No video for this one- Twitch was having network issues and I couldn’t get a stable connection for more than 5 seconds before it cut out again.
But don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. I don’t have a clue what happened at pretty much any point of my time with it.
Ostensibly, Astebreed is a game I should enjoy. A visceral, fast-paced shooter with lots of enemies and even more explosions, plus screen-filling bosses to humiliate. And, yes, it’s probably quite a spectacle to watch, but…
Watching is all I was doing. I just held down the Shoot button, and the Sword button, and the game just… played itself around me. The sword destroys enemy projectiles and takes down pretty much all foes in one swing, so all I had to do was just sit in the middle of the screen watching my robot-guy flail around like a lunatic while everything exploded all around him. This was interspersed with utterly baffling anime cutscenes which seemed to cram an entire series’ worth of shonen into 12 seconds; one such cutscene saw a reunion, a betrayal, a redemption, and a declaration of vengeance, all within 5 stills.
Fin or Bin:
It all coalesces into a completely baffling soup of explosions and melodrama and at no point did I feel like I was in control or even really necessary. It felt like I could tape down the Shoot and Sword buttons and go make myself a cup of tea, and come back to a completed game- the benefit of which being I get to skip all the hammy theatrics, and also have a cup of tea. It doesn’t really count as a fin if the game finished itself, does it? I had good hopes for Astebreed, but into the Bin it goes.
No, no wait! I have more to say. One Way Heroics intrigued me thanks to its central mechanic- the inexorable march of Darkness encroaches ever onwards from the left side of the screen, spurred on by the villainous Demon Lord, and you must outpace it else be swallowed. It puts a neat spin on a genre usually filled with easy decisions; exploring that little fortress might result in some sweet loot, but if the entrance gets swallowed up while you’re in there you’ll have a very short amount of time to bond with your new toy.
Alongside this, there’s some nice little Quality Of Life tricks that alleviate some of the ‘features’ of roguelikes. Each world is generated from a random seed which you can replay as many times as you like, enabling you to get a feel for what lies ahead- it’s not all totally random nonsense. You can also store a few items between lives, ready to be picked up immediately at the start of your next run, so every run actually feels like it contributes something- you’ll get a weapon, or a trinket, or even just a valuable jewel you can immediately sell at the start of your next run to stock up on healing items.
Overall, it feels far less anti-player than most rogues do, and runs are so short that it doesn’t feel like a sisyphean task to go for a completion. In fact…
Fin or Bin:
I decided to go for it, and since my first hour, I have managed to Finish a complete run, with
Swords the swordsmaster fighting a gruelling campaign, smacking down that archfiend once and for all, and halting the onslaught of Darkness. It’s a pretty neat game all told, and while I doubt I’ll be coming back to it, the entry fee is very low and it’s a perfect lunchtime filler. Stream is archived here!
EDIT: This was written prior to the extensive update that came out Sept 2021. I am informed that the update addressed a few of the things I complain about here- the review below remains unaltered.
I understand the “it’s like Dark Souls” comparisons are played out at this point, but if ever such a comparison was appropriate it’s now; having never played a Souls-like myself I can’t be certain but I’m led to believe Death’s Gambit is Dark Souls in all but name. Same brutally grim aesthetic, same brutally hopeless mood, same brutally vicious difficulty.
This is a game that’s so hard, the very first thing you do is die. Off screen! But Death is a wily one, and he offers a deal; do him a couple of favours, and you can wander the earth as a rockin’ cool zombie. All he needs is for us to kill a few immortal demi-gods. Seems fair!
Here’s the part of the review where I invite all of those people who like to yell at strangers on the internet that, ‘ackshually, Dark Souls isn’t hard at all, you just need to get good,’ to hit ctrl-W on their keyboards right now. It turns your comments into super-comments so people can’t delete them.
Alright, now that those people are out of here- this game is hard. Not even enjoyable hard. I love a challenge; I’m a die-hard fan of Touhou, Ikaruga is a huge part of my online identity, and I’ve completed Super Hexagon 100%. No, this is a different kind of hard; this is a game that is as anti-player as any I’ve seen outside of Kaizo Mario romhacks.
Basic mob enemies take a third of my healh away if I so much as catch an askance glare from one. Hidden spike traps take me down to a single hit remaining. There’s no I-frames and if you get caught in an attack that hits multiple times, it’s back to the last Death Statue you go, with an admonishment from the big guy himself.
The real problem for me is the Stamina gauge. Everything from jumping to swinging your weapon consumes stamina, and does so at an alarming rate. I guess being dead gives you stiff knees or something, because after only a few actions you’ll be left unable to do anything except waddle around ineffectually. As a result, boss fights become gruelling slogs with such precise management of resources as to be a total chore. In every other game on the planet, a perfectly-timed dodge-roll through an attack is rewarded with an opening to counter-attack- it’s one of the rules of the universe. But here, you barely have enough stamina to get one attack in if you still want to be able to dodge-roll back out- and not doing so is usually a game over. It’s oppressive, and levelling up barely mitigates the problem at all, with only one stat increasing Stamina and only by a meagre 2 points at a time (by comparison, a dodgeroll costs 25, and an attack costs 20. It’s absurd.)
Fin or Bin:
But!!! But. Look at it. The pixel art is spectacular, bringing to mind recent BBLC title Momodora. It’s grim, yes, but an awful amount of love has gone into this terrible world and it’s terrible inhabitants. And despite my misgivings, the game does control very well, with responsive attack combos and sprightly movement. Yes, it may desperately hate its players, but I’m not ready to give up quite yet. I might introduce it to my old friend Cheat Engine and see if we can’t curb its anti-social behaviour somewhat. If that doesn’t help, then I’ll probably be Finished with it quite early and with my tail between my legs. Gameplay stream here!