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Roguelike

PS VITA photo
PS VITA

Shiren the Wanderer saunters westward on Vita


Arriving July 26 in North America
Feb 08
// Kyle MacGregor
The fifth entry in Spike Chunsoft's Shiren The Wanderer series is coming west this summer. Aksys Games announced the good news earlier today over at the PlayStation Blog, revealing plans to publish the Mystery Dungeon spin-of...
Binding of Isaac photo
Binding of Isaac

Apple rejects The Binding of Isaac for depicting child abuse


How do they explain Candy Crush then?
Feb 07
// Jed Whitaker
Remember the other day when we reported The Binding of Isaac is coming to iPad? Well, looks like that may not be the case now, as Apple has rejected the game. Apple apparently doesn't allow software depicting violence t...
Star Mazer photo
Star Mazer

Create your own '80s anime adventure in Starr Mazer


Wall-to-wall shower scenes for me
Jan 31
// Nic Rowen
I used to skip Sunday school every weekend I could to watch poorly localized episodes of Tekkaman and Robotech and hang out in my pajamas. I loved them, but even at the time something seemed off about them, stilted ...

Very Quick Tips: Darkest Dungeon

Jan 27 // Nic Rowen
Hamlet and roster management Pay attention to mission goals and rewards. Don't just pick whatever mission – look at what heirlooms and trinkets they reward and think about what would benefit your party the most. Prioritize missions that reward Deeds early on, as you'll need them to upgrade the Coach and the Blacksmith. Both are essential. On the same tip, organize your party according to the mission. Make sure to avoid obvious problems like characters who have a phobia of a certain enemy types or primarily attack with a damage type that is heavily resisted in an area. On the contrary, you should be looking for damage types and quirks that will help you. Take characters that do Unholy damage in the Ruins, anti-beast damage in the Weald, bleed for the high-HP monsters in the Warrens, and blight for the Cove monsters who resist bleed damage. Think strategically and don't bring the same compositions to every fight. Don't be afraid of taking on long missions. With the right camping skills, you can often end up with less overall stress on a medium-length mission than a short one if you rest near the end of the run. Several characters also have buffs they can apply during a camp that will make a mission much easier if used early-ish or in the middle of a dungeon. Resting right before a boss and stacking buffs is also an obvious but effective strategy. Make sure to cultivate at least a handful of warriors in your roster that have repositioning skills. It's easy to focus on flashy, easy to understand classes like the Crusader, Man-at-Arms, and Vestal, but don't underestimate classes like the Jester, Highwayman, and Gravedigger. Skills that let characters make a useful action (attacking/debuffing enemies, buffing themselves, etc.) while moving forward or back are AMAZING. If you stack your team with too many position-dependent classes (Lepers, back-line Vestals), you can easily be killed by even weak monster parties if they can shuffle you around. With a few flexible characters though, you can realign your party order without wasting turns on pure movement or *gasp*, passing. Be thoughtful about trinket usage. They can make a huge difference if used intelligently, but can also sabotage your team if you equip them with abandon. For example, many early game trinkets provide a mediocre benefit at the cost of a speed debuff. Is it really worth an extra 1-2 damage on an attack if it guarantees your Crusader will go last every single round? No. Be smart and only equip trinkets when the benefit outweighs the negative. Pack heavy for missions. Think about the cost/risk value. A few hundred extra gold on torches, shovels, and bandages may save the life of a soldier you have invested several thousand gold into upgrading and equipping – it's worth it. The dark side of this is you can gamble with weak links or burn them out. If you have a bunch of disease-ridden neurotics you plan to boot anyway, run them into the ground with a suicide mission or two and let them collect loot for you before you fling them out into the cold. Cut 'em loose when they're ruined. Yeah, it's cruel, but we're in the dungeon business, not the hugs and snuggles business. If a low-level character picks up multiple damaging quirks or diseases that impede your ability to complete missions, it is better to dump them than to invest thousands of gold and weeks in the Sanitarium trying to work out every kink. Dungeon and battle strategy Blight and bleed will do you well, especially in the early game. On enemies with high protection stats, stacking bleeds and blights on them can work wonders. Melt an enemy away with unblockable damage instead of trying to chip through their defense. Focusing down targets is almost always a better idea than spreading damage around. Save your AoE attacks for when an enemy is on the brink of death and you might as well chip away at his buddies while you finish him off. Don't become attached to the same old skills. If you find you're never using your AoEs because you're (wisely) following the above advice, trade them out for a self heal, a repositioning skill, a debuff, or a mark. Trade them out based on the enemies you face, too. For example, I like my Hellions super aggressive, but when fighting in an area with a lot of enemies that cause bleed, I'll drop Breakthrough and take Adrenalin Rush so I'm not chewing through bandages every round. Prevention is greater than healing. Don't crutch on a Vestal or Occultist to heal every bit of damage your team takes – it's a losing proposition. You're better off preventing damage with quick kills, stuns, and high dodge/protection stats than trying to swim upstream. Use heals as a tool to keep soldiers away from death's door and focus more on skills that undermine the enemy's ability to do damage in the first place. Back-line enemies tend to be insidious dangers. Snipers who fire on your vulnerable party members or use AoE attacks, wizards with stressful incantations who push your team to the brink of insanity, or spotters who mark your team for extra damage – all assholes. Killing them can be difficult, but don't forget about skills that can pull them to the front or push other enemies to the back. Just like your party, enemies tend to lose access to their best skills when out of position, so it can often be worth spending one or two attacks shuffling them around before focusing them down. Stress is every bit as dangerous as damage and harder to heal. Prioritize enemies that cause extra stress. Don't stick in a death spiral. If one of your party members hits maximum stress and picks up an affliction like Irrational, Paranoid, or Masochist, it's best to abandon the missions than press on unless you're on the very last fight or two. Afflicted party members have a tendency to pull the other party members down with them, piling on stress, disobeying orders, refusing heals, and so on. It's better to suffer some group stress and rally than to lose an entire team.
Darkest Dungeon tips photo
When the abyss stares, don't blink
Darkest Dungeon is a terrifically difficult game that delights in torturing the player. You could spend hours fine tuning the perfect party only to encounter a new enemy type or area that absolutely demolishes them. It's a na...


Review: Darkest Dungeon

Jan 27 // Nic Rowen
Darkest Dungeon (PC)Developer: Red Hook StudiosPublisher: Red Hook StudiosReleased: January 19, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Darkest Dungeon is an absolutely merciless exercise in roguelike themes. It is all about micromanagement, skillful use of scarce resources, determination in the face of insurmountable odds, and the ability to press on after a particularly bad roll of the RNG wipes out your All-Star squad of heroes. Make no mistake, it can be frustrating. Unlike other roguelikes you may have played where the whims of fortune sabotage a 30-minute run or one mission, Darkest Dungeon has no problem with wiping out hours of investment in a character or trinket. If that sounds like the kind of thing that would make you break your keyboard over your knee, consider a trip to the dungeon carefully. If you have a dark streak of sadism in you though, you may have just found your game.  While the game is certainly fiendish in its difficulty and brutal with its punishments, you're not totally helpless to luck and chance. Darkest Dungeon is a game played in two distinct portions. The first is a sort of management and strategic level where you direct resources to different parts of your ancestral hamlet and roster of warriors. The other is the actual dungeon dive, the tactical application of all that planning and building, the individual choices of which hallway to go down, which darkened corner to peer into, and which enemy should be brought low in what order. Through skillful manipulation of both levels, victory can be snatched from seemingly impossible challenges. In the hamlet, you are the omniscient master of the land, deciding who to hire, who to send on adventures, and which institutions to upgrade. Each aspect of the hamlet plays a crucial role in fighting the dark. The Stagecoach ferries fresh meat and raw recruits to bolster your ranks and replace the fallen. Services provided at the Guild and Blacksmith can improve your warriors' skills and equipment. The Sanitarium will remove diseases of the mind and body (for a steep fee) that may otherwise render a hero useless. Of course, the Abbey and Bar are necessary to provide comfort, meaning, and solace to your men. Whether they relax through quiet meditation, or through the fleshy pleasures of the neighborhood brothel, paying for a few nights worth of recuperation can save them from breaking in the next dungeon. Properly investing in the right aspects of your hamlet at the right time is just as important as making wise decisions in battle. All of the different services are desperately necessary and, especially at the beginning of the game, you'll never have enough coin or heirlooms (different upgrade resources needed for different buildings) to maintain them all. You need to be crafty and shrewd, making your meager wealth stretch as far as it can go while knowing you are compromising in one area to prop up another. The same merciless economics apply to your roster. Heroes cost a fortune to upgrade with better weapons and higher-level skills – an investment that can be lost in an instant to a bad battle. Otherwise potent warriors can also slowly become crippled by afflictions and phobias after too many trips to the dungeon, and while all maladies can be cured, the cost sometimes outweighs the benefit. Knowing when it's best to spend money to rehabilitate a Crusader who picked up a drinking habit and fear of the occult after his last disastrous mission, or when to spend that money equipping and upgrading his replacement, is the pitiless key to progression. In the dungeon, the emphasis switches from the overarching, to the granular. In the 2D side-to-side lineup of the characters, it is of the utmost importance to carefully consider where each of your heroes stands. Every hero and monster possesses skills that can only be used from one position or another that will only effect a foe standing in specific spots. Some of these can be quite general, for example being anywhere in the first few rows will generally let a Bounty Hunter attack anyone in the opposite first three rows. Contrarily, the Hellion with her swooping spear has a move that she can only use in the very first rank to attack the very last opponent. While it sounds needlessly obscure, that single move became one of my favorites in the entire game.  With 14 different classes to choose from, each of whom have seven possible combat skills that are all limited in terms of where they can be used and what they can hit, experimentation is key. There is no ideal team or strategy to be found. Different adventurers do better or worse in specific areas based on their damage type and common skills and you need to adjust. You can crutch on the Crusader and Vestal to wade through the skeletons of the Ruins with their extra damage against the unholy and the lack of nuance in the skeleton's attack plan. When you get to the twisted mermen and giant crabs of the Cove however, you'll want a strong Man-at-Arms to defend the front-line while a Plague Doctor hurls poison blight that will do more damage than any sword trying to pierce their scales. While in most RPGs the heroes are never in danger from rank-and-file monsters, in Darkest Dungeon, every battle holds the potential for defeat – either from a splashy total party wipe, or the slow erosion of a party's ability to press on. Healing is an uphill climb. There are only a few classes capable of restoring other party members and their heals are meager or rely on swings of luck. Some characters are capable of healing themselves, but these are often front-line warriors who are better off attacking a monster than trying to frantically repair damage. You don't recover anything after a battle, so a victory in the moment can set your party up for total defeat in the next if the enemy undermines you enough. Knowing when to abandon a quest and when to stick it out is an important judgment call, but while retreating may save your life, it also burdens the party with the stressful shame of coming back to town empty handed. Stress is a significant factor in every battle. Some of the most dangerous and insidious monsters in the game have very weak attacks, but can do things that cause your party stress. When a hero reaches a critical point of stress, their resolve will be tested in a moment of truth. Sometimes a hero will have a moment of valiant triumph and when the abyss stares into them they will not blink, becoming stronger for the experience. All the more common though, the frailty of man is revealed and a warrior will suffer a psychological break. An affliction of the mind is a terrible thing. Party members afflicted with paranoia, masochism, selfishness, or those who turn their abuse outward will drag the party down. They'll disobey orders, refuse heals or buffs out of distrust and fear, hurl insults or sing mad ramblings that unnerve the other fighters. If you let them, a broken fighter will hamstring healthy ones. You either need to cure them or cut them loose. Exploring each dungeon is done in a slightly odd manner. You always move across the screen in a straight line from left-to-right when traveling from hallways to rooms. A map grid lets you choose your route and with a little luck and a few stat-boosting skills, the occasional scouting report will let you see your opposition and potential treasure in advance. A torch light system dynamically changes the difficulty – the more well lit you keep the dungeon, the easier it is. Keep the light low and your party will quiver with fear and you'll encounter stronger monsters, but the treasures to be found will be that much greater to reward your bravery. Simply moving through these dungeons takes a toll on your adventurers. Stress accumulates as you dive deeper into the beast's lair, and retreating only causes more. Traps litter each area. The observant explorer can disarm them with a little luck, but even the most wary party is likely to stumble into a few. Curiosities like ancient scrolls, pagan shrines, and freshly dug graves tempt the party to test fate as each oddity they encounter has the potential for reward or affliction. Reading an old scroll is as likely to provide insight as it is to shatter the mind with a grim revelation. Properly provisioning your party with supplies helps tilt these odds in your favor. If you pack holy water, you can cleanse occult talismans. A shovel will let you pass an obstacle of rubble without stressing your party out by making them dig by hand. Bandages and medicinal herbs can staunch bleeding, remove debuffs, and allow the safe handling of unsanitary crevasses or torture equipment one may find in a dungeon. At this point, I'm fine with everything Darkest Dungeon has to offer, even where I can see elements that will bother other players. I think the management aspect is interesting and I like that is pushes you to cultivate diverse teams and experiment even if some players will likely be annoyed that they can't focus on a favored team composition. The battle system is fantastic, despite the occasional bad turns of luck that can feel unfair and some of the cheaper enemies that become more frustrating than thrilling. Unfortunately, even while I enjoy those mechanics, Darkest Dungeon manages to wear out its welcome due to the sheer grind demanded of the player. At certain points, when ascending to a new level plateau or encountering a new sort of boss, the difficulty spikes to a degree that is way out of hand. You'll be thrilled when you get your first squad of adventurers to level three and they will no longer bother themselves with lower-level missions. A new challenge! Sadly, you'll likely find that team totally unprepared for the newfound challenge and probably beat a hasty retreat or lose a few of them. With them now too weak to do the missions they are leveled for, and too haughty to deign running an easier mission, you'll have to park them for hours as you grind other teams trying to find trinkets to give them the edge and upgrade the guild and blacksmith to a point where they can reach full potential. The amount of busywork needed to prop up more valuable heroes and expand the hamlet becomes too much. Running squads of lowly heroes you have no intention of keeping just so you can get enough heirloom scrolls to level up the Blacksmith quickly devolves into tedium. This is especially pronounced at the very end of the game where you need several fully leveled teams of four to take on the last series of missions. Not only are the missions tremendously difficult, but retreating from one guarantees one member will die. Adding to this, once a warrior successfully completes one of the final missions, they won't go on another. You end up in a situation where you can easily burn a team or two to a party wipe, easily lose one or two members to a retreat, and then end up with nobody suitable on the roster left to take on the next mission. Instead, you're expected to grind yet more characters up to full level for another run. God help you if you lose your last Vestal and need to take a fresh healer from level zero to six. Eventually, the economy tends towards abundance and you'll have plenty of gold to streamline the process as much as possible, but you'll still need to run more than a dozen missions to get them fit for duty. This is where Darkest Dungeon stumbles and my own mind turns to darkness. When I start the mental arithmetic of how much work it will take to just to make another attempt at the final dungeons, I reel and sputter. Hours and hours of stress and suffering just for a chance at the end? This is no way for rational people to spend their time. You'd have to be mad. And yet you'll do it. You'll do it because at this point the game will have its hooks in you and you won't be able to let go. If you've stuck with it to that point, you might grumble and moan like me, but you'll press on. Maybe the developers meant for it to be so. A commentary on unhinged ambition, a way of making you feel as weary and beaten down as that Crusader nursing his second week in a row at the bar, dragging his feet towards another inevitable damned expedition. Despite the grind, despite the perhaps undue commitment to brutality, and despite what I feel is a joke at the player's expense at the end, Darkest Dungeon still manages to be one of the most engaging and intriguing roguelikes I've ever played and I'll probably still be diving dungeons and trying new party compositions weeks from now. After all, it would be madness to stop at this point. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Darkest Dungeon review photo
What we are in the dark
Most games gloss right over the psychological effects of combat and stress. RPGs see parties of cheery young adventurers slaughter their way through entire countrysides worth of kobolds and giant rats for the sake of justice ...

Downwell photo
Downwell

Downwell is falling onto Android devices today


Android has a new best roguelike
Jan 27
// Joe Parlock
We all seem to love mobile rogue-lite Downwell here at Destructoid, what with it getting both a 10/10 score in Steven’s review and winning our mobile game of the year award. It’s just a shame that up to now it&rsq...
Dankest Dungeon photo
Dankest Dungeon

Want to hear the narrator for Darkest Dungeon say 'Dankest Dungeon?'


I do, but I'm a child
Jan 24
// Nic Rowen
I've been playing a lot of Darkest Dungeon, and it's been a tense experience. It's a merciless game about horror, stress, and the frailty of humanity. A great deal of the grim tone is established by the grave intonations of i...
Necropolis photo
Necropolis

Necropolis should be even better with friends


Let's siege some dungeons
Jan 21
// Jordan Devore
Since we last checked on Necropolis, the third-person action roguelike from Shadowrun Returns maker Harebrained Schemes, it gained four-person cooperative play. Why die alone when you can go down in flames with your dearest f...
GOTY 2015 photo
GOTY 2015

Mike Martin's picks for games that he picked in 2015


My picks bring all the boys to the yard
Jan 11
// Mike Martin
Hello everybody! Your (not so) favorite, foul-mouthed, perverted, shit-posting Community Manager here. 2015 was a helluva year for games. All bullshit aside, we are starting to see some truly amazing games come out. When I wa...
Below photo
Below

Capybara Games' Below delayed into 2016


More news in the new year
Dec 20
// Kyle MacGregor
With just a couple weeks remaining the year, Below is not going to hit its previously announced 2015 release window, developer Capybara Games has confirmed with Game Informer. "Below is indeed coming in 2016," Capy'...

Review: Nuclear Throne

Dec 15 // Jordan Devore
Nuclear Throne (Linux, Mac, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], PlayStation Vita, Windows)Developer: VlambeerPublisher: VlambeerReleased: December 5, 2015 (Linux, Mac, PS3, PS4, Vita, Windows) / TBA (PS3)MSRP: $11.99 This is a roguelike, and a brutally difficult, bullet hellish one at that. These games have an uncanny ability to push us to the brink of madness only to win us over, in the end, and form an unbreakable bond. I'm no stranger to that process. But with Nuclear Throne, it's far more of a love-hate relationship than I'm used to. A large part of what kept me going despite repeated, soul-crushing failure was the look and sound of the setting and the strange creatures who inhabit it. The overall vision here is superb, with mutants, monsters, robots, and even an inter-dimensional police force collectively forming a believable, lived-in world. You never develop a full picture of this post-apocalyptic wasteland, or what its future might hold, and that's a good thing. Vlambeer provides just enough hints to stoke imaginations without oversharing. As a mutant, your basic goal is to kill everything. And I do mean everything -- that's how you progress to the next level and, with persistence, reach the titular Nuclear Throne. Initially, you will fend off bandits, maggots, and scorpions in a desert area. They're all good fodder for learning the basics before the real scary stuff comes out. Depending on your character, your adventure starts with a basic revolver, but you will soon find more interesting guns with varying rates of fire, bullet spreads, and other quirks. [embed]326751:61527:0[/embed] It's a shame you can only hold two weapons at a time, because I never wanted to part with anything. They're all delightful to use, and once you've grown accustomed to the way combat flows, it's so gratifying. But ammo is finite and the maximum amount you can store of each type (bullets, shells, bolts, explosives, and energy) isn't very high. That's by design. You're meant to continually cycle weapons in and out to match the situation at hand as well as what's left in your ammo stockpile. It's a clever way to encourage adaptability and it also helps the game maintain a sense of excitement over hundreds if not thousands of runs. There are also melee weapons, which are just as enjoyable as guns if not more so. They can be supremely useful in the right situation. Most of them can reflect projectiles back at enemies and, with sufficient reach, even attack through certain walls. There is a major downside to getting up close and personal, though: more than a few enemies explode when they die, and some bosses will even try to bring you down with them. They'll probably succeed, too. Rads (experience points) are the other major piece of Nuclear Throne. They're a type of collectible dropped by slain enemies, and you need to be quick to nab them because they fade after several seconds. Once you've earned enough rads to level up your character, you'll be able to choose a mutation (perk). These grant powerful passive abilities like health or ammo regeneration, slower-moving enemy bullets, and better melee range. But you don't get to pick a mutation until you have successfully obliterated everything and exited the level, and they're presented in a random group of four. Depending on your character's specific strengths and weaknesses, or your personal playstyle, you may not like the choices available. Ammo and health pick-ups also expire shortly after dropping onto the field, which means even if you have carved out a secluded spot that enemies won't wander into, you can't afford to stay put. Nuclear Throne is adept at making you feel unsafe. You're utterly fragile in this game, with or without full health. Everyone and everything packs a tremendous punch, so one wrong move can be the end. Only a select few elements like unlockable characters are persistent across runs. Levels are procedurally generated with variable layouts and enemy placements, but there are consistent themes (desert, sewer, caves, lab, etc.) on the path to the Nuclear Throne. Unless you skip around by entering secret areas -- the underwater oasis is a personal favorite of mine -- the overall structure will be the same on every run. Bosses show up on specific levels, so when you get to level 5-3, you know Lil' Hunter is going to drop in and ruin your day. He's the fucking worst. With practice, you can heighten your skills and know how best to leverage a character's special abilities. You'll be able to rapidly scan and prioritize threats. You'll generally know what lies ahead and which weapons to hold onto. But that's not always enough. Sometimes, Nuclear Throne will just screw you over. And that's where it falls short. There will be times when you spawn into a level surrounded by enemies and explosive objects and immediately die. Sometimes, it's that exact scenario plus a boss in the mix. It can be unfair. Or, at the very least, uneven. I expect that in roguelikes to a certain extent, but it especially stands out as a problem here. Bad spawns aside, there is a weird jump in difficulty in the Frozen City. Every time I managed to clear that particular zone, I went on to beat the next few levels without much trouble and made it to the Nuclear Throne (the point at which you can fight a boss and end your run, or "loop" it). The first time I fought the boss, ten hours in, I brushed up against the thing, causing a game-ending error. It was another two hours before I got another chance and succeeded. I haven't been able to make it back yet to try looping (think new game plus), so I know I'm missing out on some weapons and bosses, and an even greater challenge. If I could do it all over again, I would probably opt for the PC version instead. Mouse and keyboard controls would have been a godsend while I was learning the ropes. On PlayStation 4, there is an aim assist option, thankfully, and you can remap the controls. I suggest playing around with those settings and switching the "change weapon" button to something other than triangle. For folks interested in playing local co-op with a friend, know that the brutal difficulty persists. It's set up in such a way that if one player dies, they need to quickly be revived, and both players lose part of their health. So it's not really any easier. In the end, I have come to love and loathe Nuclear Throne. It's one of the hardest, most rewarding games I've ever played. But as satisfying as it can eventually become, I think it is far too demanding for its own good. With additional polish and balancing, this could be a masterpiece in the genre. It's not quite there yet, but it's close. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nuclear Throne review photo
You did not reach the Nuclear Throne
Nuclear Throne is not a game for people who get frustrated easily. My first few hours spent with this top-down shooter from Super Crate Box and Ridiculous Fishing developer Vlambeer didn't go well. I struggled with aiming and...

Nethack photo
Nethack

Nethack, a roguelike from 1987, just had its first update in 12 years


Includes a tribute to Sir Terry Pratchet
Dec 09
// Joe Parlock
While Rogue is commonly seen as where the roguelike genre got its start, there’s another game that is arguably just as influential to its formation: Nethack. Originally released way back in 1987, Nethack helped pave the...
Nuclear Throne photo
Nuclear Throne

Nuclear Throne is finally out of Early Access


Officially launched on PC, PS4, and Vita
Dec 08
// Ben Davis
It feels like Vlambeer's Nuclear Throne has been in Early Access limbo for ages, but the punishing roguelike shooter has finally reached its official release date. You can now purchase the finished version of Nuclear Throne o...

