Does this procedural platformer steal Spelunky’s crown?
Caveblazers is a sidescrolling roguelike with random loot and perma-death. As you delve down further into a cave full of riches, you’ll encounter powerful enemies and find new gear to kill them with. You’ll find gold, and spend it on items and health refills from shrines. You’ll find blessings — buffs that can tweak and enhance you build. And you’ll die, in many painful, cheap and amusing, ways — often as a result of your own hubris.
A Spelunky comparison is inevitable. I don’t think Caveblazers is as good as Spelunky — few games are — but it finds success in how it builds on the simplistic perfection of Mossmouth’s dungeon diver. For instance, here, you have two weapons: one melee, one ranged. This changes how you approach combat encounters and the abilities of the monsters you face. Many can close distance quickly, forcing you to make a split-second decision. Do you stand your ground and battle, or try to increase the gap — giving you the space to pick them off at range? Randomised weapons and upgrades factors in — maybe you’ll end up with an amazing bow, but an underpowered sword, or a powerful axe paired with a hand cannon that’s useful in specific situations. The loot defines your build, and changes your strategy each time.
Caveblazers is quick to punish mistakes, and also desperation. You’ll find potions but, in classic roguelike style, they’re unidentified. Maybe they’ll restore health or increase your melee or ranged damage stats, or decrease those stats (or worse). Health restoration items are a big deal, and rare, and the price of filling your health bar at shrines becomes increasingly prohibitive as you move deeper into the dungeon. You can befriend AI dungeon delvers to help soak up some of the damage, but they can also be a liability. Everything is a risk down in the dark.
On our 12th run, we made a dumb mistake with some Jumpers — difficult, highly mobile monsters that explode on contact. We limped towards the first boss encounter and, seeing that it was the flying cube, decided to try our luck with a potion. We combusted — unceremoniously burning to death only two levels in.
The bosses are our least favourite part of this game, largely because of the repetition. As a challenge, they’re fine — there are bosses we can kill without taking a hit, but who’ll still punish a lapse in concentration. But unlike in regular play, these encounters mostly remain the same, no matter the build. A better bow may make things quicker, but that only affects the length of the fight, not how we approach it. Despite this misstep, though, Caveblazers is an excellent procedural platformer. It’s slightly looser and less intricate than Spelunky, but it scratches the same itch — offering plenty of variety, and a difficult, yet rewarding, challenge that’s fun to unravel. Phil Savage