Justice Playthrough #131: Midboss

Everything about this game’s concept and setup make me want to love the hell out of it. But ultimately, it’s … fine.

Page 1, Game 22: MidBoss by Eniko

You are an imp, the lowliest denizen of the dungeon, and you have gotten sick of your co-workers’ bullshit. Luckily for you, adventurers are attacking the keep! Time for you to book it and get the fuck out of there, presumably to a better job.

Unfortunately, your employment contract is kind of a bastard, so they’re not letting you go easily; you’re going to have to fight your way out. Luckily, you’re good at possessing the corpses of your fallen foes. Add their skills to your repertoire, and escape!

Just so we’re clear, I’m murdering the shit outta BOTH of you guys

Midboss is an isometric roguelike, where every level after the first is procedurally generated. The game’s big selling point is that you can possess your foes if you defeat them, which will at the very least heal you up and give you a bunch of new stats and abilities to work with.

Also, you’ll find loot. So much loot. So very much loot. Such loot.

I’m that angry rat in the middle, and I’m about to go on a lootenanny

There’s a lot to like here. All the standard roguelike elements are present, but (obviously) presented with very accessible graphics. There’s a lot to explore, and the fights do a good job of presenting you with a sense of escalating danger.

But there’s a lot of it just didn’t work for me. The loot system immediately jumps out as an example. Midboss goes in HARD on intermittent reinforcement; loot is plentiful, but the vast majority of it quickly becomes vendor trash. Once you get a decent set of gear going, you rarely pick up anything worth using. As a result, loot quickly stops becoming rewarding and instead becomes a nuisance, a chore to be managed. The game even knows it, and allows you to deconstruct useless items into telescoping scrap piles so you don’t have to continually go back multiple floors to the last place you saw the merchant hiding out.

And a lot of the gear’s bonuses tend to be very incremental; yeah, a +10 bonus to your sorcery definitely gives your combat spells some kick, but for the most part, you’re talking about doing an extra point of damage here, taking one fewer points of damage there. I found that I almost never went “Ooh, cool, this is totally gonna open up new gameplay options for me!” when I found some shiny piece of loot, even if I wound up using it. (Unless I was playing like a dumbass and overlooked all the items that would have expanded the game for me, which is possible.)

A similar problem exists with the monsters you can upgrade into. Even when you switch forms, you can carry around traits of previous skinsuits you’ve mastered (by which I mean “Killed a bunch of stuff in”), so in theory, you should be hopping around like mad to deepen your bag of tricks, right?

Well, not really. You’ll want to jump into the rat first; it’s always your first option and it’s better than your starting form, so you may as well. Once you get the whole “Rat” thing down, you’ll want to nab a vampire bat, because they can drain hit points from other creatures. Healing is tough to come by in this game, so being able to harvest other creatures for health is just HUGE. Of course, if you’re going that direction, you’ll want to pimp your magic stats, just to make sure you deal maximum damage and receive maximum healing.

And from there, it’s kind of … eh? I bounced around from zombies to skeletons to flaming swords to acid-spitting bats, and none of it was all that exciting or interesting. Just lots of variations on “You do a few points of damage to that other guy.” Certainly nothing as useful as the vampire bat’s drain ability; my playstyle evolved to lean on bloodsucking and fuck around with a few other things as the game went on. (If you get really good at your native form, you can chuck inventory at opponents for damage, which is hilarious to me because it feels like the game is admitting that shit is useless as anything but ammo.)

I gave this game so many opportunities to impress me, because honestly, I want to love it. This thing LOOKS awesome. But the gameplay feels very samey to me. Maybe that gets better the deeper you get into the game — I keep getting my ass handed to me once the ghosts start showing up, so I’m clearly not an expert — but even so, that’s a lot of time commitment to ask of a player before the game starts getting good.

The dungeons may technically be random, but I couldn’t help feeling “I’ve done this already” with each new one I’ve visited. In a good roguelike, each run should feel like it’s giving you the opportunity to explore some cool new facet of the game you haven’t discovered yet. This just feels repetitive.

The game gives you the ability to take whatever form you can find, but it doesn’t give you a REASON to actually do it. If I play this game again, I know it’s going to be a lot like the other times I’ve played it, though maybe a few numbers might be higher or lower. I want more.

Do I recommend it? Tentatively. If you really dig roguelikes, then what the hell, it’s far from the worst one you’ve ever played. It certainly has personality to spare. But if you’re not alread a fan of the genre, I don’t think this is the game that’s going to win you over. I just can’t help but feel like the game should offer a much more interesting experience than it actually does.

Is this next game going to let me murder the crap out of my evil co-workers?

Page 10, Game 20: FLAMBERGE by msb /// hydezeke

“FLAMBERGE is a turn-based tactics RPG featuring free movement and simultaneous turns.”

Depending on its attitude towards friendly fire incidents, this just might be an emphatic “Yes.”