Checkshirted wearing, waxed moustachioed hipsters, this game is for you.
I mean it’s for the rest of us as well, but especially the bearded no logo uniformers who dream of wielding an axe in the wilds. Mana Potion Studios have produced a fine little RTS, city builder, tower defense game to delight us.
Jaunty music, fishing for food, venison for the people, a proper medieval looking castle designed by you, siege engines, classic big marrow shaped club wielding trolls wearing nothing but slashed hulk shorts and Lumberjacks. Lumberjacks galore. I never wanted to be a barber anyway.
There’s a lot to love about Becastled, a wonderful game that is part city management, part RTS. It is like Total War for people who used to play Settlers on wet break in the science labs.
You’re A Lumberjack, Barry. You too, Harry.
You play the master of the Kingdom of the Sun. You guys rule the daylight and life is good.
The deer stroll nearby, the earth is luscious and your people are productive. You begin by placing your central hall or Castle Keep onto a chosen hex and found your settlement. Then you spawn some citizens willing to do your bidding and your first objective is to tell them to be lumberjacks, because almost all of the early currency is in wood. So, site yourself near some trees and get going.
As usual in an RTS management city build you need to get resources and spend them to enable expansion. You will need wood for building more houses to grow your population, you need wood to build taverns to keep them happy, you need wood to build a farm to feed your growing population, you need wood to build training centres for archers or melee warriors to defend the glorious new Utopia you are building, in fact you’re going to need more lumberjacks.
Wood is the currency early game, building, expanding and sustaining that is the key, as it is in any resource management builder.
Here Comes Trouble
As the game progresses you need other things and very much like playing the board game version of Settlers, you need to be located next to lots of varied resources and some of them like stone and gold or a sort of mined solar gem are needed later for upgrading the stockade and towers to stone ones and building a church to restore your dead warriors in the resurrecting power of daylight hours because, you see, you are on a daily clock.
When the day is over, the Moon Warriors spawn somewhere nearby. They are blue goblins and trolls and they come each night without fail from different directions in ever increasing numbers and with better equipment each night. They march inexorably toward you like the hoards of Mordor, carrying scaling ladders, battering rams, cannon and siege towers to breach your city walls and so you must prepare for sunset each day to go once more into the frey to see if you live or die this day. To survive you must protect and defend your Keep. Citizens and troops may die, buildings may fall, but your founding Keep must survive or the game is lost.
The controls are delightfully simple, the expansion tree is entirely open, the only thing that holds you back is…lumberjacks. If you can get going fast enough and manage food and housing, then you can get other careers going for masons, miners and engineers.
The first few days are easy to defend against, by which time you need to be up and running with defensive structures and plenty of varied methods of defense. The only help you get is that a blue mist signals the spawning site for the Moon Warriors that coming evening. If you have not planned or do not have a productive enough village then you could find they are due to spawn on the most exposed side.
So, you need a strategy and you need to act quickly and consistently, managing choices and resources to sustain, defend and develop…much like any standard RTS. The difference and appeal with Becastled is the varied nature of how you can play.
Hoards of Hordes
It has stacks of playability with challenges split into eight difficulty levels, with three levels of combat difficulty, on seven different terrain types with resources either abundant or scarce and most interestingly you can alter the length of the game, effectively your win point.
Keep the Solar Kingdom safe for 10 days in the easiest instance or try for up to 30 days. With each added day of challenge the Moon Warriors get more powerful and more difficult to defend against, but potentially your castle starts to resemble Carcasonne…another fine board game Becastled clearly draws influence from.
And if you are feeling like Henry V then you can take the ultimate challenge of an infinity mode and see how long you can survive the nightly mounting hoards. I have seen some people on YouTube try to build a wall around the entire map and another who fought for 50+ days. That you can alter the challenge so greatly and try to break the game with challenges like walling the entire map is great freedom for a game.
Who Just Died?
There are some problems with Becastled; some men stop working sometimes and it often isn’t clear who has died when you begin the day after an attack and you have to check absolutely everything to reassign workers otherwise the city will start to fail and you need to work hard each day to grow and repair if you are to survive the night.
Pathfinding is another problem, the AI isn’t great at this, when you send troops to certain locations or to engage in combat with a group of the enemy they take the shortest direct path, but this can lead to them being stuck on a cliff edge or behind a gatehouse or something. With a battle raging this can be disastrous and you can be left wondering where that unit you sent to help got to, but it’s now all too late.
Visit The Solar Kingdom Today!
However, these minor problems for a game in Early Access and the devs are patching these sorts of things at least once a month so by the time you play they may even be gone.
On top of this they have published a clear road map of exciting development that includes tech trees, city building expansion and boss fights. I can only hope they make PvP possible in the future.
Becastled offers hours and hours of medieval fun at a bargain price. It proves both accessible and challenging at the same time. You really would be medieval to not go and get this, especially if RTS is your thing. Can you go 50 days without defeat? I can, but then I’m a Lumberjack, so I’m ok.
Mood is required for this one – Lights out… Headphones on… It’s time for some horror.
Reficul 666 is a survival horror game from MAG Studios, who seem to specialise in this genre. Taken as an FPS, there is something sweeping the globe as night falls and it is knocking out all communications. You are going to be on your own, in your little part of town, attempting to meet your friends and trying to survive the nights’ terrors.
Snug in the safety of your house is where you begin your journey to survive, but it just so happens that a portal that leads to the demon lair is in your town, wouldn’t you know it.
“Alexa, How Does My Day Look?”
Pals have left notes to meet you and a local priest has apparently been preparing, so you had best get ready…these things always come down to you to solve. You are armed with a torch, pistol and lighter and you are sent on something of a linear adventure to navigate.
Live observations at the movies reveal that you should not show the monster too soon. Part of the terror is the build up. The horror movie The Descent did this very well. Sometimes the reveal is a disappointment, sometimes not. It’s a fine line in horror between getting it right and making it naff; Reficul 666 does it right. By placing the character in constant darkness save for the direction of the torchlight or the dim holy glow of the bible most of the surroundings are hidden and you can never be sure of what or where something is unless you are looking at it and when you do catch sight of a demon or a shadow it works.
Was it different when the boss demon appears at the end? No, you can’t see him clearly unless you direct your torch right at him. And what a great job the dev has done on him, he looks like a terrifying version of Dave Grohl’s devil.
Reficul 666 does a great job of making your skin freeze. They have incorporated a whispering of demons that increases in volume when you are near them; a nice warning mechanic, but also one that builds tension very well. When the whispering about dragging you into the darkness begins, it drives your anxiety levels up and the heart rate rises, then racing up to you are some shadowy demons and terror overtakes you entirely for a moment.
Peek through your fingers, I am not exaggerating. It is not a jump scare, it’s just an excellent user of tension and delivery. No matter how long I played the game and even when I carried a Holy Bible that would shock the approaching demons out of the way, it still made the hairs stand up momentarily, each time one glided towards me round a corner.
Maps are good and it has a relatively tight open world environment, unfortunately this is where most of the positives end for Reficul 666. It’s all a little dated graphically, there is little to no interaction with the environment beyond opening doors. The game has almost no colliders at all. Kick a box to reveal a key, knock a chair or a glass of alcohol over, make it smash, start a fire; these are things that make a gameworld feel alive and also provide other opportunities for gameplay.
Step into these rooms and sadly there is none of this here, plenty of areas are just rooms with boxes or a bed in and serve no purpose. There’s too much of this and you quickly learn that investigating this world serves little purpose despite it being possible to enter many of these houses.
Into The Catacombs, I Presume?
Repaid by understanding this you are left with a linear adventure where you follow notes from one empty house to another until you eventually transport to the catacombs of the demon. It is a little uninspiring, but the catacombs level is planned better and has a decent feel to it, despite still suffering from looking good but having too little interaction.
Raw music sound is virtually non-existent, it’s just the murmurings of the satanic shadows that stalk you. Most of the time the only other thing I could hear were my clogs snapping heavily on the metal road. At least that’s what they sounded like I was wearing. Perhaps the whispers are all you need in a horror game, but I think people underestimate the subconscious addition sound done well can give a game and there are probably opportunities here.
Reficul 666 is listed as being in early access and indeed many of these issues could be developed and improved if early access goes well. The issue here is that Reficul 666 is a repackaging of an earlier effort called Reficul VR which was effectively the same game published back in 2018. There have been some improvements since then, but they are minor and cosmetic.
Peek at the core design and mechanics of the gamed and they are pretty much the same and it lacks depth. It needs a clear outline of what it hopes to become and a developer log that tracks progress to have confidence to part with what is a relatively high price for the current available material.
It’s Not All Bad
Now, there are actually lots of places Reficul could go from here to become a good game. You could have safe houses that you need to secure, perhaps some base building elements, meeting some of your other friends could be good, especially if their character is developed and they then get killed. All sorts of things here have potential, but one thing is certain it needs more of something.
Reficul 666 does have one hell of an atmosphere, but it needs to develop and finish well. Available on Steam in Early Access, you’ll get about an hour or two out of Reficul 666, but it is a long way from justifying the price point in current form.
Of course in another form Reficul666 read backwards spells something else – Lucifer. Like the first word in every paragraph you just read.
Did your ordinary German soldier in 1943 who was fresh out of school at 18 know he was one of the bad guys in WW2? I’m a bit confused about The Happy Little Virus. Normally in games you play the hero, sometimes the bad guy, but when you do it’s clear. I think I’m the bad guy in this…
The game is played in imagined circuit boards, in a kind of Tron way, where you are in the grid, on the motherboard of a computer or in the servers. You play a virus…so a bad guy (right?) and there are companies to choose from to ‘attack’ on the menu screen.
One is for Guide Dogs and the other is a Cancer support charity… we’re hacking and stealing from these people? We’re definitely the bad guys! Right? Perhaps we are fighting corruption or abuse? No, there are suggestions that rich people want guide dogs because they are trained to poo on command. You are sent to hack and steal from various addiction, wildlife and support charities. We’re definitely the bad guys.
Happy Little Dalek-like Creature
In The Happy Little Virus you control a small Dalek like creature in a 2.5D shooter and you have to run through circuit boards, which are effectively corridors. You gradually collect weapon power-ups through the course of the game and your progress saves after each level.
The early levels are just corridor shooters and lack a zing about them to draw you in, but if you persist the game does develop a bit. You are presented with wider levels, giving you choice about how to tackle opponents. Enemies (the good guys) are similar Dalek shaped creatures but represent anti-virus software and sometimes can reproduce in hubs on some levels.
You (as the virus) can take over these hubs and replicate yourself a few times. This gives you a form of extra life in some of the more challenging levels. Levels also develop a variety of additional features. You can regain health from circuit board resistors and there are firewalls, which act as little laser gates that can be activated on and off sometimes. If you are smart you can use these to your advantage making some of the faster anti-virus Daleks career into them as you sidestep like a matador.
Sound & Visuals
The music and sound effects are not up to much, it’s there, but pretty rote and unobtrusive. The colours however are vibrant and look good, with bright greens making borders and circuit connections and some levels using luminescent lighting to provide a different type of challenge than just more enemies. The gameplay curves nicely in difficulty although the final level is something of a chaotic overwhelming challenge.
There are a variety of different weapons on offer through the game and they are quite inventive, you don’t just shoot things, although of course in a robot shooter, you do have a laser. You can blow a blast on a diffuser that shatters opponents – only at point blank range mind you, you can blow bubbles that capture enemies and bounce them off into space and off the board and you can gather up the shattered bodies of your enemies into a debris whirlwind and fire them at your enemies.
The more enemies you face, the more cluttered your narrow play area and corridors become with these shattered bits of anti-virus robot. This can be a help to you as it slows down the advance of your enemies allowing you to retreat a little and gather yourself; but it can also hinder you by rendering your long range laser redundant with too much debris in the way to hit the intended ‘good guy’.
The weapons then work best at a variety of distances and best against certain types of enemy. This all means you need to become pretty good at switching between weapon types and picking attack and retreat as weapons cool down. all-in-all it’s a pretty good fire system and definitely the strength of The Happy Little Virus.
If the combat is well constructed the level design and gameflow is less impressive. Although the difficulty is well planned and scaled, the essence of the game does not change very much and this makes play somewhat repetitive and slightly irritating. On top of this the constant messaging is just odd and awkward.
There are about 25 levels in all and they are grouped into rough themes, culminating in destroying and stealing from organised religion. It doesn’t feel like there is a narrative, rather that you are being subjected to the developers prejudices. If you can ignore this, it will take you about five hours to complete Dalek Training school.
The Happy Little Virus is a reasonable FPS puzzle game and is available on Steam. It has some good design in weapons and a reasonably well planned difficulty curve, but the messaging falls flat and the game is a bit repetitive and lacking fun after a short while; kind of in the way that Candy Crush is a challenge but isn’t actually fun.
The Happy Little Virus provides the sort of frustrating challenge that trying to bounce a tennis ball on the edge of the racket does, you want to go again because you know you can do better, but you also know the experience and result isn’t going to be much different and when you finish you probably won’t ever do it again, unless you’re a bad guy and then nothing you do makes sense.
Riot: If one peasant like you can’t do anything, perhaps a hundred peasants can
Me: Hey! Who you calling a peasant?
These are the first lines in the Readme.txt that accompanies the download of Riot from Itch.io. I don’t think I’ve ever been abused so early on in a game. Riot was made during the Brackeys Game Jame 2021, and received a fair amount of praise upon submission. This off-hand, jaunty attitude runs all the way through Riot. It opens with a pirate sea shanty and a bunch of faceless characters being hurled by trebuchets (a catapult to you non-historians) into the wall of a fort and exploding.
I’m not sure why these little fellas explode but there we are. It’s slightly comedic and sends the message….we’re here to have fun. I haven’t seen that many medieval games in 2021, and I would be hard pushed to list the best medieval games for PC. But I’m thinking I’d probably include Riot.
Reverse Tower Defence
Riot is a sort of reverse Tower Defence or a simplistic reduction of an early Total War game, where you play as the attackers and you get given hundreds of them to throw into the breach. You must begin a short distance from the settlement, you are always attacking a small circular settlement, which will be increasingly well defended; towers, turrets and double walls all making more frequent and dense appearances as each level passes.
You choose a spot to attack from and press the left mouse to begin deploying your men. They appear and immediately and lemming-like, charge at the nearest building to begin attacking it (which seems to mean clubbing it with their fists). You end up with a long line of synchronised running guys all heading for the palisade.
The goal of each level is to break into the fortified medieval style village and storm the ‘Town Hall’ at the centre, although it looks little more than a barn. In compensation for the increasing fortification of each level you are afforded an increasingly large mob of peasants to deploy, an ability to place trebuchets and eventually the addition of ‘bombers’.
The medieval trebuchet will only engage action if some of your men are attacking a structure and then it will fling a single fella through the air to land on top of the building roughly every five seconds or so. The unfortunate volunteer seems to like it as the little flung men ‘wheee’ with excitement, they land however, with the visible splat of a pancake and motionlessly slide off the structure like Wylie Coyote hitting a rock wall. The bombers on the other hand appear to be flaming mummies that run straight to the nearest building and explode like some sort of bandaged, possessed suicide bomber.
There is an element of managing your resources to Riot as the trebuchet costs 15 peasants to place, but does not seem to deplete your reserves with the men it flings (there’s an exploit here) and the bombers costs 5 peasants. The only other strategic element is where you choose to drop your mob, because this matters. We’re not talking Terra Invicta level of strategy here, of course.
The little fellas are programmed to charge at and attack the nearest eligible structure and when they destroy it they charge the next nearest one from there. So where you place and launch attacks from matters.
This all sound wonderful fun and it is, but…
Whilst classes of men might differ the overly simplistic AI your peasant mob is endowed with is does not. For example, having breached a wall they do not head for the next wall or the tower blocking the way to the town hall…no they just start to attack the next segment of wall, because it is the next nearest eligible structure. All the while the towers defending the cities are bombarding your idiot crew. Even if you reserve men and dispatch them later when a gaping breach in the wall has been made in front of you they will still head off at a 50° angle and attack a pointless barn off to the right.
You will shift around the gap trying to find the sweet spot to stop them running that way and then all of a sudden the men you lay start running off at a 50°angle to the left now.
Best Medieval Game 2021 Nominee: Riot
The Trebuchet’s just follow suit and so do the bombers. It is frustrating and there are few more annoying things in a game than controls which result in an action you did not input or want and there being little you can do about it.
This does promote a disengagement with the game in the latter third, which is a shame, because I began by thinking this was reasonably fun.
Riot offers 12 levels of increasing difficulty and can be completed in an about two hours. There are not many decisions to make or much variation in play; make a choice of where to start, release the mob, watch for results, move and repeat. Simply calling Riot a medieval game is doing it an injustice. I mean, I did compare it to Total War not long ago.
With improvements Riot might become something more interesting, it has character, charm and appeal. I do love the menu soundtrack, but overall Riot is a nice idea that starts well and does not really develop.
Somewhat spoiled by poor AI, Riot still has enough about it to make a decent, lunchtime distraction; a surprisingly relaxing and unstressful one for a game named Riot.
If there’s anything of a new hotness in the gaming world, it’s definitely roguelikes. Crawling out from under the towering presence of open world survival titans like Minecraft, RUST, and ARK as well as the battle royale scene with Fortnite and Apex Legends, Roguelikes have been slowly rising to the top over the past few years.
Passtech Games’ first debut into the genre comes out of the gates fast and hard, and became a smashing success out of Early Access. Curse of the Dead Gods features creative and exciting mechanics that make it stand out among the crowd, as well as a striking art style reminiscent of Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame).
Curse of the Dead Gods starts you off with a simple premise: You’re an adventurer trapped in the ruins of a Chatac temple, heavily inspired by Mayan and Aztec culture. You get a machete and a pistol and you’re off to find the way out.
Or are you?
Cursed To A Miserable Fate
Well, it turns out you’re cursed to roam this labyrinth of never-ending traps and enemies forever. As you go deeper, you become more corrupted and the game steps up the difficulty. Eventually, you may find yourself face to face with a champion of the Dead Gods. If you survive….well, you’re back at the start of the temple.
“Why are you cursed?” you ask, sitting on the edge of your seat.
Well….I dunno? The game unfortunately lacks a strong story behind the amazing gameplay. There are some tidbits of lore tucked away behind unlocks by defeating enemies, but there are no cutscenes or dialogue about who you are and where you are. It all requires a bit of digging, which to me felt like a letdown.
Now, that’s not to say that all roguelikes need stories with them. A good setting is all you need to play Risk of Rain 2, or a creative deckbuilding component to get lost in Slay the Spire. But for a game with such striking visuals and a rich setting with plenty to draw from, the game falls a little flat for me.
The combat is where Curse of the Dead Gods really shines.
Curse Of The Dead Gods vs Hades
Those who craved more difficult combat from Hades or more thoughtful dodges like in Dead Cells will be right at home here. You start with five points of stamina, which is used by dodging, combo finishers, and some two handed weapons. You can regain stamina by waiting, but that makes you a sitting duck. Instead, you need to weave your attacks with your dodges, and stay safe. If you manage to perform a good parry, you’ll even regain some stamina to keep the flow of combat (as well as feel really rewarded when you land a sorely-needed parry).
On top of that, the game offers a ton of weapons and weapon combinations, with 11 total weapon types to choose from, and each type offering 8 unique weapons within them. That’s a LOT of variety, more than you usually get from your average roguelike.
Now that you’ve got the rhythm down, you’re able to fly through some of these levels, and I mean fly. Maybe I’m just too into roguelikes, but I found most levels being really short, and combat not being enough. Maybe there wasn’t enough enemies that spawned, or maybe they were just not that difficult in the first place, but I often breezed through most of the first 5-7 rooms. Maybe I’m just too used to the infinite spawning hell of Risk of Rain 2 or the constant fear as I turn up the heat in Hades, but I breezed through more rooms than I’d like to.
Unique Light System
One of the unique mechanics added to the game is the light system. Simply put, you got a torch and you gotta use it! Having your torch out lets you see traps ahead of you, spot enemies and loot, and overall make your life easier. The downside is that your torch takes up your main weapon, so you have to offset higher damage for vision. On top of that, if you get hit by an enemy or a trap while it’s dark, you’ll take more damage.
There are some sconces and whatnot that you can light in some chambers so you can see better, but in my experience they always seem to be extinguished by an enemy as soon as I light it. Instead, I opt to just light one of the baddies on fire (a totally valid strategy) and use them as a natural source of light.
You’ve cleared this floor and you’re ready for the next one. You approach the door, pick your path, and BOOM! You gain some corruption. What’s that? Well, if you fill up the little purple bar in the bottom right, you get a curse. Curses can be wildly different, I’ve had some easy ones that make almost no impact in my run, versus some that made me regret every choice I made so far. It helps keep the game fresh without going overboard. You can also get corruption at any shop you visit, since the game allows you to purchase new relics and weapons with either gold or blood.
Curse Of The Dark Visuals
Now that we’ve talked about most of the core mechanics, let’s talk about the visuals.
Curse of the Dead Gods is a beautiful game, hidden under a very dark world. The art style is grim and beautiful, very reminiscent of Hellboy and The Walking Dead (not the show, the graphic novel).
The floors you run through as you traverse one of the three temples offered (with a fourth coming later this year) are unique and each one stands out from the others. The enemies are unique and interesting, as well as the bosses that await you at the end. Some sections of the game I have felt were too dark, even with my trusty torch in hand.
The few cutscenes the game offers are very well done, with the intro cinematic simple yet powerful. Even the brief scene when you receive a new curse is beautifully animated and iconic. I do wish there were more, to better explain the world or the dead gods we’re fighting against, but maybe that will come in a future update.
Scratch Your Roguelike Itch
At the end of the day, I’m a sucker for roguelikes. Curse of the Dead Gods scratches all of my itches, with unique mechanics presented in an interesting world. However, I do have a couple (minor) issues with the game.
As I stated, the gameplay has a steep learning curve, but plateaus fairly quickly for me. Maybe I didn’t play enough, but by the third temple I was breezing through most floors with little to no issues.
I have no issue picking up a new game, flying through the tutorial and learning the game. But there are just so many mechanics I have to keep in mind while playing the game, that it slowly becomes decision paralysis.
Do I run and dodge to find a place to light this room and fight? Or do I risk it and hope I don’t get hit more than a few times?
Is this weapon really worth that much corruption? Would I be better off with what I have right now?
Do I dodge? Do I parry? Do I need a new weapon for this next floor? Do I want to get a relic? WhichstatdoIincreasenext? WhichcurrencydoIneedtounlockthenextweaponorbuff?
There are a lot of things to ponder about in this game, which I worry will be a turnoff for those who aren’t prepared for it. Especially those coming off the heels of Hades, another similar title with far less decisions to make that actually impact the game.
Curse Of The Dead Gods Review Summary
Would I recommend it? Absolutely, but with a caveat.
For those who are not as invested in roguelikes as I am, I would watch our gameplay footage first to see if it’s something you’re willing to play.
If you like roguelikes, or want a unique and moody atmosphere for a game, by all means pick up Curse of the Dead Gods today.
Yay…another Roguelite. If your game isn’t procedurally generated, then you’re not with the programme.
It’s a tough deal these days, after Hades; the bar has been set high. So along comes Skul: The Hero Slayer, joining the group like a new pop-up artisan burger joint, offering Japanese corn-fed beef patties on a piece of slate, in a brioche bun and serving Argentine beer whilst they play full Bob Dylan albums… on vinyl.
Just like a few years ago when burgers became artisan…roguelites are everywhere at the minute and there is no sign of let-up. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you know which waygu and which way not to go.
One Large Retro Pixel Art 2D Roguelite, Please
Skul is a pixel art 2D platform roguelite. The graphics and the way the text scrolls one generated letter at a time is very much like an old Nintendo Entertainment System or SEGA game.
The whole look of the game is retro styled and has an early Zelda feel to it. The usual roguelite elements are here. You die lots and keep nothing with you except for small incremental trait improvements which are split into three options, magical attack, melee attack and critical damage chance.
Gradually a combination of mastering the attack styles of enemies and the compound difference of incremental trait advances starts to pay off; you can go further, do more and so the game scales.
The premise is that the heroes of the world have united to finally conquer the demon kingdom and have imprisoned the Demon King, defeating and capturing monsters and wraiths of the underworld in the process. All except you that is… You are Skul, the tiny little skeleton sent on a final desperate mission to expel the Heroes and rescue the Demon King. You do so by journeying through RNG rooms that you have some control over.
Before entering the next room, you are presented with a choice of two rooms from one that delivers a skull, one that delivers money or one that delivers a power-up item. You get this reward when you clear the room full of enemies, but the level of reward, common, rare, unique and legendary are randomised. There is also a blank room which is simply a random pick of any one of the above. This allows you to somewhat control what you get in reward at the end of each room on your run.
Throughout levels there are shop doors to pass through that offer the chance to spend money on a variety of RNG items in each of the categories and a free skull is often offered to you.
You also have the end of level doors marked in red where you fight mini-bosses in the shape of caped heroes or one of six end of section big bosses.
Back To The Grind?
So far everything is pretty standard stuff for a roguelite, it’s done very well, but nothing special. The trick (and difficult bit) of making a successful roguelite is to avoid the improvement seeming like too much of a grind. There is nothing worse than being thrown back to the beginning for the 80th time, hating the idea of having to do those rote early levels yet again. One of our developer podcast guests recently described a lightbulb moment for him.
It was understanding what the central appeal or mechanic of your game was and to not limit it, but give lots of it to the player. That, after all, is why they are playing it. So, a roguelite has to constantly offer you demonstrable character improvement to keep the player in that feeling of ‘this time know I can get further…one more go’.
How does Skul do at this? There are two things that let it down. Whilst the rooms are procedurally generated, the enemies within rooms are not RNG; they are the same ones in the same places, following the same movements each time and there is limited variety in rooms.
There could (and should) have been more on offer here to make replaying them seem like less of a pointless grind in getting to whichever level you are currently powered for. The other problem is that in the early stages of the game, progress is very slow and the difficulty is punishingly hard. You can easily die fifty or sixty times with little progress beyond the early sections and seemingly scant character trait improvement.
Rotate Your Skuls
These issues could cripple Skul, but they don’t, because what lifts Skul: The Hero Slayer out of what would have been a mediocre entry to the genre at best, is an amazing mechanic that is the core attraction of the game. The ability to swap your skull and pick up another with radically different merits and powers.
There are about thirty-five skulls you can be given but you can only use two at any one time so, there are choices to be made. Each skull will be focussed on either speed, physical attack, magic attack or a balanced one of all elements. Within that there are different tiered skulls that give your play a different level of deadliness in attack and variety.
There are common skulls: rare ones, unique ones and legendary ones. These can and do pair with increasingly power with items that you pick up that complement the characteristics of speed: power or balance more so than the other skulls. The right combinations can result in your character becoming a devastating whirlwind of retribution on the heroes invading your land.
Oh yes… and if the difficulty is too hard there is a rookie setting that halves incoming damage, which 20 % of players choose to switch on – ooufff clearly tough then.
At first it might feel that you are at the mercy of getting an early unique drop of a rare or legendary skull to have any hope of progress, but as your character increases trait power with each run the common skulls become very playable and both the common and rare skulls can be upgraded to become as powered as a legendary one.
This means that not only are there a vast range of playstyles open to you with these RNG skull drops, but as your character levels your ability to use almost any of them effectively also increases, making for an enormously different experience of play each time. Perfecting them and settling on a preferred playstyle is fun and you can very much single-mindedly focus on this from a restart, keep only physical skulls and always choose/buy the physical upgrades.
You can also crush all other found skulls into bones to use as a currency to upgrade your Skul. Make these decisions early on based on the first skull given and you can rapidly compete with a legendary skull, you need not wait on the RNG to gift you one. This is only really possible when you have enough compound trait progression though.
This bewildering choice of gameplay styles and power-up make the early rooms playable on a repeat basis because you are forced to learn several different playstyles, hitting from distance, melee, special moves that are directionally dependent and ones that aren’t, the list goes on, all dependent on the skulls dropped for you in the early rounds.
Games do not usually make you learn more than one or two play-styles, but here there are a vast array of combinations and these changes, if you upgrade; remember that you can only ever hold two skulls at a time. This semi-forced variety is a magical mechanic to the game that takes some learning, but is richly rewarding.
All of this combines to produce amazing combat that you can easily control and master to clear dozens of enemies from different directions with wonderfully satisfying and increasingly powerful attacks and combos. It is something that looks like chaotic luck, but isn’t.
Skul: The Hero Slayer Review Summary
You will probably get about 40 hours out of Skul: The Hero Slayer and it is worth every penny of a relatively cheap price point. This isn’t a perfect roguelite, but it is a good one with a marvellous core mechanic that defines the game and lifts it beyond the small problems it has. Being the bad guy has never been so much fun.