This toothy take on The Binding of Isaac goes for a gross-out aesthetic, filled to the brim with bile, phlegm, and all manner of other bodily fluids. As the name suggests, dental hygiene is its central theme – you play as a bipedal gum able to fire teeth, via a twin-stick shooting set-up, and must rid a fleshy world of festering evil. Are you ready to believe in The Great Gob?
As with most randomised Rogue-likes, the main storyline is only hinted at initially, with more information revealed at the start of each randomised run and between stages. Before that though, there’s a tutorial to play through; one that you can become stuck in if you head into rooms in the incorrect order. Whoops. When playing on Xbox Series X, the music also has an irritating habit of cutting out.
Nevertheless, Cavity Busters still makes a positive first impression. When it does play, the music is appropriately grungy. The visual style is appealing – featuring many textures and sprites that stretch and pulsate, giving the world an organic feel. It’s also packed to the rafters with “acci-dental” puns, giving it a comical tone.
There’s quite a bit to take in initially too, mostly in the form of various mechanics. Your chosen gum can wall slide to increase speed significantly, dash and roll to repel projectiles, and high jump – which causes the screen to zoom out. From here, you can then bounce on certain enemies or choose an area to land in. Then on top of this, there are the traditional shooting mechanics, with each gum guarded by a floating ‘Shot Gum’ buddy that requires goop to fire.
Independently, these ideas are all admirable, each serving a purpose. Together, they’re slightly overwhelming. There were lots of instances where I wondered if I should be wall running more, or perhaps using this technique to take down bosses would make things easier. Another time I wondered if I was dying often because I wasn’t making good use of jumping. I even had to revisit the tutorial just to see if I had forgotten something or wasn’t using a mechanic as proficiently as I could. In the end, the text-based manual taught me more than the interactive tutorial.
Thankfully, and like any good dentist, Cavity Busters is a fine instructor – constantly teaching how to look after your precious pearly whites. The difficulty level is tough but fair, and plenty of prompts and guidance are given along the way. It’s possible to heal often, and if you’re really struggling an auto-aiming tool can be activated – although be warned, as it doesn’t always aim at the closest foe.
With every run, a little more is learned or discovered. A combo meter and a dig ability are later added too. And after failing a dozen runs, a ‘baby gum’ is added to the roster, with increased speed and other advantages. This doesn’t mean the difficulty is reduced to a mere cakewalk, however – Cavity Run requires countless retries to eventually beat all six stages and defeat the formidable multi-phased final boss battle. And even then, chances are you won’t have seen every randomly selected mini-boss. There’s a cryptic code waiting to be cracked too, with the input room always found in the first stage.
Upgrade items and diseases are your path to eventual success, also taking the form of collectables. The algorithm has seemingly been set to dish out collectables you haven’t discovered yet, as even after four hours of play I was still being granted new perks, helping to fill the collectables page at a steady rate. These vary from new ammo, to improvements such as calcification that increases defence.
Diseases have both pros and cons, such as hyperthermia – which will freeze enemies but makes movement slippery. If you find a healing room a friendly fellow will cure your diseases, leaving just their benefits, but it’ll cost you in precious mints – the game’s currency. Leaving diseases behind after they’ve dropped can be fatal, prompting enemy spawns and even increasing a boss’s strength. The trick is to resist being greedy; a single ailment may be manageable, but two or three can see your health vanish or the difficulty skyrocket.
Adding to the warped setting, a few novelty items have been thrown in for giggle – including a lobster plushie that’ll randomly appear in each room. Because, and to quote the game itself, “Why not?”
Cavity Busters is a surprisingly deep and multifaceted experience, with a lot to learn, discover, and master. It was clearly born out of an appreciation of the genre, and created with the understanding of what sets apart decent Rogue-likes from the bad. I’ve bounced off a lot of games in this genre, but found this one give me the tools and knowledge to eventually prevail, even if it did occasionally turn my stomach – despite the fact that I collected Garbage Pail Kids cards in my youth.
Published by JanduSoft and developed by SpaceMyFriend, Cavity Busters is out April 20th on all formats.