[Game: Slay the Spire, Mega Crit Games, 2019]
Someone Else’s Strategy:

On Mega Crit’s Slay the Spire, and the Occasional Heresy of Outside Help

 

Introduction:

The deck-building roguelike Slay the Spire is a well-designed, challenging, engaging game. Each of the game’s characters has a unique set of cards from which options are randomized and dealt to the player during each run, usually as a choice of one from three at a time. Each run begins with a small standard deck, which the player improves, expands, contracts, and (ideally) eventually uses to conquer 50-54 floors of the spire. On succeeding, the player unlocks a slightly harder version of the game for the character that won, up to a maximum of 20 difficulty modifiers (a system called ‘ascension’ in-game).

Deck-building games, like most games with card-based combat, are a subset of the strategy genre. The principal challenge of Slay the Spire—as in its broader strategy siblings—is, as the name of the genre implies, developing and executing an effective strategy. In theory, barring some truly horrendous luck, a person who has robust strategies should be able to beat the game a reasonable proportion of the time, even at high ascension levels. Figuring out which strategies work and which strategies don’t work forms nearly the entire gameplay loop and motivation structure of the game throughout nearly the entire time a player will spend with it.

I feel that these facts must be patently obvious to most players of Slay the Spire, yet I’ve encountered again and again people who give new players some truly objectionable advice which would never come from someone that understood those precepts. The advice in question runs rampant in the forums across the web dedicated to the game, and even feels implied in the words of the developers within the game’s graphics settings when they say that they “recommend Borderless Fullscreen for fast alt-tab.” The relevant advice is to make use of secondary resources—such as watching high-level players in order to “learn the game,” or having a wiki open while playing. I intend to argue here that doing so is tantamount to telling new players to skip the most engaging and valuable content of Slay the Spire.

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[Game: Slay the Spire, Mega Crit Games, 2019]
Someone Else’s Strategy:

On Mega Crit’s Slay the Spire, and the Occasional Heresy of Outside Help

was last modified: December 4th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Terraria, Re-Logic, 2011]
Yes Half Measures:

5 Reasons You Should Play Terraria on Mediumcore Difficulty

 

Introduction:

Terraria screenshot with home base - Re-Logic - Mediumcore DifficultyAny players of Re-Logic’s Terraria will know that difficulty levels in the game do not merely affect the stats of enemies. A ‘softcore’ character will only drop held money on death. A ‘mediumcore’ character will drop held money as well as held and worn items on death. A ‘hardcore’ character, when it dies, just stays dead. (Terraria possesses an overabundance of difficulty-related terminology, so, just to be absolutely clear: I’m not talking about normal mode versus expert mode, and I’m not talking about pre-hardmode versus hardmode.)

These are pretty dramatic differences in consequences for each character’s demise, and as a result the vast majority of players choose softcore mode. Those looking to prove what they’ve learned, on the other hand, are likely to crank it up to hardcore immediately. My personal opinion is that both are sub-par options when seeking the best playthrough of the game.

Here is my one caveat to this difficulty advice: if you’re really just playing Terraria as an artist or an architect (i.e. you just like building things), then softcore obviously make the most sense. But if you want the most enjoyable possible RPG adventure experience, then I highly recommend mediumcore. Here’s why:

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[Game: Terraria, Re-Logic, 2011]
Yes Half Measures:

5 Reasons You Should Play Terraria on Mediumcore Difficulty

was last modified: February 11th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Rogue Legacy, Cellar Door Games, 2013]
Turned Up to 11:

Rogue Legacy‘s Remix Bosses and the Virtues of Nonlinear Difficulty Scaling

 

[On the five-year anniversary of Rogue Legacy‘s release (two years after this article was published), Cellar Door Games patched Rogue Legacy with an update that (among other things) allows players to buff the characters for the remix boss fights. This significantly degrades the remix boss mechanic in Rogue Legacy as an example of the inflexible, nonlinear-scaling elements discussed in this article. The article remains archived in its original form, however, as the general theoretical case it makes remains intact (as regards the earlier version of the game, and all other instances of this type of design in other titles). – The Gemsbok]

