US: 29 Apr 2015
To call a roguelike “casual” would seem, perhaps, like the height of stupidity. One seemingly challenges the very definition of the genre by referring to any roguelike as a casual gaming experience. The genre is typified by a few things, randomly generated maps and items, permadeath, and, of course, brutal difficulty, not the sorts of things that one normally associates with a casual gaming experience.
However, The Weaponographist (which admittedly is one of the stupidest names that I’ve heard for a video game in a long time) seems to me to seek to take an experience catered specifically for the hardcore gaming crowd and to transform it slightly in order to make it accessible to a less hardcore audience.
The Weaponographist looks a bit like and plays a bit like the more recent spate of games that I have come to think of as “mini-roguelikes” (or maybe “arcade roguelikes” would be a more apt term), games like The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain, and to a lesser degree FTL. Eschewing the commonly turn based gameplay of the traditional roguelike, these games instead generally have a more arcade-like approach to play, asking the player to approach a difficult and risky game with their dexterity in addition to their brains.
While The Binding of Isaac allows for some form of “permanent” progression in the game in terms of unlocking new, more powerful items that have a chance of spawning in later games or unlocking new characters to play, still like other roguelikes, when Isaac dies, it’s game over. Any power ups, stat bonuses and the like that you have acquired over the course of a single playthrough, or any progression that you’ve made in Isaac’s dungeon-like basement are wiped out. Next game you will start out once again with only your base stats in the game’s first room.
If you want to win the game and defeat Isaac’s mother in combat, the only way that you are going to do so is to hope for a better run next time (maybe better items and power ups will spawn in the next playthrough) or you’d better bone up on your game mechanics. Since there are no continues in The Binding of Isaac, this is a game that requires practice, practice, practice. Better skillful play leads to more success, not simply clicking “Continue?” a hundred times and eventually persevering until the end.
The other roguelikes that I mention have similar qualities with some of them featuring slightly more forgiving mechanisms to improve your circumstances in later playthroughs (like the fact that gold acquired in a previous playthrough of Rogue Legacy can be used to purchase some permanent base stat bonuses as your “legacy” for your future rogues that will be crawling the dungeon). Still though, this is mostly a genre that expects the player to improve their skills to become more successful, not on grinding out enough levels and power to succeed essentially through inertia.
The Weaponographist plays much like twitch-based, top down, sort of bullet-hell-esque Binding of Isaac. However, its twist on the idea of crawling a dungeon from start to finish on a single playthrough violates that very rule in some ways, and it also adds what on the surface seems like an even more punishing mechanism to roguelike gameplay. You play a knight cursed by a witch to have his level progression and arsenal of weapons in a constant state of decay. This means that when you pick up a sword in the dungeon (or a spear or a tommy gun or a tuba, the game doesn’t take itself especially seriously) that it will be destroyed after a few swings and that you’ll need to scrounge up a new one from the dead littering the dungeon floor. Somewhat similarly, any experience points that you acquire during the game are represented on a meter in the lower right hand corner of the screen. This meter is constantly falling, falling back towards zero unless you keep killing monsters. Kills cause the meter to hop up briefly, so the game is about keeping up a constant kill combo so that you can eventually level up and to keep on killing to maintain that level.
Again, which sounds quite difficult. However, the game does allow for progression outside the dungeon. If you collect enough “demon goo” during a playthrough, you will be able to purchase some permanent bonuses to your base stats and weapon proficiencies. Additionally, once you complete a level of the dungeon (of which there are five in total), you can start on later playthroughs at the beginning of that level. Also, there is a limited continue feature available. You are allowed three continues after you tag a spawn point right before you fight the boss of that level.
In other words, this is a mini-roguelike in style and appearance only. While any given level of the dungeon is extremely punishing initially, your upgrades will make them much easier after you fail enough times and collect enough goo. In other words, inertia will most likely get you through the game (though the fourth and fifth bosses are pretty difficult regardless of your stats on first meeting them, so some skillful play might be required near the end). In other words, this is a game that masquerades as a mini-roguelike, that will give you the “feel” of a mini-roguelike, but eventually will hold your hand enough to get you through, likely regardless of how skillful you ultimately are at it.
While I deeply appreciate The Binding of Isaac and other games like it for their lack of accessibility (I sometimes find modern games much too easy, requiring little commitment, and thus little sense of accomplishment for beating them), I have to say that The Weaponograpist is still pretty fun, and I think that it offers a valuable service to this genre. It seems to me to serve the need for a kind of gateway game to the genre.
For players that haven’t experienced the full-on brutality of a roguelike before, this might be a good place to start before venturing into more satisfying, but more brutal experiences. For those that maybe have been interested in roguelikes in the past but have felt burned by their unforgiving nature, this may be a way of getting over that initial frustration to see what the genre is all about without facing an inevitable sense of failure. Hence, my sense that this is a “casual” roguelike, an approximation of a hardcore experience without quite so much need for total commitment to feel success.
// Moving Pixels
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