It feels like so long ago now that I saw Arthur Morgan’s adventure through to its conclusion in Red Dead Redemption II, so I’m pretty much ready for some more Western action. This time it has come in the form of 12 is Better Than 6, the top-down shooter from developer Hypetrain Digital that’s just hit the Nintendo Switch. Bringing with it some interesting gameplay mechanics and a unique aesthetic style, it certainly stands out as a neat looking title – is it actually any fun to play though?
12 is Better Than 6 tells the story of Juan, an escaped prisoner that’s got away from his captors and now looks to make his way across the United States during the wild 1870s. With his memory being frazzled after five years working slave-labour whilst incarcerated, he now looks to find peace by bringing an end to those that wronged him. Of course, with plenty of suspicious eyes on him as he works through each town, it’s not an easy journey. It’s a fun little Western tale and the kind you’d expect to see in one of the old spaghetti Western movies. Sure, it’s not too deep or involving, but there’s enough there to make you want to see how Juan’s story unfolds.
Typically, I wouldn’t talk about the visuals of a game until later in a review, but given how prominent the aesthetic of 12 is Better Than 6 is I’d be remiss not to mention it early on. Basically, it adopts a hand-drawn black and white style that feels incredibly unique, with no detail spared across the design of the Wild West world. It looks like the sort of thing you’d doodle on your notepad as a kid, except it’s probably a lot more creative and never fails to impress in-game. My favourite aspect of it though was the way that any bloodshed is coloured red, which helps make it stand out in what is otherwise a monochromic world – nothing shows off an epic showdown like the blood of your enemies (and often yourself) sprayed everywhere, right? Whilst there’s certainly an abundance of top-down shooters available right now, 12 is Better Than 6 certainly stands out as one of the most stylish.
From a gameplay perspective, 12 is Better Than 6 feels a lot like your typical top-down shooter – you’ll head across levels, kill a bunch of enemies, and work your way to the exit. However, it throws in a fair few ideas that actually help it stand out, such as the fact that you have to manually load each bullet into your gun with a quick button press. There’s no fully free aiming either, with a lock-on function in place that’ll target enemies for you. It means that you’ve really got to pick your moments to shoot at your enemies, because if you head into a room full of baddies and aren’t prepared you can expect do die. It’s something you’ll get the grasp of quite quickly, though that’s mainly through learning the hard way – I lost track of the amount of times that I suffered a death because I forgot to make sure that my gun was loaded…
It can all feel a little bit fiddly at first, but you get used to it. I guess the top-down shooter genre has never been one that’s prided itself on realism, so having to actually manually load up bullets has never been a priority in previous experiences with the genre. It’s not all running-and-gunning though, with a stealth element in place for those who want to take the sneaky approach. Not only are you able to stab at enemies that aren’t aware of your presence to instantly kill them, but you can also bypass complete sections of levels to get to the exit if you’re careful enough and not spotted. Alternatively, you can also find dynamite and blow groups of enemies to smithereens, so that’s an option too.
Whatever approach you decide to take, you can still expect to die a lot in 12 is Better Than 6. It only takes one hit to fall and with plenty of enemies scattered across each level, you’ll be meeting your demise quite often. This does mean having to replay the entire level which can be a bit of a pain, but thankfully none are too big in size whilst the fact that restarting is instant means you won’t get too frustrated. It adds a small trial-and-error element to the game, with the player slowly learning enemy placements, figuring out what areas are best to sneak through, and then finally putting it all together after a few failed attempts to finally succeed.
It all comes together to make for a fun time, even if it can be a little cumbersome early on. The game is surprisingly fleshed out too, with a selection of side quests to complete and upgrades to unlock for your character. Don’t get me wrong, there’s not a whole lot of depth to be found between them both, but it does add a nice touch to a genre that often plays it safe.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some flaws to be found in 12 is Better Than 6 though. One of the worst offenders was the enemies that kill you off screen – now it’s not something that’s too common in the game, but there were a few occasions where I’d be frustratingly gunned down by an enemy that I couldn’t actually see. Then there’s the fact that some enemies can blend into the environment thanks to the game’s black-and-white aesthetic. Sure, it’s stylish and unique, but when everything follows the same colour scheme it’s easy to miss out on things, namely enemies who’re ready to shoot you down in an instant. It’s not as bad of an issue when playing on the TV, but I certainly got caught out on more than a few occasions when playing on the Switch’s portable mode.
12 is Better Than 6’s top-down adventure is a fun one, with the intriguing spaghetti Western-like narrative, enjoyable gameplay mechanics and stylish aesthetic standing out throughout Juan’s journey. Sure, the whole manually loading your gun and lock-on shooting can be a little fiddly to get used to at first, but once you figure it all out there’s a lot of tension to be found as you blend together sneaking with action-packed shootouts with your foes.
There are some areas of its design that could do with improving, especially with the enemies that blend into the environment or kill you off screen, but overall 12 is Better Than 6 stands tall as an enjoyable Western shooter that’s easy to get hooked into.
Developer: Hypetrain Digital
Publisher: Hypetrain Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC