Games The O.D. on Games

The O.D. on Games: Rogue-lite-like Part One: Dead Cells and Slay the Spire

Rulerofowls has called for a meeting with the ambassador of Rowlgue-like-lite-land Rowl Hernandez (RH), to learn about three games from the rogue-like-lite genre; those games being Dead Cells, Slay the Spire, and Enter the Gungeon. They were summoned to the cowlference room to present a rogue-like/lite game for his rowlyalness to enjoy; first up, representing Dead Cells, Mowltion Twin (MT).

  • ROW: We start with MT who’s going to tell us about Dead Cells. One of the many perks of being an owl is our owlsome sense of hearing and I like what I’ve been hearing about this game…
  • MT: I think that is mainly down to this game being for a very specific type of player, and if you are that type of player, then this game is tangible evidence of the existence of paradise. Tell me your majesty, do you like a challenge?
  • ROW: It depends on the challenge; I really like games such as Cuphead and RUINER, which are considered ‘hard’, but the notion of losing two hours’ worth of progress, due to some random owlshit or wandering in an area I am not prepared for, is something that fills my little owl-heart with anxiousness and discomfort, which takes me off the entertainment values and into anxiety-attack territory.
  • MT: So not a huge Dark Souls fan then?
  • ROW: Not really.
This game does look gorgeous
  • MT: Well, the good news is that this game is not Dark Souls, although it does have a lot of similarities; i.e. gathering cells from fallen enemies, an emphasis on combat animations and dodging. What I like about it so much, is that it takes inspiration from a lot of games and re-contextualizes that influence in a rogue-lite setting; for example, cells are used for permanent unlocks and upgrades; but if you die you lose all of your cells, there’s incentive to speedrun the game or at least parts of it; if you don’t then the game encourages discovery and getting as much stuff as possible before exiting the level, there are metroidvania elements with finding permanent runes that give you new traversal abilities, which in turn unlock new pathways and levels to explore.
What the map looks like, if explored competely
  • ROW: Right, so I will be making progress with each run, and there are multiple ways to progress through the game.
  • MT: Yeah, and the game is extremely fun and responsive; the movement feels precise and the combat feels satisfying. It’s also super diverse and varied; there are fast, light weapons with less damage, mid-range weapons that are a ‘jack of all trades’ deal, slow but devastating weapons, and all of these applies to melee, shields, ranged, spells, traps, turrets and grenade types. So you are encouraged to try different weapons and spec your character depending on what you encounter in each run; each combat style feels unique and useful in its own way, and the game encourages using everything with random loot drops.
Too many doors lost for seconds; a perfect example of how well this game encourages different play-styles
  • ROW: What about leveling up? If there’s one thing I enjoy in games, it’s watching numbers go up!
  • MT: There’s several different ways to ‘level’ up: You can permanently unlock weapons that can appear in a run, permanently upgrade those weapons, and permanently upgrade your abilities like your health flask and carrying over a certain amount of gold after you die. Moreover, you can level up in three categories during each run-which are all color coded and can benefit your health and the corresponding weapons- you can choose mutations for each run that benefit you for that run, you can temporarily upgrade your equipment and re-roll their buffs.
You’ll be visiting this guy in-between levels often…
  • ROW: That’s a lot of options, howlnestly it sounds a bit owlverwhelming…
  • MT: Well, when you try to explain it out loud, it may seem like too much to handle, but the main take-away should be that it is extremely fun and satisfying to play; the combat feels excellent and I never felt cheated, the progression is rewarding, each run is different and each play-style is fun and easy to learn but hard to master. I’ve had one of my best runs in the game, with my least favorite weapon because I wanted to master it, while I had runs that ended in 2 minutes because I got my favorite weapon early on and got cocky. The developers do some interesting stuff with the formula, like gating the use of abilities with cooldowns and rewarding different styles of play with different rewards and benefits, having multiple paths that lead to different levels, great enemy variety and game-changing weapons that all feel unique and useful in their own way. However, the main thing is that it is addictively fun and satisfying to play, and out of all the rogue-lites I have played throughout the years, it might be the best one yet.
…And these guys as well.
  • ROW: Well, that is high praise indeed. Thank you for your time, I will consider what you said and make a decision. You may leave.

Mowltion Twin leaves the room.

  • RH: Shall we move on to the next game?
  • ROW: Please, go ahead!
  • RH: Call Dowlminion ‘Bowlder’ Gatherer.
  • ROW: *Sighs* Really? DBG?!
  • RH: Those are his initials; I fail to see why that is relevant though.
  • ROW: Whatever. Hi DBG, what have you got for me?
  • DBG: I’m here to pitch you on Slay the Spire, a really good deck-building game with rogue-like and lite elements.
  • ROW: Oh wow, what a surprise! DBG is here to pitch me on a DBG rogue-like experience. Tell me do your father’s initials spell CCG by any chance?!
  • DBG: Why yes, they do! He was the great ‘Cowlin the Cool Gatherer’! Have you heard of him?
  • ROW: Nope! Just a lucky guess! So, why should I try Slay the Spire?
This is the start of every run and it’s always fun and cool to look at
  • DBG: The thing I like about Slay the Spire is that it uses its randomness and core deck building mechanics to create something that is infinitely replayable and fun at the same time.
  • ROW: Does that mean you lose all progress when you die?
  • DBG: Yes, but there isn’t any ‘progress’ to make in the game. Yes, this is a dungeon crawler and there are several floors between you and the Spire, but there are so many strategies and random parts that, starting over does not necessarily mean you do everything again. One run can be focused on delivering damage; another can be focused on a solid defense with a few attack cards. All of the strategies require different cards and taking different paths, so each run is NOT unique, but it is as interesting and engaging as your first run.
How you’ll choose your next destination
  • ROW: That still sounds repetitive though. Is there enough enemy variety and meaningful differences with each strategy, to actually make each run interesting?
  • DBG: I’ll give you an example: There’s an enemy in the game that has a high base armor-which replenishes in each turn-but low health and deals devastating damage once every two or three rounds. If you build a damage deck, you have to drain its armor and health before it attacks; if you have a defense deck, you can shield yourself from any harm and slowly chip its health away. Furthermore, there are specific cards that make your build more valid: There are one-time use armor cards, or cards that deal massive damage if you only have damage cards; for defensive builds, there are special cards that deal your armor number as damage, or give you armor every round allowing you to focus on dealing damage.
Screw this enemy!
  • ROW: Huh, sounds complicated…
  • DBG: Well it is and it’s not; you get slowly introduced to the core concepts and mechanics, and-with the game being a rogue like- you make mistakes that lead to your death and then you try again with those lessons taught. Trust me, it’s really easy to understand the mechanics, make a few basic strategies and then expand on them–with your own style and luck of draw.
  • ROW: What are the core mechanics? Is it standard DBG mechanics?
  • DBG: Well, there isn’t a mode you turn Super-Sayan or grow a tail, but there is a lot of intense shouting, which kind of like an anime…
  • ROW: Ha-ha, very funny; I’m obviously referring to Deck Building not Dragon Ball Generations.

  • DBG: In that case, yes. You collect cards to build your deck, trinkets and potions for passive and active buffs, and use them in enemy encounters and boss fights. Those take the structure of turn-based combat, while the number of cards you can play is limited by your draw, energy and restrictions from buffs (for example there is a card that draws 3 cards at once but does not allow another card to be drawn for that round). However, those mechanics in the rogue-like structure is a recipe for success; it’s really rewarding when you randomly receive cards and then build a formidable deck on the go, defeating everyone in your way.
  • ROW: That sounds really interesting, but how is the difficulty?
  • DBG: I wouldn’t call it the hardest game ever made, but it’s not a breeze either! I think it stands somewhere in the middle. I like to play it whenever I have a podcast I want to listen to, or a new album that I bought; it’s a really good game for strategizing and thinking about every move in a non-stressful way.
  • ROW: Well, thanks for your time; I’ll consider it with the others.

DBG leaves the room. At this point there was a small break for cookies and coffee.

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