Crimsonland review: A bloody twin-stick shooter for Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Steam

10tons is best known for its casual games like Sparkle 2, King Oddball and Tennis in the Face. But way back in 2003, the developer also made a fairly hardcore twin-stick shooter called Crimsonland and later remastered it in 2014. Last week, Crimsonland finally arrived on Windows Phone and Windows 8.

With dozens of weapons and perks to unlock, several game modes and tons of blood to spill, Crimsonland is an exciting release for genre fans. Read on for our full review of the Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Steam versions of Crimsonland – complete with video review.

Quest mode

10tons has never been known for its elaborate stories or premises. Instead, the developer likes to pair simple and addictive gameplay with simple but attractive art design. As such, Crimsonland has absolutely no story to speak of. You play as a soldier guy who has to shoot lots and lots of zombies, monsters, and aliens. Works for me!

The primary game type is Quest Mode. It contains a total of six level sets, each with ten quick levels to blast through. Every tenth level is an ultra-challenging boss level. Should you beat all sixty levels, you'll unlock a new difficulty. Run through that harder difficulty, and you'll unlock an even tougher difficulty setting.

The goal in each level is simple: kill everything. The more things you eliminate, the more blood coats the ground. A meter at the top of the screen indicates how many enemies remain. Once the meter fills and the last monster dies, you can move on to the next level. You'll also unlock a weapon, perk, or game mode.

Every level also has an optional side goal – to beat it with full life. Should you come through unscathed, you'll receive a star for that level. This side goal can be challenging when scores of enemies swarm your player, often necessitating a retry or two. Thankfully, once you unlock healing perks, you can sometimes take damage, heal yourself, and still earn the star.

Earning all ten stars in a level set doesn't seem to unlock anything, which is a shame. I enjoyed trying for the stars anyway, with the exception of level 2-10. I tried to get its star for at least 45 minutes but always took a hit. The balance of the enemies is off in that level – they always speed up and overwhelm you, making a clean escape seemingly impossible.

Weapons and perks

60 levels of simple twin-stick arena shooting might not be too exciting, if not for Crimsonland's excellent unlocking system. Nearly every new level you beat unlocks a new weapon or perk, so you're constantly earning new stuff. These will then appear in subsequent levels, adding variety to your quests.

By default, you start with a wimpy pistol. But the first enemy you kill in a level will drop a random weapon from the pool of guns you've unlocked. As more enemies die, they'll leave behind more guns and/or power-ups.

With 30 different guns to collect, everyone's bound to find a favorite. Among the various categories are shotguns, rifles, rocket launchers, railguns, and flame throwers. Each comes in several varieties, all with different damage, speed, and reloading stats. You want something with spread shots, but even a railgun can be lethal on many levels.

My one complaint with the weapon system (other than the weapon chart being disorganized) is the difficulty in identifying the guns that bad guys drop. 30 guns is a lot, and it's just too hard to remember some of their identities at a glance. On Windows 8 and Steam, the name of a gun appears briefly as you near it, but it disappears right away and rarely gives the player time to read it. I'd rather the name just show up until the player picks the weapon up or moves away from it.

Near the completion meter at the top of the screen, you'll also see an XP meter. Experience earned from killing creatures eventually leads to leveling up. Every time you level up, you get to select one perk from a random set of four that you have unlocked.

Perks are bonuses and abilities that (generally) make the game easier, much like the abilities you'd unlock in an RPG. They can affect your damage, health, firing and reloading rate, and much, much more. With 55 different perks to get (though some are enhanced versions of earlier perks), players can really customize their soldier and his abilities. I highly recommend perks that make bonus items last longer and appear more frequently, as power-ups can increase your chances of survival.

By default, you can't use perks in Quest mode. The game does allow players to enable Quest mode perks in settings though, which I highly suggest you do. Otherwise, you'll only get to use them in the much shorter Survival modes.

Survival modes

Initially, only the basic survival mode is unlocked. But as you progress through Quest mode, you'll unlock four additional game types.

  • Survival: Try to last as long as you can while battling ever-stronger waves of enemies. Guns and perks unlocked in Quest mode will appear in Survival.
  • Rush: Battle hordes of enemies with nothing but an underpowered assault rifle. At least it doesn't have to reload!
  • Weapon Picker: All guns have limited ammunition, so you have to dash for a new weapon as soon as your old one runs out.
  • Nukefism: With no weapons at all, you'll have to rely on power-ups to keep the monsters at bay.
  • Blitz: A faster version of Survival mode

Of the survival modes, only Survival and Blitz have any real staying power. The difficulty ramps up too quickly, though. By the time you reach level 6 or 7, the enemies are all but guaranteed to overwhelm you. I'd prefer more of a chance to build up perks and really customize the experience. Survival mode should last for 30-60 minutes instead of becoming impossible after 15 or so.

Comparing Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Steam

The Windows Phone and Windows 8 versions of Crimsonland both feature great touch controls. You can choose whether the virtual joysticks are visible or invisible, and also set whether they stay in a fixed position or appear wherever you touch the screen. They respond excellently and put the touch controls of Halo: Spartan Assault to shame.

Still, touch controls can never be quite as responsive as physical ones. Luckily, Windows 8 and Steam support Xbox controllers. You can even choose whether or not a fire button is required to shoot. If you have the option, controller is the way to go.

Windows 8 and Steam also support local co-op play! I don't have the controllers to test it, but I believe Windows 8 maxes out at two players and Steam allows for four players. Given that Crimsonland can get pretty tough in later stages, the ability to call in a friend or two is most welcome.

A goof-up on 10tons' part: the Windows Phone version has local co-op leaderboards even though it doesn't support co-op. They should really patch that out.

Speaking of leaderboards, only the Steam version has actual online leaderboards (as do the Xbox One and PlayStation versions). Windows Phone and Windows 8 simply offer local scoreboards. Online leaderboards add so much to score-based games like Crimsonland, so it's a shame some versions of Crimsonland don't have them.

The Steam version also offers Steam Achievements. Check out our multiplatform Achievement Guide for tips on how to get them all!

A bloody good time

Crimsonland is a surprisingly good twin-stick shooter. It doesn't look like much, and the backgrounds definitely need more variety. But the constant cycle of unlocking of new stuff in Quest mode and then trying it out in future stages proves highly enjoyable. Trying for high scores in Survival can be fun too, though it could've been even better.

This game marks the first 10tons title on Windows Phone and Windows 8 to support universal purchases. Buy one version and you get the other automatically - neither version supports cloud saves though. The downside is Crimsonland costs $10, which is a lot if you only want the phone game. On the other hand, Crimsonland costs $13.99 on Steam and PlayStation. The Windows versions are actually the best deal.

Which version should you get? If you have a PlayStation 4 or Vita, I'd probably grab them for Trophy support. As far as Windows goes, the Steam version does have online leaderboards and Steam Achievements. The Windows Phone and 8 games have in-game Achievements but nobody else can see them. Computer players should grab the Steam game, but tablet and phone players will still have a fine time with the mobile Windows versions.

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!