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Indie Game Review: #Caveblazers – My Adventures in Wrestling a Gamepad (and losing)

When I heard “Rogue-like platformer” and upon seeing the screenshots in the style of Spelunky, Cave Story, and Rogue Legacy, I was quite excited to play this title. Loading up the game, I was greeted with a friendly “Best Played With a Controller”, showing a cute and bubbly graphic of the same Xbox 360 controller I was holding in my hand. I rolled my analog sticks with excitement!

 

 

Upon checking the Settings (one of the first things I do whenever starting a new game), my gaze immediate found that the analog control setup was very much like Terraria’s console/mobile twin-stick design: The left analog was for moving around and the right analog was for attacking in the direction you point the stick. Combat looked like it’d be a breeze since it was something I was quite familiar with.

 

Then came my first slight disappointment: I found out the right analog stick was used for shooting your secondary weapon (which tend to be the bow and arrows, but can be switched out in your inventory menu for other items). This disappointment was greater compounded when I found that the jump button required the use of the right thumb: the same thumb used for shooting. At this point, I thought to myself, “It’s okay. I’m sure the developers intended for this design and compensated.” I then came across my first blessing (random bonuses normally acquired by touching various ghost-like icons found in the game). The blessing was a bonus for shooting something while in mid-air…

 

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

 

An action game where one of your two main attacks require pressing one button to jump, then quickly using that same thumb to shoot an arrow in one of 8 compass in a somewhat hectic environment. Testing this out, I found that some directions are easier to flick than others, which immediately put a limitation on how well I can fight in tight spaces that require distance.

 

So, why not just use melee? How about re-mapping the buttons? Git gud?

 

I thought about just skipping the shooting part. Being able to shoot in 8 directions requires the player to time their shots against aerial targets or standing in one spot while holding the shoot stick in their general direction and hope the enemies walk/fly/jump into your stream. Forget about trying to perform this maneuver flawlessly while airborne yourself. So, I began just hacking and slashing around with my current melee weapon. Being a rogue-like, this game is chock-full of different weapons of varying stats, like damage and swinging speed. I could just forget about shooting stuff and create a swathe of corpses with just my trusty melee weapons!

 

Then came an exploding aerial slime that comes crashing at you at high-speed, blowing up a giant hole in the level, as well as your life points.

 

 

Slightly frustrated that I couldn’t be the bouncing archer that I’d hoped to be. I was determined to find a control scheme that would allow me to wall-jump like a pro and aim with precision. I even tried a button setup that I used in Terraria (using the trigger buttons to jump). Then I learned the problem wasn’t in the controls. It was the fact that I could only shoot in 8 directions on an analog stick. This might not seem like something troublesome, but intuition and muscle memory likes to think that when you point a stick in a direction, something will happen in THAT direction. Not 5-10 degrees away from it. It just felt awkward.

 

At this point, I’ve managed to examine the main areas of the game. The game’s introductory level is like a hub. You are greeted by what resembles an old man/merchant that strikes up a casual conversation about how to press buttons. As casual as the conversation was, I felt like I was in a tutorial and not having a conversation with what would most likely be the last human I see. I found the sounds used to represent NPC speech to be most amusing and nostalgic. It took me back to the days of old JRPG’s where there was a high-pitched warbling sound whenever somebody talked. Fortunately, the old man had a deeper voice and instead of the traditional repeated beep/warble, the developers used repeated voices in the style of the warble. Imagine somebody saying varying tonal versions of “Hey” or “Meh” repeatedly. The old man gives you a quick tutorial into the basics of movement, shooting, attacking, and activating doors/shrines/dialogue and tells you to go away.

 

Looking more closely at this hub area, I found a place to change my appearance as well as an obelisk that granted me Perks; Much akin to the random blessings, but you have the option of manually changing what perk you receive in the hub area.

 

After that, the hand-holding ends. True to rogue-like games that came before it, the player is left to experiment, learn, and die… A LOT. In my first couple hours of experimenting I learned that you can walk through spikes, but jump up just a little bit and land on the spikes…you die. I kind of expected that. I just like being sure. I discovered that aside from humanoid green creatures, there were humanoid non-green creatures. They happened to be AI adventurers that run around jumping, slaying, and generally performing better than you. They seem useful in getting enemies dispatched, but I found them to be a nuisance since I often think I’m being attacked when they’re just leaping about, mocking me.

 

 

Most everything you discover in the game is recorded in a Journal for easy reference. The only thing I could tell that isn’t recorded are the potions. Much like the scrolls/potions/wands of the rogue-likes before it, Caveblazers randomized their potions and you have about as much chance as consuming a harmful potion as a useful one. After the initial discovery, however, you’ll always know the quality of that potion…until you die, that is. At that point, all the random potions will reset. Fortunately, anything recorded in the Journal stays that way.

