The Game Passenger on a journey through PC Game Pass.
I completely forgot about Brotato in our 2023 game of the year voting because I had played so much, so intensely that I had to uninstall it for my own good and try to flush it out my brain. Brotato arrived on Game Pass today, so you too can enjoy creating problems in your life. I might try to pique your interest with caveated comparisons to Vampire Survivors (and previously have), but I’d rather tell you that what hooked me in the wave survival shmup is constant little opportunities to push your luck and skill trying to create advantages. Death or glory. Likely death. But what if glory?
Brotato is a wave-survival shoot ’em up where aiming and attacking are handled for you. As waves of alien invaders spawn in and the round timer ticks down, all you have to do is run and dodge and grab healing fruit pickups and not die while your potato auto-performs violence. Defeated enemies drop green blobs which are both XP and money. As you’d expect from a shmup-ish game, a lot of skill is in dodging and prioritising targets. Over time, you learn how to dance through waves, pushing on weak spots while taking passing swipes at big lads.
Your spud can hold six weapons at once, and the game has dozens of weapons with different stats and attack patterns. Some are fairly straightforward murder tools: clubs, hammers, rocks, knives, shotguns, rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and such. Some have neat tricks like sparking chain lightning or giving you permanent stat boosts every so many kills. With some, the fact that you can swing them as weapons is largely secondary to effects like giving you a turret friend or a garden which spawns healing fruit.
Brotato does have an option to manually aim and shoot but feels like a different game to me, one I like that less. Part of the skill I enjoy is learning the timings and attack patterns of your weapons so you’re constantly preparing for what it’ll do next. Another little problem to solve every second.
Grab enough globs by performing this violence and you’ll level up, immediately gaining a hit point. At the end of the round, you’ll then get to pick a stat to increase from a random selection (which you can pay reroll): health, attack speed, melee damage, armour, luck, elemental damage, harvesting (passive income), lifesteal, and more. After any end-of-round business, you’re off to the shop. Much of Brotato’s skill is in savvy shopping.
The shop is familiar from autobattlers. It has a random selection of stock, offering fancy stuff as you get deeper into a run and increase your luck stat. The stock rerolls every time you enter the shop, and you can pay a little to reroll it at will. You can freeze items so they stick around through rerolls too. Like autobattler heroes, you can combine two copies of a weapon of the same tier into one of the next tier up, bringing benefits such as higher damage and faster attack speed. And like autobattler classes, weapons come in types like blade or elemental, which give stat boosts scaling to how many of a type you’re holding.
Along with weapons, the shop sells items which boost stats or offer whole new abilities, often with a downside. Extra attack range. More damage but less attack range. An autonomous sentry turret. Make enemies launch a bullet when they die, at heavy cost to your range stat. A chance to heal when you dodge an attack. More crit chance but less armour. Extra explosion damage. Bigger explosions. A chance to make enemies explode upon death. Oh, I do like explosions. Even items which appear entirely good can be bad with the wrong weapons, or on the wrong run, or at the wrong time.
To me, Brotato is best at its higher difficulty levels. Whole new types of enemies appear, you face horde and miniboss rounds, more enemies spawn and are tougher, and at the highest level you even face two bosses in the final round. Here, surviving a wave is not enough. To have any chance in later waves, you must take risks to thrive. Dive deeper into waves. Delay building a defence as long as you dare. Buy items that will do little for you right now but should over time, if you survive long enough. Walk on the razor’s edge and earn every win.
Do you buy this okay item or spend cash rerolling to fish for something more impactful? Pick this solid defensive stat at level-up or dare to take that damage stat? Is it too late to refocus your build around this phenomenal item you just found? Will this item boosting enemy spawn rates give you more fodder to farm or overwhelm you? Ahead of a horde or boss wave, dare you buy an item which will double XP gains in the next wave but also increase the damage you take that wave? When you’re lagging behind and desperately need to accelerate your run, can you afford not to try? In that case, I double dog dare you to also buy the item which raises your damage stat at cost of spawning tough bonus enemies at the start of the wave.
All of your decisions can change entirely based on which of the 44 characters you’re playing. Many characters push you towards certain builds and weapon types by boosting or reducing specific stats, while others require whole new strategies and tactics. The Soldier, which only attacks when standing still. The Pacifist, earning cash and XP by not killing enemies. The Weapons Dealer, losing its weapons every round and buying a whole new arsenal at discount. The Lich, which hurts a random enemy every time it heals. The Demon, spending health to buy items. An item’s unpleasant side-effect of hurting you once every second second might actually be invaluable on a character like the Bull, who cannot attack but does trigger an explosion every time it’s hit, and so must normally run directly into enemies who’ll do far more damage than that 1HP. I feel very clever hitting upon run-specific combos and tricks like this.
It is immensely satisfying when all of your tiny decisions and gambles and strategies and missteps come together as you casually stroll through a screen full of enemies because you know exactly how to move and where to strike on this particular run. Push through that cluster of weak enemies to grab the globs over there, knowing that your dodge stat will have your back even if don’t take them all, but note that you’ll pop the spawner so be sure to loop back and catch its roaming ranged progeny or they’ll disperse and cause problems later, and you’ll want to cut upwards because you’re using slow jabbing spears so it’s best to pull enemies into a long line and hit as many as possible, and that charger is charging up so take a brief stutterstep, and if you could knock out that cluster of healers that would be grand, and ooh treasure goblin get it get it get it. You don’t think this, you just know it. And all that was only two seconds of play. This hectic game becomes blissful.
Alright, for my own good, I’m off to uninstall Brotato again. Please play so I can live vicariously. It’s now available through PC Game Pass, and of course still sold on Steam.