Punches ‘N Jump kicks
I’ve played Curses ‘N Chaos at two consecutive PAX conventions, and have come away impressed each time. Part of it was due to their show floor setup of giant arcade cabinets. However, the biggest draw of the game was its simplicity, both in controls and mechanics. It was easy to pick up and understand, yet really difficult to complete.
This really is a game of beauty, in many regards. It sets out to do one thing, and does it quite well. Killing monsters just feels so right.
Curses ‘N Chaos (Mac, PC [reviewed]. PS4, PS Vita)
Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Release Date: August 18, 2015
Curses ‘N Chaos opens with a beautifully animated cutscene that sets up the threadbare story: Lea and Leo are cursed to live under Thanatos’ Shadow by the evil Wizard King and need to kill monsters to break the curse. Then, it’s time to fight monsters! Players can choose either character to brawl as, both of whom play the same. Multiplayer can be utilized either locally or online, and the PC version does use Steam for player invites.
Gameplay is simple, challenging, beat-em-up action on a single screen. Players can run, attack, jump and double jump, and attacking at different times yields new moves. For example, attacking while jumping performs a jump kick that is stronger than a standard grounded attack. Players can also perform a running punch and an uppercut, both of which are as strong as a jump kick.
Oh, and by pressing down, players can dance. This slowly builds up extra points, and it is recommended that players take every opportunity to do this as much as possible.
Single-use items are a huge part of combat. Each player can hold one item at a time, but can also “bank” one by giving it to a friendly owl who will hold it until the player summons it again. Learning how each item acts is just as crucial as learning the enemy patterns. If an item is left on the ground for a few seconds, it will disappear for good, but players can “juggle” items to refresh its timer.
New items can be forged in between rounds by using the alchemist. Here’s a tip: don’t go blindly combining items hoping for the best. There’s a Grimiore that spells out what items can be combined, so use it! Once a new item is forged, it can be found and used during battle. The player can also buy items with the money collected from killing monsters, and start off battles by having certain items already.
Each stage consists of ten waves of enemies followed by a boss. As the player progresses through the game’s thirteen stages, enemies get more complicated behaviors and become harder to take down. The player gets five hearts and three lives to make it to the end.
Completing all the waves and beating the boss is no easy feat. About five levels in is when things start to get nuts, with enemy behaviors becoming much more erratic and difficult to deal with. Enemies that seemed so docile when introduced suddenly become incredibly potent when combined when paired with other enemy types.
Enemies between stages do vary, but their behavior is limited. Many of the new enemies introduced are just re-skins of older enemies that take more hits to kill. They all look great and tend to fit a general theme, but I found myself saying “oh, this is just Enemy X, but with twice the health.”
In addition, each wave has a 60 second timer. When the timer reaches zero, Death shows up. This isn’t an automatic loss, in fact it’s more like the ghost in Spelunky that chases the player after they spend too much time in a level. Death will chase the player around and slash at them it catches up. A hit from Death means death (duh), but he’s easily enough avoided.
The biggest difficulty regarding Death comes with the boss fights. They too have a 60 second timer, which is definitely not enough time. Luckily, they will often drop an hourglass item that adds 15 more seconds to the clock, postponing Death’s arrival.
The boss fights are traditional “memorize their tells and patterns” battles. They are beautifully animated and sometimes downright cruel in their behavior. Nothing is insurmountable, even for players going at it solo. The difficulty of these boss fights does tend to vary dramatically, though. Some boss fights took me several tries, while later fights left me with no hearts lost, only to have the next one be super difficult again.
While I’ve already mentioned how great the game looks, thanks in part to Paul Robertson, the audio is equally wonderful. Each track evokes a wave of nostalgia to older generations while simultaneously setting an intense tone for the battles. Likewise, the little jingles are perfect and I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of hearing them. The entire art and sound teams over at Tribute has consistently shown that they know how to nail a theme.
Curses ‘N Chaos is an example of game purity. One screen, simple controls, and intense difficulty. There isn’t much replayability outside of playing with new friends or going for a new high score, but just getting through all of the stages the first time will not be quick. For players who fancy a challenge, either solo or with a friend, Curses ‘N Chaos is not one to miss.