 

The developers were forgiving in one part of traversal, because you take absolutely no fall damage! This is especially useful when I tried out my first Daily Run (which refreshes every 24 hours). It dropped me into a familiar area as it looked exactly like the previous caves I’ve died in previously. It took me about 30 seconds of general bumbling around to realize that there was an odd miasma drifting downwards from the top of the screen. Gamer-senses on high-alert, I began to move downwards as fast as possible. The scientist in me wanted to touch the miasma to see what it’d do, but the flight-or-flight response has already kicked in. I began barreling through as many enemies as my feeble sword-swinging arms could dispatch. Jumping and dropping and quickly learning that I could perform a downward thrust attack while trying to avoid flying, exploding, grunting, and swinging. Every once in a while looking up to the miasma creeping.

 

Long story short, I died. Fortunately, I felt a bit of accomplishment because upon dying I was given the opportunity to see how well I fared in the Leaderboards. In that one daily run, I was ranked #432. The pessimist would see that there are 431 people that could obviously perform better than I can. The optimist in me showed that there were at least 5 people that performed worse. That was good enough for me.

 

There is also another sense of progression since every death adds to a progress bar that unlocks cosmetics. You are to change the cosmetics at the hub, but I was perfectly happy with my pixelated Bob Ross lookalike (I like putting fros on my players at every opportunity). After many deaths and few progress bars filled, another npc arrived at my hub and told me that my pumice stone needed fixing. Not one to argue with a professional pumice stone repair-man, I let him get to work and re-entered the caves. I eventually learned that the pumice stone could be activated to keep adventurers from coming into the caves behind me. I didn’t even know they could do that in the first place, but I was glad I have the option to shut them out.

 

Determined to finish this review by at least reaching the first procedural boss, I spent my next few rounds playing as close to the vest as possible; keeping far away and shooting a steady stream of arrows and hope the enemies walk into it repeatedly until dead. The tactic works well as long as you aren’t overwhelmed by more than one enemy in close quarters.

 

 

Environmental puzzles became apparent when I activated a glyph of some sort hidden in one of the rocks making up the ceiling. Finding all of them in a level rewarded me with a portal, which I quickly learned led to wave after wave of enemies in an enclosed space which seemed to only stop when I died, ending my run. Didn’t seem like much of a reward, but I’m confident that if I killed them all, something great would have happened. It’s a shame that I’d rather see what levels are behind Door #2 than taking a chance at seeing what’s in the Mystery Box.

 

The sense of progression also occurs after the completion of each floor. Despite the levels looking different each run, the title of the two levels I kept repeating were always the same (Caves and Temple Approach). After many (many many many) deaths, I realized that my life is actually easier if I just avoid the enemies I don’t have to kill. By purposely skipping whole sections of the levels, I could bee-line for the exit with the most health possible, only killing when required.

 

This tactic seemed to work, until the green humanoid AI kicked in and began chasing me. Changing up the tactic and killing every green humanoid that I’m forced to encounter, I finally reached past the second floor. Not seeing the familiar centerscreen title of the level and instead welcomed with a foyer into a large open space, my tingling gamer-senses told me I finally have reached my destination: The first boss.

 

Armed with a random magical weapon that felt kind of like a pity prize for dying so much (the stats of this particular item was about 3 times as effective as anything I’ve picked up in any of my runs). It also allowed for charged arrow shots. To add icing on this jazzy cake, the arrow’s hit boxes were about 5 times the size when fully charged. At this point I wondered to myself, “The developers should really just start players with THIS weapon”.

 

 

So, I’m not entirely sure if the boss is procedural as well, but my first boss experience gave me a flashback to the top of this article. The boss was a giant spider and the boss’s body was floating just above horizontal arrow range, requiring me to jump-shoot. The health bar was massive, but the bosses moves were quick to predict.  If it wasn’t for the pity-bow (the pet name I gave my new weapon), this fight would’ve taken considerably longer.

 

The boss-spider dispatched, loot gotten, and random blessings received, I entered the far door to see if a pattern would emerge. The level was appropriately titled “The Temple”. I’d love to have admired the new layout, but I was quickly killed and sent back to the beginning of the game. At least I have a few perks unlocked and can finally wear that chef’s hat I’ve wanted to rock my whole life.

 

Despite the gripes I have regarding awkward controls and the punishing AI, I feel Caveblazers shows promise in the realm of rogue-likes. I’m confident that the progression system for Perks will eventually make me feel like I can blaze through the first few levels with ease, but the frustration that it leaves me with makes me think this is a game I should pick up once in awhile to get a feel for something different; a palate-cleanser. To me, Caveblazers is not something I’ll be grinding at for days on end like I have with many rogue-likes before it.

 

For these reasons, I’m giving Caveblazers a promising 7/10.


May 28th, 2017 by PoorTomio
This entry was posted on Sunday, May 28th, 2017 at 10:58 pm and is filed under Gaming, General, PC. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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