Review: Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon

Nov 27 // Ben Davis
Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon (3DS)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NintendoMSRP: $39.99Released: November 20, 2015 To start things off in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, the player will take a short personality test. The test determines which of the 20 starter Pokémon they will become; it also chooses their partner. However, the results can be overruled if the player is unhappy with their chosen 'mon. The game picked Mudkip for me, with Torchic as my parter, so I just went with it. The story of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon revolves around a human who has been turned into a Pokémon and has lost their memory. The Pokéhuman wakes up in confusion to find that they're being attacked by a group of Beheeyem, but they're quickly led to safety by a kind Nuzleaf with a southern accent who shows them the ropes and brings them into town. Once in town, the player will make some new friends, meet up with their destined partner, and begin going on expeditions into mystery dungeons. From here, the main storyline will begin to reveal itself in bits and pieces. There are whispers of Pokémon around the world mysteriously being turned to stone, the Beheeyem are still following the player, and their memory of being a human refuses to return to them. Eventually, everything will start to fall into place and a grand adventure of world-ending proportions will unfold. But before all of that happens, there are dungeons to explore. These make up the core gameplay, of course. Mystery dungeons are made up of randomly generated grid-based floors filled with enemy Pokémon, items, and traps. Enemies only move when the player moves, so sometimes it's best to take things one step at a time so as to avoid suddenly becoming overwhelmed with foes. [embed]322769:61271:0[/embed] To attack, just hold down the left bumper to open up a menu of four possible moves, then select an action. It's also possible to combo moves with other team members by tapping the right bumper, which activates an "Alliance" to hit an enemy with multiple moves at once. Strategy is key to winning battles. Sometimes the best course of action is to waste a turn so that the enemy might move closer, opening up the possibility to land the first strike. Or, maybe it would be safer to switch positions with another teammate so they can take a blow and allow others to heal. Perhaps a liberal use of items will get the player out of a jam. A lot of planning and foresight is necessary in order to survive most confrontations, so simply spamming attacks is not going to cut it for the most part. Moving around dungeons will slowly heal injured Pokémon, but it will also decrease a hunger gauge as well, and if hunger reaches zero then the Pokémon's health will slowly begin to deplete. On top of that, there are status effects to worry about, such as poison or burns, which will stop Pokémon from regenerating health and will hurt them. Other effects, like confusion, can mess with a Pokémon's movement or ability to act. This can prove to be very annoying and potentially dangerous, so it's always a good idea to have the proper items available. Actually, a big part of mystery dungeon navigation involves managing items effectively. Only a certain amount can be held at once, but items will be scattered about all over the place and will quickly fill up the bag. It's a good idea to figure out which are the most important and plan accordingly. Some of the more important ones are oran berries and reviver seeds which are necessary for healing, elixirs which replenish the PP of moves, apples which stave off hunger, and wands and orbs that keep enemies at bay or help with dungeon navigation. There are also "Looplets" which act as the sole source of accessory. These can be upgraded with "Emeras" or gems which provide a wide array of different effects to help with combat and navigation (some may even cause a Mega Evolution!), but the Emeras will disappear upon exiting a dungeon. If the player fails a dungeon, they will lose all the items and money currently being held, unless they opt to wait for a rescue mission. These can be arranged on Pelipper Island, where the player can request help from other players via passwords, QR codes, local wireless, or IR connection. Alternatively, the player can simply return to their old save in order to retain items and money, but of course progress might be lost. Helper Pokémon can also be sent out from Pelipper Island for streetpass purposes, although I haven't encountered any yet. While story dungeons will force the player to use specific teams of Pokémon, normal dungeons will allow the player to choose any three Pokémon they wish to use. More Pokémon can be recruited by completing expeditions or simply chatting with folks around town, so the pool of possible allies will continue to grow larger and larger. All 720 Pokémon are available to be recruited, including legendaries, gender variations, all forms of Unown, and more. Using Pokémon in dungeons will allow them to level up and and learn new moves. I don't believe they can evolve, but since their evolutions can also be recruited, it doesn't really matter too much. Normal expeditions are where Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon really shines, but unfortunately they are few and far between until the main story has been completed. Free play finally opens up in the epilogue, but players are looking at about 20+ hours of gameplay and cutscenes before that happens. Aside from that, my only real complaints are the lack of skippable cutscenes and the fact that some story missions don't provide much opportunity for preparation. Even though it often allows the player to choose the items they want to take along and check out the shops beforehand, I still occasionally found myself woefully unprepared for story missions and ended up getting stuck with lousy equipment. The game also tends to save before long cutscenes right before boss fights, so I was forced to rewatch the same scenes over and over again whenever I died. The one before the final boss was particularly frustrating; it was so long! I'd have to say my favorite part of Super Mystery Dungeon is the way the Pokémon are portrayed. In most games and in the anime, the Pokémon simply say their own names and their personalities, if they have one at all, can only be implied. The main cast of characters in Super Mystery Dungeon consists of a good mix of Pokémon from each generation, and they're all given their own voice, each with different quirks, opinions, personalities, and sometimes even accents. It's really fun to learn about these guys in a new light. Some that I liked before I ended up hating this time around (like Pancham and Shelmet, those jerks!), while others that I may have ignored in previous games quickly became some of my favorites (like Espurr!). The cutscenes may have been long and the story may have been a little over-the-top, but I'd say it was worth it in the end just to get to know some of the Pokémon a bit better. Having never played any of the previous entries in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, I can't really compare it to the earlier games. However, for my first foray into Pokémon roguelikes, I had a great time! The difficulty seemed to ramp up considerably in some places, but between items, Emeras, and the random elements, I was generally able to figure out a strategy that worked well enough for me to just barely make it through. But if that doesn't work for some players, there are always the rescue missions to fall back on in case of an emergency. If you're like me and you haven't tried a Mystery Dungeon game yet, this one comes highly recommended. I'm fairly confident fans of the series will not be disappointed either. On its own, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is a quirky, light-hearted spin-off with well-developed dungeon crawling gameplay that provides a satisfying level of difficulty and gives the player plenty of room to develop their own strategies, all the while offering tons of customization options with a huge roster of potential allies and moves. It's a solid entry in the Pokémon franchise. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Super Mystery Dungeon photo
Like Magic(karp)
The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spin-off series transports the colorful cast of pocket monsters from the role-playing games into the challenging world of a roguelike dungeon crawler. Super Mystery Dungeon retains the charm...

