’s potluck as to which ones show up in each shop. There’s also a chance to buy Bullets from the shop by trading in Scout Tickets that can either be bought, gifted to you through Event stages, or found in Treasure stages. These Treasure stages present you with three boxes from which you can select one, and then be given whatever random reward is within.
Finally, there is the Rest stage which lets you regain health or gives you a chance to swap a Bullets Cartridge. As well as the Attack, Armor, and various status effects each Bullet has, there is another layer of strategy laid on top with Cartridges. These can be attached to Bullets and influence the game in a variety of ways, such as boosting your max HP, reducing the cost of a Bullet, delaying an enemy attack and more.
In order to fully understand what each Bullet and associated Cartridge does, along with how you want to use them, you can expect to spend some time in menus in careful consideration during Battles. Thankfully, there is upbeat music and sound effects throughout, with all of them either qualifying as ear worms or lighting up the part of your brain where Gacha games usually reside. While I don’t usually consider how addictive a game is to be an indicator of quality, I will say that I lost evenings to Super Bullet Break in the blink of an eye, and at the end of my sessions, I would look forward to picking things up again the following day.
Super Bullet Break’s 7-minute Deck Builder Guide is a recommended watch!
Utilizing Cartridges, buffs and Bullet combos at the right time is the only way to progress through Super Bullet Break and it can take some learning, which makes it sting all the more when you are defeated and have to start the individual games over again. This is only made worse by the fact that you’re also stripped of any Bullets you had found in your previous run. There’s frustration to be found here and it can feel like no progress is being made, but you are moving forward in relation to your own development and in your understanding of the game.
The core battle systems of Super Bullet Break are some of the deepest you can find, and without the looming threat of paywalled progress, it can be an absolute joy to find new combinations of Bullets to destroy your opponents with. As each of the 7 Games in Super Bullet Break can take anywhere up to 10 hours to finish, along with a meta-game of collecting each Bullet to fill out your in-game compendium, there is a large amount of content and enjoyment to be found here at a very reasonable price.