More Tough as Nails Roguelike Action That Keeps You Wanting More
Tough as nails. You will die. A lot. Only for the hardcore gamer. Git Gud. These are phrases we have all heard over the past few years as gamers have fetishized the difficulty of games of yore. We forget a couple of things about games designed in the ‘90s: 1) they were based on the arcade design philosophy that prioritised getting you to put money in the machine; 2) the controls were often what we would now call terrible and unplayable thereby artificially increasing difficulty; and 3) since games were short due to space limitations and devs didn’t release multiple games a year they had to be made to be artificially long.
However, that is not to say that tough games are not good. Or fun. Playing through them can be a great stress reliever. Yes, I know that is ironic given the number of broken controller memes that do the rounds whenever a From Soft game is released. But it honestly is one of the best ways to work through your daily frustrations by finally solving that insane puzzle that is how to get through a level of an insanely tough game.
Scourgebringer falls into this category of a tough game, but it is not defined by that solely. The game is a beautifully designed 16-bit inspired 2D platformer. The sprites are colourful and charming with enemies being gruesome and cute in equal measure. Their otherworldly nature makes you wary of them as soon as they appear on screen, but you also just want to stop and admire the design and doing that would be a mistake. Each enemy type is diabolically deadly and a few hits will end your run.
And yes, that is the game design – Roguelike. I know many of you will immediately switch off at mention of that genre, but this should not put you off completely. Like Dead Cells and the excellent Hades, you will try your utmost to get through a level but will likely die multiple times as you are overwhelmed by enemies and their powerful attacks. After each death you will be teleported to a safe room with a mysterious sage dispensing cryptic advice. In this room you can access the skill tree to upgrade your defense and attack by spending the rewards you gained in the previous run. These skills add to your arsenal and will make your next run a little easier but relying on stat/skill boosting to get through this game will not work. You will have to persevere and, yes, get better, more skillful.
Each attempt at a level will be fresh as the Roguelike design elements come into play as the rooms reset. The game is designed around what are effectively 2D arenas all connected to each other. Reminds me less of a Dead Cells or Mario style platformer and more of something like Bubble Bobble. You get locked in a room and must deal with the enemies therein. There will be waves of enemies attacking you in each room and once you clear that room you can choose to go to the next and repeat until you find the room with the boss. The bosses are all unique and bring a ton of pain with them. Seriously the variety of attacks they have, while all ending in a pattern that you must memorise to defeat them (yeah standard I know) is wonderfully creative. Yet they are reminiscent of classic bosses from those old games and even more recent bosses like those in Shovel Knight.
The game’s difficulty can also be attributed to the pace of the fights as well as the sheer number of effects on display. This honestly made it difficult for my old eyes to keep pace with the game and to be able to see what was going on onscreen. This is mitigated some by the excellent and responsive controls, but if you cannot see where you are going it does not matter how tight the controls are, you are going to crash. Of course, in a game like this timing is everything and being able to time your double jumps and dashes, as well as the attacks that can be spun out of those, is crucial. Doing that keeps you alive, but crucially earns you the currency you need to buy new skills and upgrades.
While the ever-changing nature of the game levels does a bit to keep the game fresh, it does become a bit stale as you get towards the conclusion of the game. Not being a game designer I couldn’t say what would keep the game fresh, but game-like Hades and Dead Cells did and didn’t just rely on the difficulty and tapping that pleasure centre of the brain when you did succeed to keep you coming back. Sheer bloody-mindedness will get you so far and this game does become a bit of chore to complete.
In terms of narrative, it does not really matter does it. Like the games of the ‘90s did we really care why Mario was running around the Mushroom Kingdom, or why the rodent in Rocket Knight Adventure was dressed in plate mail with a jetpack strapped to his back? Scourgebringer has some guff about an alien object that destroyed the earth and only the brave and foolhardy dare explore it to find out how to stop it. Basically, it is a tower that you must climb to defeat the enemy. A take similar to classic arcade game Kung Fu Master which itself was a rip-off of Bruce Lee’s last film Game of Death.
Scourgebringer is an excellent game that is best played in short bursts to keep things fresh. The tight controls make the game a little less daunting and the skill tree allows you to approach the game in different ways allowing you to build your own character. These all make the game it a little easier, however, they are just tools that you use to increase your own skill level in the game, without that, I guess commitment, this is not a game you are going to enjoy.
ScourgeBringer is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Game Pass for Console and PC.
This review of the game is based on the PC Version available on Steam here for £13.49.
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