Review: Renowned Explorers: International Society

Nov 20 // Darren Nakamura
Renowned Explorers: International Society (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Abbey GamesPublisher: Abbey GamesReleased: September 2, 2015MSRP: $19.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit In Renowned Explorers, the goal is to become a particularly renowned explorer among the group known as the Renowned Explorers. This is achieved by going on expeditions, recovering valuable treasures, making scientific discoveries, and navigating combat situations. Basically, an expedition is separated into two parts: resolving text-based events while traveling between nodes on a map and tactical combat on a modified hex grid. Both sections have elements of procedural generation, so there's always a sense of exploring the semi-unknown, even on an expedition to the same location as a previous run. Area maps are covered in fog of war, with only the nearest nodes visible. Combat arenas will vary the layout of obstacles, choke points, and healing zones. [embed]321138:61123:0[/embed] Indeed, Renowned Explorers is a "roguelite," meant to be played multiple times in order to truly master it. Herein lies one of the biggest hurdles I had to get over in order to enjoy it. For a game meant to be played again and again, it just takes way too long. A single run consists of five expeditions, and each expedition can take 30 to 45 minutes depending on how many encounters there are. It took me days to get through my first run because of the time commitment. This does speed up with experience, because combat becomes much faster after learning the ins and outs of it. Even so, expeditions easily last 20 minutes or more, so it's not the kind of "just one more" experience a roguelite needs to really grab somebody. This is exacerbated by the planning phase that occurs in between expeditions. Here, players spend the resources gathered during the previous expedition to purchase improved gear, recruit followers, and perform research. This is easily the densest part of Renowned Explorers for a new player. Every resource is connected to another in some way, and the game takes a laissez-faire approach; it presents a bevy of options and lets the player sort out what to do with them. Navigating the nooks and crannies of the planning phase can be exhausting at first, which makes the thought of taking on a new expedition right away seem that much more unreasonable. By far, my biggest disappointment starting off was with the combat system. It advertises multiple ways to resolve encounters; an explorer can be aggressive with physical attacks, be devious with insults and threats, or be friendly with encouragement. The three styles have a rock-paper-scissors relationship, so an aggressive approach is advantageous against a friendly enemy for instance. The problem with it is that each form of "attack" draws from the same "hit point" meter, which represents a foe's willingness to keep fighting. You could punch an enemy until he has only a sliver of health remaining, then finish him off by encouraging him to believe in your cause. Fighting and talking don't feel like they function differently. The battle system is hardly different than a simple three-element magic system at first. Only after really digging in did I spot the nuance. Some encounters will provide different rewards depending on how they are resolved. More importantly, it's the asymmetry in the rock-paper-scissors system that makes it interesting. Aggressive attack damage is a function of physical power, where devious and friendly attack damage comes from speech power, so an orator might have a stronger pair of scissors than he has a rock, so to speak. Within the speech powers, there is asymmetry as well. In general, devious skills cause debuffs while friendly skills cause buffs -- on friends and enemies alike. So while the current mood might call for a friendly attack, it is still necessary to weigh the risk of increasing the enemy's attack power in return. The point is: the combat system is deeper than it initially lets on, but it takes some effort for a player to really understand that. That basically describes Renowned Explorers: International Society on the whole. It features a set of deep systems with complex mechanics and relationships, but it places most of the burden on the player to discover it. I'll admit, I disliked it until it all fell into place and revealed itself for what it is. I'm not chomping at the bit to keep playing, but I am curious to delve deeper. Different combinations of explorers can beget different tactics both in and out of battle. That thought alone is enough to keep me from uninstalling it.
Renowned Explorers review photo
A lot to dig into
I'm glad I stuck Renowned Explorers out. For the first couple hours it was kind of a slog. Not exactly bad, but dense, unwieldy, and unexciting. I would finish an expedition and quit, not wanting to get back to it until days ...

Darkest Dungeon photo
Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon aims for PS4, Vita this spring


Eyes on the inside
Nov 18
// Jordan Devore
Darkest Dungeon is bringing its madness-inducing dungeon crawling to PlayStation 4 and Vita in spring 2016. Those carrion eaters and shamblers are really going to pop on your TV! Speaking of: the PS4 port will be playable at ...

Contest - Trigger Saint

Nov 03 // Mike Martin
 photo
Win one of 10 copies!
Hello my pretties! Today (courtesy of Undergroundies Inc. ) We have a contest for recently released Trigger Saint. Trigger Saint is an isometric, shooty, permadeath, beautiful, interesting game. I've enjoyed my time with it a...

Noct impressions photo
Noct impressions

Noct has potential but there isn't much to it yet


Just shapes in the dark
Oct 26
// Nic Rowen
Noct is a top-down survival game with a killer hook. Set in the ruins of earth after some kind of Pitch Black-like doomsday event, the action is viewed from a grainy thermal camera far removed from danger. You play the part o...
Galak-Z on Steam photo
Galak-Z on Steam

Galak-Z has a more forgiving mode on Steam


PC version only a week away
Oct 19
// Jordan Devore
17-Bit is bringing its stylish space shooter Galak-Z: The Dimensional to PC much sooner than I was expecting. How does this month sound? It's set for a Steam release on Thursday, October 29. In his review of the PlayStation 4...
Darkest Dungeon photo
Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is coming to crush your spirit Jan. 19


Out of the darkness of Early Access
Oct 14
// Nic Rowen
Sometimes it's easy to forget that Darkest Dungeon is still in Early Access. I've been “enjoying” the brutally difficult tactical-roguelike since last February and for months it's felt like a solid package, despit...
Cryptark impressions photo
Cryptark impressions

Cryptark is the sci-fi roguelike you've been waiting for (if you don't own a PS4)


Interstellar small business woes
Oct 10
// Nic Rowen
I’ve always loved space truckers. Working Joes plugging away at what amounts to a mundane job for them in a fantastic sci-fi setting that seems crazy to us terrestrial-bound 21st century cavemen. I also harbor great aff...

Review: Skyhill

Oct 06 // Stephen Turner
Skyhill (PC) Developers: Mandragora Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment Released: October 6, 2015 MSRP: $14.99 One man’s late-night extravagance ends up being his good fortune as Perry Jason’s penthouse suite shields him from a biological attack. Every guest and staff worker is transformed into a bloodthirsty mutant, leaving him the only human seemingly left alive. But without supplies and a wife lost to the city, he has no choice but to venture down 100 floors to escape this hotel-turned-house of horrors. Sounds easy, right? If only he wasn't already starving to death and in need of some makeshift weapons. Skyhill has the look of a horror game, but it’s a light RPG/roguelike/survival game at heart. You scavenge for food and items, combine ingredients for better supplies, all the while keeping an eye on your increasing hunger pains. It's not a scary game, especially with the comic book horror presentation, but it does an excellent job of handing the tension over to the player and their decisions. Every new floor is a gamble, every consumable carries short-term and long-term effects, and every push downward has to be thought out in advance. Essentially, Skyhill is about knowing when to hold and when to fold. [embed]313976:60617:0[/embed] Starting off in the VIP Room, which also serves as an upgradable home base, you work your way through each floor to reach the lobby (the end goal). Movement is done through a simple click on a room, but every location depletes a point from the hunger bar. Finding food is always the top priority; without it, movement depletes the health bar instead. Much of Skyhill is spent yo-yoing up and down the eponymous building, collecting random items, taking them back to the VIP room to craft better upgrades, then venturing back down to your last location. It might sound like a chore, but it's actually quite effective at creating an air of desperation; pushing forward due to a lack of supplies or a regained purpose. If you’ve played any survival games before, you’ll know what to expect from Skyhill’s crafting system. The tier system is easy to use, and it always tells you the items you need or already own. But keeping a hold of higher-tier items is a challenge, as you’ll always come across an elevator shaft that needs fixing with a certain item that you just created for something else. The same difficult choices happen with food supplies, too; eat the basics now for a short-term boost, or hold out to make bigger meal later on. It’s always a tough call. Of course, Skyhill wouldn't be a horror game without combat. Due to cramped environments onscreen, the game opts for turned-based attacks and statistics. Each mutant type has 2-3 body parts to attack, but the more damage you can inflict, the less likely you are to hit. Players can level up their stats – damage, speed, dexterity, and accuracy – by gaining XP after every fight. Though, honestly, the RPG elements don't really change up the combat, say, beyond landing more hits, and both end up becoming Skyhill’s weaker elements in the second half. Without an option to dodge (though you can retreat), combat is always tit-for-tat, and whoever gets the best string of hits wins. If there was ever a perfect representation of Skyhill’s negative traits, it would be found in the building itself; a rinse-and-repeat of exploration between two rooms and a stairwell. Skyhill never evolves, even close to the ground floor, preferring instead to throw more mutant attacks in the way. The only reason the final 50 floors are tougher is because they're more of a drain on resources; just more of the same without the breather. Still, Skyhill manages to be a decent stab at survivalist horror; rightfully using certain mechanics to avoid an even lesser game. It’s hard to imagine the combat working in real time due to the tiny spaces, or that if every room were visually more complex, it would lead to some tiresome pixel hunting. In a way, Skyhill is economical in what it does, even if it means being the old double-edged sword. That said, when you get right down to the core of it, see how the elements work in your favour or conspire against you, Skyhill admirably creates this tense game of hubris and courage, one that never lets up until you escape or, far more likely, die. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review photo
'We're on an express elevator to hell!'
100 floors up, countless mutants on the way down, and only one way out of town. No, this isn’t your average council estate in Swansea. This is Skyhill.

Review: A Fistful of Gun

Sep 28 // Stephen Turner
A Fistful of Gun (PC) Developers: FarmerGnome Publisher: Devolver Digital Released: September 23, 2015 MSRP: $12.99 A Fistful of Gun is a bombardment of the senses. It’s your usual post-modern, knowing wink to the camera fare; very loud, very brash, but also raising a smile with its constructive asides and one-liners. So, an evil railroad tycoon has made a deal with the devil, but he’s about to get some karmic retribution from a diverse group of gunslingers. Along the way, these 11 wronged men (well, more than 11 if you count a whole regiment sharing a single horse) will take down anyone who stands in their way – KKK members, bandits, soldiers, Indians, voodoo men, the whole clichéd lot. And that’s it for the threadbare plot, really. The Story Mode is a marathon of randomised arena-based firefights, each one barely lasting more than a minute or two. Sometimes, you’re given an objective to complete in addition to killing everyone on screen, be it pushing a cart to its destination, duels and assassinations, or saving a hoedown from a stampede, to more loopy scenarios like Peyote trials and Bomb Fiestas. And since you can choose your next challenge, it’s always refreshing to see the variety and difficulty on the player’s own terms. [embed]312707:60526:0[/embed] Graphically, the Western setting is merely functional. Each location has its share of destructible environments, but it all looks intentionally sparse. Being a twitch shooter, you’re required to keep your attention on several things at once: your gunslinger, the bullets headed your way, and the tiny aiming reticule. The pixel art is charming when it’s calm, but when things erupt in spectacular fashion, it’s hard to keep track of the tiny characters and the aiming reticule is usually lost to the earthy colour palette. A Fistful of Gun is a difficult game, but it does offer plenty of risk/reward strategies in the way of power-ups, handicaps, and character playstyles. Causing havoc in the neutral zones might offer more money or lives, but you’ll also earn a wanted level and choice to either fight a fairly unstoppable Sheriff or take a fairly humiliating challenge like getting through the next level with an unpredictable hog or an explosive piñata on your back. Usually, if you can successfully weave in and out of trouble, you can pick up various whiskey bottles that can slow down time or give you extra damage. Horses give you extra speed and since this is a one-hit-kill kind of game, they allow you a second wind at the expense of their life. The main gimmick here is the different unlockable gunslingers. Each man has their own unique control scheme or weapon use. So for example, Abel can fire off six rapid shots in a row, but has to reload the whole cylinder before firing again. Virgil’s blunderbuss has to be charged for maximum effect, while Duke has a chaingun at the expense of movement speed, and Billy’s gun can only be fired by pressing the right key shown above his head. Some are clearly more favourable than others, and a select few are there for the added challenge, but nobody ever comes across as overpowered. While they all have to be randomly unlocked in the campaign, everybody is available straight away in Arcade Mode, and it’s also in this mode that A Fistful of Gun becomes more accessible, more fun. Basically, it’s an infinite gauntlet of arenas, where you’re rewarded with modifiers to take into the next battle – explosive bullets, faster movement speed, better accuracy, etc. But more importantly, it also benefits from having local co-op. It’s through that brief glimpse of partnership that I saw A Fistful of Gun at its fullest potential. Online is a mix of Arcade and Versus Modes (no co-op SP campaign, sadly) for up to nine players. Though, on launch weekend, the servers were dead. Ideally, it’s played best with a friends list, but if you don’t have a posse to call upon, then you won’t have much luck with public games; not to mention a lack of instant game matchmaking (which is supposedly being rectified in the near future). It would be pretty ridiculous to mark down A Fistful of Gun over a lack of consumer interest, but as a word to the wise and since many of its modes are reliant on co-op, it does currently come across as half a game. No, A Fistful of Gun’s only major errors lie in its repetitive and muddied action, all blasted through an ADD pacing. It’s still fun and humorous, but that relentless nature condenses its longevity into just a couple of sessions. If you’ll pardon the ham-fisted metaphor, A Fistful of Gun can best be described as a stick of dynamite with a short fuse; explosive and disposable in the brief time you’ll spend with it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review photo
'My mistake... Four HUNDRED coffins'
Ah, another day, another pixel-art indie game with a Wild West theme. That said, A Fistful of Gun could’ve been set on the Moon and you’d be too busy dodging bullet hells and listening to arcade cabinet music to e...

Etrian Mystery Dungeon photo
Etrian Mystery Dungeon

Etrian Mystery Dungeon out now across Europe


Good lord, finally
Sep 12
// Kyle MacGregor
After an extended wait, Etrian Mystery Dungeon is now available in Europe, NIS has announced. The roguelike RPG launched in North America in April after debuting in Japan the previous month, and earned praise from Destructoid's reviews pope Chris Carter, who called the crossover "a match made in heaven" in his appraisal of the localized release. (Check out the full review here.)

Review: Ascendant

Sep 08 // Chris Carter
Ascendant (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Hapa GamesPublisher: Hapa GamesRelease Date: May 13, 2014 (PC) / September 8, 2015 (PS4)MSRP: $9.99 While Ascendant is a hack and slash first and foremost, it follows a metroidvania style, with a boxed-base map. It's only an illusion however, as most of the game's rooms are standard challenge rooms, with very little in the way of actual exploration. You'll battle your way through said rooms, acquiring slight statistical bonuses (but never enough to get you pumped) and items, until you die -- then you start all over again. The concept is neat, but it never really follows through, nor does it entice the player to actually keep going with nearly enough carrots to go along with the stick of permadeath. Ascendant sports a cool "seasons" theme, with each portion of the game culminating in a boss fight followed by another art style, but the visual flair begins and ends with that concept. While it may look colorful and vibrant at a glance, the actual in-game visuals are fairly unimpressive. This is exacerbated by the fact that nearly every enemy in the game looks like same. As most of you know by now, I'm a fan of tougher games, but having an experience focus on that fact doesn't excuse a dip in quality. Ascendant is difficult, mostly because all of the upgrades you obtain throughout the course of each run aren't all that great, and you'll have to rely on your raw combat skill to get by. Each character has a dash (which can be done in the air), a block (with a parry), standard combos, a few spells, and a launcher system. [embed]309645:60283:0[/embed] At first I was on board with the combat, but the way launchers work turned me off a bit. To launch foes, you'll have to beat them up a bit first, then you can slam them into a specific direction. It's not really conducive to comboing or juggling -- they kind of just speedily fly away. Combat doesn't have a whole lot of impact, and while the dash system ensures that dodging is paramount, your offensive repertoire feels shallow. The fact that the game is procedurally generated also doesn't help its case. Whereas a lot of other similar titles have a variety of different obstacles to overcome, most of Ascendant's rooms (particularly early on) are simple boxes with very little in the way of platforming. I get that the team was probably going for a more combat-oriented game, gating off exits left and right, but the end result is rather jarring when you're fighting the same boring enemies over and over. Boss fights can be a blast, and highlight the vision of the developer's quite well -- even if there aren't enough of them. In a confined space with pre-determined rule sets and patterns, Ascendant does a decent job of playing with its mechanics, forcing players to master every element of the game to proceed. But then it's right back into the open world, completing the same menial actions, until another big bad crosses your path. Playing a co-op game will severely boost your enjoyment, but you'll encounter all of the same problems over again. It's almost like developer Hapa Games had two really cool ideas and tried to integrate them both into Ascendant, with mixed results. At times it has flashes of brilliance with its focus on raw skill and combat, and others, it feels like you're just aimlessly wandering another barren landscape, in search of a rush.
Ascendant PS4 review photo
Descendant
We're getting to the point where the roguelike formula doesn't inspire "oohs" and "ahhs" like it used to. Where a game could generally have had the label "tough as nails," and earned instant cred, it's becoming increasingly h...

Dungeon League turns RPG action into a bloodsport

Aug 07 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]297396:59857:0[/embed] After a dungeon master expresses disappointment with seeing that heroes have lost interest in his labyrinths full of traps and other dangers, he decides to turn his creations into a competitive sport in order to attract adventurers seeking gold and glory. With the creation of the Dungeon League, travelers from all over flock to his randomly conjured deathtraps in order to acquire gold, defeat the opposition, and come out on top. Designed with local multiplayer in mind, Dungeon League re-contextualizes the dungeon-crawl setting and shapes it into an old-school RPG battle arena. From the standard deathmatch variants, territory capture, to the more unusual race gametype, which tasks players with dashing through checkpoints around the dungeon while taking swipes at the opposition, the game does a lot of cool things to the roguelike gameplay system. As you acquire gold and experience, you can level up between matches, upgrade skills, and buy new items from the league vendors. In traditional roguelike and MOBA fashion, character growth is all from the ground up in every game, so you'll have to prioritize which areas you want to focus on. In case it wasn't clear, Dungeon League is very self-aware with its approach to the dungeon crawler. There are several different classes to choose from -- such as the traditional archetypes like Warrior, Rogue, and Archer -- to more bizarre classes such as the rainbow-spewing Unicorn. It's a rush to fight through dungeons filled with nasty traps while cutting down hoards of monsters that get stronger with each stage. It'll take a lot to stay a step ahead of the opposing side and become the champion of the Dungeon League, so choose your class wisely. It's not often we get a unique take on the dungeon crawler, especially one that doesn't take itself too seriously. I liked how lighthearted things are in Dungeon League despite all the over-the-top action and bloodshed, and had a blast battling it out with friends. While there are some single-player options where you can battle waves of monsters, the real draw here is multiplayer, and Dungeon League is quite clever in its design. If you're looking for something a bit different that channels the old-school RPG aesthetic, then this is one you'll want to keep an eye on. Dungeon League [Steam Early Access]
Dungeon League photo
Out now on Steam Early Access
What happens when you turn hardcore RPG gameplay, with hints of roguelike elements, into a sport? Imagine having to grind and acquire loot in order to score points and one-up your competition. Sounds pretty wild for an action...

Review: Galak-Z: The Dimensional

Aug 05 // Chris Carter
Galak-Z: The Dimensional (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: 17-BitPublisher: 17-BitRelease Date: August 4, 2015 (PS4) / TBA (PC)MSRP: $19.99 The way Galak-Z presents itself is by way of "seasons," which are supposed to be set up in a way that mirrors a television show of sorts. Players must complete five missions per season without dying, otherwise they'll be forced to start over from the beginning of that season. It's a way to justify the roguelike elements of the game (notably permadeath) and provide players with some respite for failure. While the idea actually works from a narrative standpoint, I found this style to be a bit more frustrating than it should be. Rogue Legacy handled progression brilliantly, allowing players to slowly accrue upgrades and "lock" maps into place when they wished. Similarly, Spelunky's shortcuts felt organic, like you were exploring a giant labyrinthine maze that was seemingly connected. Here, seasons feel isolated and disconnected -- you're essentially just completing randomly generated levels one after another. This is easier to swallow because of the endearing anime style of the game. It's a love letter to classic franchises like Gundam, but it manages to pack in a ton of 17-bit's signature look, from the decals plastered on the ships to the delightful VCR-styled menu screens. I also love the minimalist approach to storytelling, as each level may provide you with unique tidbits on the game's world, which are remixed, so to speak, after death. Having said that, I think the voice acting is dreadful, and not in a "so bad it's good way." Thankfully there isn't a whole lot of it. In terms of gameplay, this isn't a standard twin-stick shooter -- it's much deeper than that. After a quick tutorial, it's fairly easy to get the hang of the forward and reverse thrusters, the latter of which allow you to moonwalk (moonboost?) backwards to continue engagement. Pressing both of them allows you to brake, which provides pinpoint movement, as well as the ability to thrust cancel whenever you feel like it. Oh, and you can also press square to "juke," which has a little effect of your ship coming out of the screen and dodging bullets. It's really cool. Check out the full control scheme here. [embed]297236:59841:0[/embed] Sound plays a factor in the game as well, as a blue ring around your ship displays how far enemy units can hear you. Yep, your goal is going to actually be avoiding combat as often as you can, because again, death is a big deal in Galak-Z, and it sort of plays into the Last Starfighter vibe that the story is going for. It's also good then that shields can withstand environmental impacts for the most part and regenerate after a few seconds, so you won't have too many frustrating deaths. While permadeath is hard-hitting, you can earn temporary upgrades that will help you avoid your demise, exchange "Crash Coins" for instant upgrades, and locate blueprints, which grant the in-game shop permanent fixtures for future playthroughs. Note that while that blueprints are stocked for every session, you will still have to buy them with scrap (currency you'll find in the world), so you truly are restarting with nothing to your name most of the time. That right there is probably going to scare a lot of people away. While I generally don't mind a learning curve, there is some tedium involved -- more-so than most roguelikes. While many games don't have clear "objectives," and would rather see you explore at your own pace, the chopped-up level scheme doesn't always gel in terms of pacing. For some missions, I was able to fly right into a really unique area like a lava cave, blow up some bugs, and escape with a jump point relatively close to the objective. For others, I had to fly through a long network of caverns, find a boring box, blow it up, and then fly back for upwards of five minutes just to complete that stage. But for every randomly generated disappointment, there's an array of fun moments. Since multiple factions will attack each other in-game, it's a joy to pit them against one another, and slowly reap the benefits from afar with your missiles and all of the wonderful toys you've acquired through your current season. I don't want to spoil the transforming mech bit too much, but suffice to say it adds yet another layer on top of everything, and is just as satisfying as it sounds. Getting through a season and learning all of the tricks involved over time provides a clear sense of accomplishment, and you'll need to put in some work to reap those benefits. I wish Galak-Z: The Dimensional wasn't so fragmented, because the core experience is a treat for roguelike and space combat fans alike. Even 15 hours through I was still seeing new items and upgrades, which is a testament to its lasting power, warts and all -- I just need to take breaks from the tedium every so often. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Galak-Z review photo
Amuro Blu-ray
There aren't enough mech games out there. I mean sure, I grew up with Mechwarrior, G-Nome, Armored Core, and Heavy Gear, among countless others over the years, but it's still not enough. It's never enough. While Galak-Z does have some issues, it does manage to keep the dream mostly alive.

You aren't the hero in this RPG

Aug 02 // Kyle MacGregor
A Healer Only Lives Twice isn't a typical RPG by any means. Instead of putting the player in control of the prototypical hero, they actually have to defend him. After a light introduction, a warrior and the eponymous healer venture into a dungeon teeming with all sorts of dangerous monsters. The goblins, slimes, and other beasts advance toward the duo in rows, the leaders of which attack the "tank," while the rest wait their turn until a gap opens in the ranks. The only power players have over the tank is suggestion, telling him which row to attack while you see to his defense. The tank, despite his name, might as well be made out of glass and relies on the healer to vigilantly mend his wounds and cast various sorts of defensive buffs to reduce the effectiveness of oncoming attacks. You'll also be crafting items and learning skills on the fly to make your party more effective, which means you'll never be without something to do in the heat of battle. If the tank and healer don't succumb to their enemies, the healer's torch will eventually go out, at which point the journey will begin anew after allowing you to spend the experience you just earned on a myriad of different upgradeable attributes. This makes your quest easier at the outset, allowing you to go progressively further each time, as you learn more and become increasingly powerful. It's a really enjoyable little game that I'm glad I managed to pick up before it disappeared with scores of others when Sony turned off PSM's taps last month. Thankfully, A Healer Only Lives Twice is aptly named and won't be gone forever. Its creator has plans for the game in a post-PSM world. A Healer Only Lives Twice is primed for a Windows PC release sometime this summer, ensuring that a larger audience will have an opportunity to play this cute roguelike RPG if they so choose.
Doujin Dojo photo
But playing second fiddle isn't half bad
Doujin Dojo is a sporadic column dedicated to spotlighting independent games from Japan and the people that make them. Every time I talk about PlayStation Mobile, someone inevitably mentions it's the first time they...

