Attack of the Karens: Review

Attack of the Karens review cover

Attack of the Karens is a bullet-hell roguelite developed by Studio Primitive and published by Flynns Arcade (Switch version). After being released on Steam on 25 September 2023, the game is also available on Nintendo Switch as of today, 21 March 2024. The version we tested for this review is the Steam version.

Our adventure in this shoot ’em up begins after an alien pathogen causes a mutation that turns four women into cyborgs. These Karens, along with their armies of robots, will be the very enemies we will have to face. Each is presented with a little story and, of course, a lot of humour.

Attack of the Karens is a horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up that pits you against hordes of enemies. Aboard our spaceship, we have to face four levels with a final boss and then the final area. The game is roguelite, so if we lose, we have to start again from the beginning. It will not be easy at first, but in each run we will acquire modules that will allow us to permanently upgrade our ship and have a better chance in the next run.

Attack of the Karens screenshot 1

These upgrades can only be bought between runs and can increase the rate of fire, add a missile launcher or deflector shields. The upgrades are incremental and require more and more modules.

In addition to upgrades, there are also battle modifiers. We can activate and combine modifiers whenever we want. Modifiers are used to change the basic difficulty of the game, making it easier or harder. Modifiers that make the game easier include the ability to reduce the enemy’s health, or to enable a gradual recovery of your ship’s health. Modifiers that increase the difficulty include the ability to reduce the speed of your ship or increase the health of your enemies. The modifiers are not permanent and we can combine them as we wish before each run.

Attack of the Karens screenshot 2

Each level of our run consists of a mid-level boss and a final boss. In between there are a number of minions and obstacles to overcome. For each run, the order of the areas and bosses is randomly generated. In this way, each run is always different and you never get bored.

One aspect we found very interesting is that although there are only 6 areas, they are not always the same, with some of the obstacles in the area changing, although the mid-level bosses depend on the area. Also, the boss attacks are not always the same, but have variations. We really appreciate the introduction of these variables, as they allow us to approach each run with a high level of attention and definitely make the levels less repetitive.

Attack of the Karens screenshot 3

In addition to the permanent upgrades that we can buy between runs, we can also earn upgrades by collecting experience points during the game. These upgrades are random, but they also give us some room for manoeuvre. In fact, once an upgrade appears, we can either shoot at it to get it, or wait for it to change, so that we can choose the upgrade we think is best at that moment from those offered to us (always randomly). These in-game upgrades allow us to get a companion that shoots enemies rhythmically, a credit card that allows us to get more XP, etc.

Attack of the Karens is well balanced in terms of difficulty. Moreover, the presence of modifiers allows us to adapt it to our playing style and even our mood. The retro pixel art graphics combined with the 8-bit music complete the atmosphere, giving us a fast-paced experience where one run leads to another.

A full run takes about half an hour to complete, and the run I completed took just over 27 minutes. This does not mean that you will be able to complete the game in just 27 minutes, as it will take several hours to get enough permanent upgrades. The game can also be replayed, both to unlock all the upgrades and to try out the other modifiers.

Our verdict

If you like shoot ’em ups, Attack of the Karens is a game you should try. With variable levels and bosses, it is fun and smooth.

  • Good replayability of levels
  • Fast paced and fun
  • Modifiers to vary the difficulty
  • No strong points of differentiation