It wasn’t until I’d put the game down after my first few hours of playtime that I realized why I’d gotten sucked into Inversus Deluxe. It wasn’t the minimalist art style, the geometrically pleasing tiles or the simple color scheme. It wasn’t the comfortable controls, the dozens of unlockable maps, or the brief but effective tutorial. It wasn’t even the robust online play, matched with splitscreen potential. No, it was the simple fact that Inversus Deluxe took the underlying principles of every shooter and applied them in the most simple, elegant, and easy to understand manner, while sacrificing none of the depth. As Einstein said, the game was made “as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Inversus Deluxe is an indie arcade style shooter with a classic and refined approach to the design of each element of gameplay. The premise is simple: a duel between two to four players, represented by blocks of opposing shades (black or white), set on a board of tiles that correspond to each player’s color. Each player has a total of five bullets, and, when a shot is fired, it turns the tiles the opposite color of the player that fired. The catch is that players may only walk on tiles of the opposite color; tiles that are created when they shoot.
The result is a gameplay experience that is highly reminiscent of a 2D Splatoon as players vie for control of map tiles with each shot, seeking to box their opponent in and seize more of the map to move freely. Players must be careful with their rounds, however, as their clip of 5 bullets will only recharge over time. Each shot can be charged for a triple shot barrage that covers three lanes of tiles, but charging a shot slows movement, pauses reloads, and locks the player’s orientation until the shot is released.
Maps are varied and often look more like mazes or crossword puzzles. Tiles that touch the edge of the screen wrap around to the opposite side, making movement around the map even more fast-paced. Red super bullet powerups spawn across the map at set intervals, and picking one up makes the next shot travel across the map at lightspeed.
Back to the Basics
This is one of the fundamental elements of the shooter genre: map control. Inversus accomplishes this not only through the ability to directly change the map’s tiles but also through control over the vital powerup spawns scattered across the map. Positioning is of the utmost importance, and there is ample room for a player to demonstrate their skill simply based on where they choose to put themselves on the map at any given moment.
Let’s not forget the primary defining characteristic of any shooter: aim. Given it’s in a 2D space, Inversus doesn’t allow for crazy flick shots or smooth tracking. Should two bullets collide head-on, they will cancel each other out at the point of impact. This incentivizes players to use their bullets for both offense and defense, and the use of a wide charged shot can even be used to box a player in. Players must also carefully manage their reload cycles since getting caught without a bullet ready to fire usually means death.
Finally, there’s even room for split second mechanical skill, since firing a bullet at an oncoming shot from an enemy right before the point of impact will produce a “counter,” negating the enemy bullet and launching yours back along its path, instead of canceling each other out. This mechanic can often result in an intense exchange of fire between two players, till one misses the timing or runs out of ammo.
All of this lends itself well to the multiplayer options Inversus has to offer. The game has an online mode, where players can choose to engage in 1v1s, 2v2s, or a co-op horde style survival Arcade mode. I was pleasantly surprised to find my wait times for matches weren’t more than 30 seconds on average, and I found the competition to be challenging. If, however, online isn’t your cup of tea (or an internet connection isn’t readily available) the game has options for local splitscreen play, a feature I found invaluable on my Switch version of the game.
It feels like Inversus was built for the Switch’s portable and split screen focused features. Up to four players can play locally in the 2v2 mode, and since the game is top down with everyone always visible on the same map, the Switch’s screen doesn’t get overcrowded with multiple PoVs, even with four simultaneous players. I was delighted to discover that the joy-cons could be used in their sideways single controller mode. If I had my Switch with me on the go, inviting a partner to play was as easy as sliding the joy-cons off and handing one to my friend. You can even play a mix of online and local, taking a friend into the matchmaking queue with you splitscreen on the same console.
For those that dislike competitive play, there’s also the cooperative Arcade mode. This is a survival mode where players must last as long as they can against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. The enemies have no projectile attacks, and instead simply bum rush you like zombies, flipping tile colors as they pass over them.
It is here that players must make use of the “chaining” mechanic: when one enemy is shot, they explode, dealing
damage to any nearby enemies which can set a chain reaction of death explosions wiping out entire waves. Although this death explosion is present across all modes, it is generally only significant in the arcade mode, where the large number of enemies increases the chance of a death chain. This becomes increasingly necessary as the waves progress, since players will soon find the number of enemies far outstrips the number of bullets they have on hand. High level play in the Arcade mode becomes a game of outmaneuvering hordes of enemies while setting up the ideal chain to wipe everything out at once.
In spite of its simple aesthetic, Inversus Deluxe is not lacking in cosmetic customization options. Grinding the Arcade or jumping into online play allows players to unlock emotes and there are dozens of different maps to obtain as well. Maps and emotes are unlocked randomly after each level up, and there is an additional chance for a random unlock after each completed match. Conveniently, every mode in the game is fully functional for both online, offline local play, or even solo play, so players can choose how they want to go about unlocking content.
In short, Inversus Deluxe is a brilliant take on the principles of the shooter genre, distilling them down to their simplest and easiest to understand forms, without sacrificing any of the tactical or mechanical depth that accompanies them. The game is easy to understand and fast paced, making it ideal for pick up and play with a friend, but it is also highly focused on skill based mechanics, providing incentive for players to return again and again to hone their abilities. It is this combination of accessibility, elegant design and depth of skill that will keep Inversus Deluxe on the home screen of my Switch for the foreseeable future.