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As I shot my way across the dry sands and rocky lands of Luckslinger, I underestimated my enemies. I knew my luck was ill-gained and ill-deserved, but I mistook its blessings for skill. I thought the game was going to be easy. I did so well bringing the first dynamite-slinging first boss and his cronies down that I thought I'd soon bring the whole gang of thieves to heel. I was wrong. Luck might not feel very important at first, but when you're exchanging lead in old catacombs or crawling through glittering mines, your luck is what will help you survive. But can you ever really rely on luck? Despite the luck mechanic seeming so important to its gameplay, learning to play without any luck is what will help most players live to see the next sunset.

The skilled and attentive could make a go at Luckslinger's Western action without luck. You have a six shot pistol, and your chamber is conveniently shown in the upper right so you know when it's about to run dry. You have as many bullets as you like, but reloading them in your pistol takes time you often don't have. You also have a throwing knife you can use in a pinch, effectively giving you seven shots when you need the extra hit. On defense, you have a combat roll that will get you out of a bullet's way, but the invincibility window for it is a bit shorter than you may think. It takes practice to get its timing down, and you'd better get at it if you want to keep your gunslinger above ground. After all, it only takes three shots to kill you.

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It doesn't take a lot of screw-ups to die, so luck will come in handy. I'm not talking accidentally jumping out of harm's way or pulling off the last shot just before the enemy blasts you, but an actual, collectible commodity in the game. Luckslinger's story revolves around a couple of bracelets that allow people to collect and improve their luck by stealing it from other people, and you, along with a group of bandits, have managed to get your hands on one. This bracelet will make enemy shots curve away, make their thrown projectiles miss, or keep you safe from level hazards. It makes a huge difference in your life when things get rough, and keeping it filled with luck pulled from dead enemies is what got me through many of Luckslinger's harder stages. Which is all of the ones past the first.

Luckslinger likes to throw multiple hazards at the player at once. This means you need to be really attentive or really lucky, and it's a lot harder to be the former than the latter. It's not hard for enemies to surround you since it's a sidescroller, and a lot of them fire at different speeds or use different thrown weapons. A perfect combat roll often only dodges one of these things, leaving you with split-second windows to jump away. Screw up, and you'll take damage, and you have a very short life bar. Not only that, but you only have a couple of lives to beat each level with, and if you lose them all, it's back to the beginning. These levels are long, too, so these losses cost a lot.

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Most levels start pretty soft and make it easy to accrue a lot of luck from downed enemies before they get difficult. That luck helps a lot, as it screws with enemy attacks more often the fuller the bracelet is. You can tell it's working when you hear a little tone and watch the enemy shots turn yellow and harmless. The thing is, these shots still kind of clutter the screen, and I found that the bright yellow made them stand out far more than the regular gray bullets and shots the enemies were firing. With all of these bright yellow shots flying around the screen, it made it hard to see the regular, gray, dangerous shots, and I'd get clipped. The eye felt more naturally drawn by the luck effect's yellow coloring, and I'd get distracted just enough that I'd take a hit. It was surprisingly difficult to overcome, and I had to force myself to carefully watch for unaffected shots. It would have been nicer if the yellow shots were the unaffected ones, turning affected shots a harmless, easy-to-ignore gray so that my eye could react to them more naturally.

I didn't get much practice on that considering that death costs you all of your available luck. You start back at zero with each new life, so even though I'd respawn at a checkpoint close to where I died, I'd often be in rough shape. The game seems better built around finishing each stage without a single death, as respawning puts you in a position where you have to face off against very dangerous enemy setups with no help from the luck system. It's pretty hard to build up enough luck for it to be useful in mid-stage, so you need to play exceptionally well if you want to beat an area after a death. You pretty much need to play through the level in one go if you want to win, and it doesn't take much to screw you. Given the problems with seeing harmful shots in combat, it practically guarantees that you're gonna have a hard time.

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Other things made me really feel the developers wanted you to beat each stage with one life. There are a couple of alternate paths that you can take using your luck ability, but if you come across these places without a high luck bar, you can't always get out. This is because you can use some of your luck bar to create platforms by taking a leap of faith into a pit, but if you're playing from a checkpoint, you might not have enough luck left to create the platform you need to leave. This meant losing more lives by discovering that the hard way. Also, good luck with the bosses if you have no luck left against them. They're quick, and all of them have their own luck bracelets that often make two out of every three of your shots miss.

You can try to make things easier by buying items and health upgrades in the game's town, but it takes a while to build up money. The game doesn't appear to have any option to go back and repeat old levels to accrue cash, so it'll be some time before you can buy any permanent upgrades to your character. This makes the game quite hard for the first couple of hours as you try to gain a foothold to make it even slightly easier. You can also get little shields or extra weapons by gambling with a guy in each stage, but you'll lose more often than you win and you have no control over which one-shot item you get should you beat him. It helps, but it isn't reliable.

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This all makes the game sound very frustrating, but it's still very fun to play, and it is do-able with the basic abilities. Dodging and weaving around the sidescrolling gunfights is tense, but highly enjoyable if you like white-knuckle gunfights. Counting shells and reloading while you jump over shots makes for some pretty slick turnarounds in combat, and it feels good to roll under someone's shots and then blast them. Combat may be stacked against you and it may take a lot of tries to get through any given level, but the game gives you real a sense of accomplishment when you beat each stage. It's hard, but it's not unbalanced hard. You just have to be very attentive in combat if you're not good at staying lucky.

The sound and music stuck with me after I'd played the game. The hip hop infusion into Western tracks helped the game stand out and gave it a solid, unique soundtrack. Many of the songs are really catchy, settling deep into your mind as you play through each level multiple ties. When you die as much as I do, you really appreciate a good beat playing in the background of the stage. I think the song that plays in the mine has been burned into my mind forever - a very chill, but menacing track. It's an interesting kind of sound, one that brings new life to the typical Western soundtrack I'd normally expect of a game like this. Definitely worth a download on its own.

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Luckslinger is hard. Very hard, if you're unlucky or clumsy. Then again, how could a game based around luck not be hard? If you have the patience, Luckslinger is pretty entertaining. The visual quirks with the luck system might make it a little more difficult to use than it should be and it may be easy to find yourself completely out of luck, but the gameplay is solid, if challenging. It's not easy being one guy (and his duck) against an entire army of thieves, but it still feels pretty good to be the only guy left standing at the end of a level. If you treat the luck system as a nice bonus instead of the crux of the game, you'll have a good time with it. Luck is in short supply in this world, so if you want to enjoy it, you'd better rely on skill instead.

Luckslinger is available for $12.99 (and %15 off for launch week) on Steam. For more information on the game and Duckbridge, you can head to the developer's site or follow them on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.