Review: The Swindle

Jul 31 // Zack Furniss
The Swindle (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One)Developer: Size Five GamesPublisher: Curve DigitalRelease Date: July 28, 2015 (PC, PS3, PS4, Vita) / July 31 (Xbox One) / TBD (Wii U)MSRP: $14.99 I'll be honest, this review didn't come out on release day because I couldn't beat the fucking game in time. The Swindle starts off simply enough: the robotic police force that defends all of that sweet future funding projects a light in front of them indicating their line of sight. If you take a second to observe most obstacles and enemies, chances are you'll understand how they'll react in any given situation. That's the beauty of Size Five Games' newest creation: through its hand-drawn art and deft understanding of visual cues, a glance at your surroundings is usually enough to convey all of the information regardless of your location. With a general lack of tutorials, it's appreciated that there was a strong knowledge of mise-en-scène (ha! I've justified taking that one directing class now) involved in The Swindle's creation. A successful robbery goes as follows: from a side-scrolling perspective, your scoundrel will arrive at a procedurally-generated location ripe for the plucking. With a combination of climbing, sneaking, and watching, you just might be able to walk away with a considerable sum of money. Small vaults/chests/containers are strewn about, but aren't worth much. Computers (which are hacked through deliciously tense QTEs) are where you'll want to focus your efforts, as they offer the best payday. If you're spotted, you run the risk of dying and losing your character, though your purchased abilities are universal. The police will send increasingly deadly forces at you, but you can still get away if you reach your escape pod without dying. For the first 40 days or so, I felt like I was building a slow, subtle mastery over my surroundings. Though I started by robbing the poor to work my way up, the ramshackle security systems were enough to keep me vigilant. The intricacies of wall-climbing became more familiar to me, and various upgrades to my thieves expanded the possible approaches available at each newly-generated building. I watched many of these swindlers embrace sweet death via bullets, failed hacking attempts on explosives, and oh-so-many plunges off of tiled roofs. Each time, a new one rose with a new outfit and name: Lafeyette Weedbruiser lasted six successful heists before a wheelchair-clad robot shot her down from a magnificent double-jump. I eventually earned enough money to move onto the warehouse districts and the mansions. Each area was progressively more difficult but offered more lucrative lucre. I bought bombs, money-accruing bugs, and the ability to hack doors and security systems, feeling as though the Devil's Basilisk would be mine with days to spare. It wasn't until I purchased the right to try to pilfer from the casinos and banks that I hit an iron wall of challenge. Instead of skulking into buildings with multiple access points and hacking easily-reached computers for big bucks, I was relegated to picking up chump change and scrambling back to my escape pod before the tenacious security bots spotted me during one of my many slip-ups. The titular swindle is actually the final stage, where you attempt to steal the AI device. You need to be prepared for the big event by having the right tools and upgraded thieves, but you also need to pay for entry. Saving up £400,000 is already hard enough; however, failure requires you to pay the whole amount for each successive attempt. Since you'll be spending your hard-earned money on necessary upgrades like teleportation, triple-jumps, and being able to stop in the middle of a wall slide (seriously, buy this), that buy-in price makes an already difficult game feel ludicrously unfair. There are ways to buy extra days towards the end, but the price goes up each time. That's the game over screen, which I saw at the end of multiple attempts at all 100 days. I'm not one to balk at a challenge, but the finite lives combined with the money requirement of the last level feel like an artificial attempt to gate willing players away from the ending. I have no doubt that somebody is on Twitch at this very moment, controlling The Swindle with Donkey Konga drums ghosting through the final stage, but the vast majority of players will mostly find the latter half of the game frustrating. I think it's telling that most of the coverage I've read has only shown screenshots of the first few stages.  There's also the weird bloom effect that permeates some of your jaunt through London. While it makes sense to have your vision obscured when the alarms are blaring and the lights are flashing red, occasionally the screen is bloomed beyond belief and you can't discern the minutiae on the screen. I've committed almost-perfect crimes, hacking security systems and clearing out guards, only to land on an explosive I could barely see. Get used to seeing starbursts of paper money explode from your fresh corpses for the slightest of transgressions. The collision on spike pits also is a bit wonky, and I've died a fair few times just for standing close to one. Depending on the kind of player you are, you might just start finding exploits to accelerate your progress. I'm not all that ashamed to admit that I took advantage of bugs, which seem to go against the whole risk/reward theme of The Swindle. If you get close to a computer, you can place a bug that will siphon cash to your account at a rate of £/second. This goes directly to your account, so you can avoid having to run back to the escape pod to keep whatever you earn. The thrill of sneaking off with a sack full of cash is somewhat diminished when you can place a bunch of bugs and wait by the exit, but I found myself relying on this method in order to actually reach the Devil's Basilisk. Since hacking is accomplished via directional QTEs, you can just spin the stick in a circle without punishment (unless it's a mine, which will explode upon an incorrect input). I only did this once out of curiosity, but it feels like an unnoticed exploit. Hacking is my favorite part of the game, so I couldn't cheat myself out of that experience without feeling like a sad sack. For the record, I played on a gamepad, which was much more comfortable than the keyboard layout. The Swindle is nowhere near an entirely negative experience. It's a festival of moments, of anecdotes filled with failures and smiles. I found myself holding my breath as I hacked a computer with just enough time to dodge three heavy guards coming my way, jumped over two electricity traps, clung to a wall to let a patrol pass, and bombed myself a new escape route. These pockets of perfection kept me hooked, and made me boot up The Swindle again and again in order to preserve this world of rogues. That, and my dedication to you guys. Now, the Devil's Basilisk is for all of us to share. You're goddamned welcome. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
The Swindle photo
Steal shit, get hit
A band of thieves in Steampunk Victorian London has been tasked with preventing Scotland Yard's creation of the ultimate surveillance device: The Devil's Basilisk. If they fail to swindle said device in 100 days (read: lives)...

How the hell did Galak-Z hide a Gundam for three years?

Jul 24 // Steven Hansen
Let's recap for a second if you haven't been following along. Galak-Z is broken into five seasons each with five episodes. The fifth season will be added in for free post launch. This is one diversion from the typical roguelike set up, in that when you die, you don't start all the way at the beginning of the game, but rather at the beginning of whichever "season" you're on. "One of [Kazdal's] pet peeves with roguelikes" is that playing very beginning segments over and over can get boring, so this blends that death-based need to replay with earned progression. More typically, levels are randomly generated, and you get different fractions of story and dialogue every time. This way you won't hear the same repeated bits death after death, but slowly glean more information until you finally get through the season. The space shooting half we already knew about is not just a twin-stick shooter, either. The ship maps thrusters (and a boost) to the triggers. There's also a backwards thruster so you can shoot and flee, a dodge thruster, and a a barrel roll (square) that juts the ship "toward" you like it's coming out of the screen (and over incoming bullets on the 2D plane). You have your standard weapon and an Itano Circus missile salvo (limited, but you can buy more if you find the shop during levels). [embed]296589:59676:0[/embed] Ok, so the not-Gundam? You can morph the ship into the robot at any time with a smooth, Transformers-like animation and change up the playstyle completely. It has a beam sword, which can be charged for a stronger, wider attack, and a shield that has parry capabilities. Perhaps most fun, though, is the extending claw arm that can grab dangerous space junk and throw it at enemies, or grab enemies themselves, bringing them in close so you can start wailing on them with punches. Keeping the mech locked up this long is impressive. The feature was locked off in the many public shows Galak-Z has been demoed at and no one slipped up about it. Kazdal tells me there were plans for a third, stealth-focused character, initially, but that it made for too many mental hoops in dealing with all the other things that could be happening at any given moment. Galak-Z is smooth, feels great to play, and the mech is a welcomed addition, adding one more layer to the game. There are warring factions you can sometimes pit against each other, environmental hazards to be aware of (and sometimes use to your advantage -- thanks alien trapdoor spider who saved my ass!), and instant shifts between ranged and close-quarters combat. It's tough, gorgeous, encourages exploration (beyond mission goals, there are blueprints for new gear and other upgrades to find), and a ton of fun.
HANDS ON: Galak-Z  photo
Spelunky by way of Macross...and Gundam
We've covered the "Spelunky by way of Macross" space shooting roguelike for a couple of years now and the follow-up from Skulls of the Shogun developer 17-bit is almost here, coming to PS4 August 4 and PC a few months down th...


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