The term “rogue-like” has been thrown around a lot in recent years. Ever since the release of The Binding of Isaac many games have been described as a “rogue-like,” meaning they contain a combination of permadeath and procedurally generated dungeons. However, whilst the term has been used liberally it’s very rare that a game has truly fit the term.
Rogue, released in 1980, had four unique elements which differentiated it from similar games at the time;
- Permadeath: When you die, you start again from the beginning of the dungeon.
- Procedurally generated dungeons: Every time you start the game a new set of enemy layouts and dungeons are generated from a pool of designed assets.
- Partially randomised item pools: The randomly generated dungeons also contain random loot, meaning each run plays out differently.
- Turn-based/simultaneous movement: Time/turns pass as you more or act, leading to a slow and tactical, yet frantic and punishing experience.
The first three have become staples in the genre alongside action-heavy, punishing gameplay. The forth, however, has only rarely been featured. However, with the release of Crown Trick, this may be about to change.
Crown Trick, developed by NEXT, follows the story of Elle as she delves into the Nightmare Realm to save both it and her own world. Upon entry to the dark and dingy dimension, she meets a magical, talking crown who offers her it’s powers and teaches her about how to navigate the game’s various dungeons. What follows is a glorious romp throughout a dark fantasy (and sometimes even steampunk) setting with tons of imagination and charm and a couple of twists. Without spoiling too much, whilst the adventure begins with a certain baddie as your focus, things quickly spiral and things open up considerably. It’s not the most gripping or original story I’ve ever played, but factoring in the little bits of world building scattered throughout I can easily say I enjoyed it regardless.
It’s billed by the devs as a rogue-like RPG adventure, but I’d argue that it’s more of a strategy rogue-like honestly due to the tactically synchronous turn-based combat. Like in other rogue-likes, you are tasked with traversing a number of dungeons floor-by-floor, fighting enemies and defeating bosses whilst collecting randomised loot. There are, however, a number of unique twists to Crown Trick which set it apart from the usual fare. Everything takes place on a grid with each action affecting a certain area. Elle can use a number of different weapon types, each with a certain range – whether that be two squares ahead, adjacent all around her etc – leading to various combat options. On top of this (and the obvious randomised and varied weapon effects typical of the genre) Elle can use magical powers linked to her equipped “familiar.” These creatures are found and fought as bosses within floors, but following their defeat they can be added to your arsenal. Two can be equipped at once, and each gives Elle two powers to use.
These abilities vary wildly, from flame slinging to minion summoning, and are incredibly useful in combat. Throughout your journey you can also collect other magical items, which allow limited uses of extra defensive and offensive spells. Finally, Elle can teleport (or blink) instantly a limited number of times per room without progressing time. Now, this may seem like a lot of things to throw at the player early on – and I mean, it kind of is – but combined together all of these elements create a graceful and hectic combat system. These aren’t the only mechanics; enemies have both a HP and a break meter, with each hit taking them one step closer to being stunned. By breaking enemies Elle can earn time-limited damage bonuses and recharge her other abilities. I won’t even go into the deep elemental damage (and combo) system, collectable relics, persistent progression between runs (there is some!) or the numerous other systems at play, but the combination of all of this creates a truly unique patchwork. At times it can be a little overwhelming, but when a build starts to come together it’s easy to get lost in the flow and weave of it all.
I mention builds due to the randomisation of items, relics and familiars, but honestly I never felt at the mercy of the dice gods playing Crown Trick. The game successfully skirts the line between luck and skills and the bonuses you earn for playing tactically can make you feel like a golden god. It’s damn satisfying and it kept me coming back for more.
Enemies and dungeons are split between what boils down to four separate tile sets. They’re nicely varied and each fit a strong theme. My favourite theme was the steampunk-styled tileset, and whilst I would have liked to have seen more enemy variety towards the end of the game I wasn’t disappointed in that regard. If anything, I would have liked more end-of-floor boss variety, but I won’t complain as the bosses were all fun and unique in their own way.
The most striking element of Crown Trick is probably the art style. It’s absolutely beautiful from start to finish with as strong an art style as any other rogue-like. You can see the hand-drawn aesthetic for yourself – it’s rough in all the right ways and (as good old Jim Sterling would say) beautifully bleak.
Overall then, what do I think of Crown Trick? Well, it’s rare that I stick with a rogue-like for longer than I have to and I’m still going back, so that says a lot. It feels GOOD to play consistently – even when you fail in the face of the punishing difficulty – and I don’t think I can give it any higher praise than that. If you like rogue-likes, give it a shot – you won’t be disappointed. Even if you don’t usually like them, there may be something here for you to love.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game which can be purchased here for £15.99.
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