I play games! I have lots of thoughts about said games. Want to hear them? Of course you do!
This month, I tackled a few indie titles for the Nintendo Switch (available for PC and other consoles as well, I believe). Some were good; some were not good! Overall, I wish they had been better. Someone please make me a modern-day ActRaiser. I will give you all the money.
Without further ado…
THE PITCH: You’re an ambitious item shop owner by day, daring dungeon spelunker by night. Sell your loot to townspeople to fuel your monster slaying.
PROS: Love the concept. Managing an RPG village has forever been Totally And Completely My Shit, from ActRaiser (one of my top ten favorite games ever) to Dark Cloud to Recettear (a Japanese game that heavily inspired this one). The music is cool, the aesthetics are fun and the dungeon->shop->dungeon loop is pretty addicting.
CONS: The shop section of the game — which you’d think would be the main focus, given that it’s what makes the pitch unique — is woefully underutilized. It’s actually painful how little game there is here. There are hundreds of items available from baddies, but there’s nothing but value differentiating any of them. You put the widget on your shelf for a price and someone buys the widget. The end.
The game tries to introduce mechanics like high and low demand, and customers looking for certain item types, to mix things up. The problem is none of these mechanics are relevant, ever. Demand never factors into anything. Every item has a fixed, non-randomized price, and once you guess it (fairly easy, since your guide sorts items by value) you can just sell it for that price without question. If an item happens to be in high demand, you can try to sell it for slightly more, but it’s not even worth futzing with.
The dungeon section is sadly the part the developers seemed more focused on, but here the game just seems derivative. I’m continuously disappointed that every modern indie game thinks it needs to have a Dark Souls-like combat system, and this one is no different. You have an attack button and a roll button, and bosses and enemies have patterns that you’re expected to learn and exploit. Rinse and repeat.
There have been a few of these town-sim-by-day, dungeon-crawler-by-night games recently (I include Stardew Valley in that), and I often feel like the combat system should either be simpler (i.e., barely a minigame, with the focus on the unique parts of the game), or way more complex. Such is Moonlighter.
RECOMMENDED: Maybe, but probably not. I admit it kept my attention long enough to finish, so that’s a plus. But I wasn’t really satisfied in the end. Even if the item-selling portion was more fun, the game itself just becomes so repetitive after a few cycles. Dive into the first couple floors of a dungeon to gain loot, sell enough to buy that dungeon’s tier of weapon and armor, use that to beat the dungeon boss. The story is strange, but not in a good way, and I have a hard time believing very many people would find the game addictive enough to bother with its New Game+ mode.
THE PITCH: Reverse Katamari Damacy. Instead of playing a giant ball collecting debris, you play a giant hole sucking them up.
PROS: Eminently unique and accessible. Charming characters and art style, fun and relaxing gameplay. Super clever dialogue.
CONS: A very short, contained experience. That’s not a bad thing; I think short games are incredibly valuable! But Donut County’s gameplay runs the risk of being somewhat shallow (ha it’s a hole pun). Much of the game doesn’t feel much like a game; it’s only in the last couple levels that the game introduces any sort of time pressure or puzzle element. Depending on the player, though, this might not even be a negative.
RECOMMENDED: Yes, provided you’re okay with a contained game. It’s not life-changing on the level of Katamari, but that’s hardly a fair expectation. If you’re in the mood for something light and silly, you could do a lot worse.
Wizard of Legend
THE PITCH: A hardcore roguelike where you sling spells through a baddie-infested dungeon on your quest to become a master sorcerer.
PROS: Magical soundtrack. Like most roguelikes, it has an engaging try-fail cycle, at least for a short amount of time. The hands-on mechanics of the game feel good to play.
CONS: The game is honestly sort of a mess, and most of it comes down to confusing design. It’s clear the developers intended this to be far closer to a “traditional” roguelike than most similar modern games. Whereas most modern roguelikes, such as Rogue Legacy, include some sort of persistence (slowly growing permanently stronger as you die, die and die again), Wizard of Legend includes none of that. The only thing you keep from dungeon crawling is gems, which you can use to buy new spells with which to start your dungeon run.
The problem is purchasing these spells is essentially just a lateral move. No spell is inherently better than any other. Some might match a particular playstyle better, but as you progress through the game, you start to see through the illusion of choice. There are several different elemental melee moves, but they essentially boil down to close-but-fast or longer-range-but-slow. Your roomwide ice spell does damage and freezes enemies; your roomwide lightning spell does damage and shocks enemies. For so many spells, there isn’t a ton of variety.
Roguelikes’ lack of persistence is meant to value random loot over mindless grinding, as well as create a fresh experience every time you start a new game. Wizard fails at both of these. The dungeons, like the spells, lack variety. Each small floor is guaranteed an item shop, a spell shop and a “random event,” which is one of maybe five different veneers over just handing you a free item or spell. Once you’ve played for about an hour, you’ve seen it all.
Furthermore, the loot itself is laughably lackluster. The spell upgrades found in the dungeon are hardly noticeable, and the items, while technically powerful, lack the sort of gamebreaking WOW factor that really should come with rare loot that you’re only going to be able to play with for ten minutes before dying. I want a damn bazooka; instead, I’m handed things like “increase your critical hit rate by 2%” and “enemies drop healing orbs very slightly more often.” Hooray?
RECOMMENDED: No. Ultimately, Wizard of Legend is too superficial and forgettable to be worth your time. The past few years have seen a million different indie roguelikes hit the market, and this one fails to rise above the pack.