Does this pro­ce­dural plat­former steal Spelunky’s crown?

APC Australia - - Downtime games -

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

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