 

Rogue Legacy screenshot with castle - Cellar Door Games - remix bosses - nonlinear difficulty scaling

Introduction:

Today’s topic is yet another indie game, and yet another roguelike-inspired game, and yet another game that I will be praising for its satisfying difficulty. But having covered similar topics so many times now in this series, I would like to do something a little different with Cellar Door Games’ Rogue Legacy by discussing its implementation of remix bosses as an absurd (and, from my perspective, totally welcome) spike in difficulty.

I have done this a few times in this series so far, primarily when covering games that have already been met with overwhelming praise by critics and audiences alike. In such cases, rather than throwing my praise on the praise pile, I try to offer something new, from a reading of the pixel art in FTL to a look at the atmosphere in Spacechem to a precise account of The Binding of Isaac‘s succession of The Legend of Zelda. Today’s angle: Rogue Legacy‘s various remix bosses may be seen as a prime example of nonlinearity in the scaling of a game’s difficulty, which produces potentially unintuitive benefits for the player.

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[Game: Rogue Legacy, Cellar Door Games, 2013]
Turned Up to 11:

Rogue Legacy‘s Remix Bosses and the Virtues of Nonlinear Difficulty Scaling

was last modified: November 2nd, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Volvox, Neotenia, 2015]
A Natural Selection:

On the Strong Core Gameplay and Puzzle Design in Neotenia’s Volvox

 

Volvox, an indie puzzle game developed by the small Italian team Neotenia, was one of the bold (or unfortunate) few to have a release in the weeks directly preceding a Steam Winter sale, which seem every bit as capable of eclipsing new Steam releases as they were prior to the sales’ recent regrettable-but-understandable format changes.

Volvox‘s store page boasts 250 levels in its campaign (and accordingly 60 hours of entertainment), which had me both intrigued and wary. A promise of that much content makes me wonder if the quality keeps up throughout, and whether it strays at times into repetition. As you can probably tell from the title of the article, my concerns were laid to rest; let me tell you how and why.

Volvox screenshot with cutscene sequence - Neotenia - difficult puzzle game Continue reading

[Game: Volvox, Neotenia, 2015]
A Natural Selection:

On the Strong Core Gameplay and Puzzle Design in Neotenia’s Volvox

was last modified: January 14th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Crypt of the NecroDancer, Brace Yourself Games, 2015]
In the Beginning was the Beat:

How Crypt of the NecroDancer Turns a Potential Gimmick into an Integral Game Mechanic

 

Crypt of the NecroDancer screenshot with Cadence in Zone 3 - rhythm roguelike - Brace Yourself Games

Introduction:

It often happens on this site that I set out to write a simple article and realize after I begin that I just have a lot to say about the subject. It happened when I reviewed Patrick McCabe’s novel Breakfast on Pluto; it happened when I analyzed Steven Spielberg’s movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and it happened in your previous Mid-week Mission post, on LUFTRAUSERS. Today I want to rectify my last review’s rambling by actually writing a simple article about a relatively new indie game, Crypt of the NecroDancer by Brace Yourself Games. Let’s see how I do.

Crypt of the NecroDancer is a 2-D top-down rhythm-based roguelike. Right off the bat, if you’re anything like me then you’re wary of a genre mash-up that seems to have most of its justification in being a quirky gimmick rather than being a well-reasoned basis for gameplay. But I’m now almost 25 hours into my experience of NecroDancer, and I’m ready to start singing its praises (preferably as a duet with the game’s vocally gifted merchant NPC).

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[Game: Crypt of the NecroDancer, Brace Yourself Games, 2015]
In the Beginning was the Beat:

How Crypt of the NecroDancer Turns a Potential Gimmick into an Integral Game Mechanic

was last modified: June 28th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski