[email protected] takes a new approach to game designing… or rather a very old one. Developer Stormcloud Games has built a world of dungeon crawling that pays homage to the very beginning of its sub-genre. Take on the procedurally generated dungeons solo, or bring a friend in local co-op for added strength. There is no story to the game, just simple dungeon crawling, wrecking havoc, and leveling up your character and weapons. You can buy the game on PlayStation Network for $14.99.
My first impressions of the game, before loading it up, was that it was going to be a bit of a headache. Maybe a little bland. But sure enough, I was genuinely surprised by what it had to offer. Pretty cumbersome at first to try and quickly understand what items benefit you and how to use them, and how to engage in combat. It's not that it's complex, I was just gradually getting more excited to start seeing it in action and rushed through the help guide. Luckily pausing the game gives you an option at any time to go back in order to read it again, or if you keep a watchful eye on the top left of the screen, you'll see frequent hints.
The whole premise of the game is to hack and slash your way through 26 consecutive floors of Tron-like dungeon maps and then attempt to kill the Guardian of the Dungeon. Occasionally, you'll need to find a golden key in order to open doors, allowing you to further progress through a floor, one room or hallway at a time. There are 4 different characters to choose from: Mage, Warrior, Amazon, and Ranger. Each one will have slightly different attributes or characteristics to start but ultimately share the same skill tree as one another. Meaning any build you would like to make can be made on all 4 characters. My personal favorite is the Mage due to his early on arcane projectile ability.
You'll find the game is completely a blacked out space, with only white lines and dots outlining the floor and borders. It's easier to recognize than it sounds, and there's an invisible wall around the border to prevent you from falling off the edges. But the holes you'll sometimes run across are a different story. These are instant death traps. As mentioned earlier, you only get one life per character, but revives are implemented through items in rare occasions, and there is somewhat of a save option if you end by choice instead of death, allowing you to pick your game back up at a later time.
The game runs incredibly smooth outside of combat but can get a little lagging within but nothing terrible. The characters, when quickly going into a sprint, feel like they outrun the camera a little bit. This may have been intentional on the developers part since the threat of fallen floors or missing floors is a common cause of death. Aside from the dangerous pits of instant death that you must double jump over, you'll run into an array of enemies such as arachnids, wraiths, orcs, berserkers, minotaurs, and many variations of skeleton warriors. Use your blocking ability to defend from their attacks, dodge roll away, or slide through their legs in order to avoid attacks. You'll have a special attack that can be used with the L1 and R1 buttons at the same time and a somewhat wide variety of combat abilities obtainable through the skill tree to help you as well.
Smash any and everything. Barrels, furniture, fences, and literally anything that doesn't look like it will explode in your face, destroy. You'll gain experience points for causing mayhem in every room and hallway you step into. While doing this, you'll come across valuable items such as food to replenish health or potions that until a later time could cause either beneficial effects or the exact opposite. Sticking with the traditional ASCII theme, you'll also want to keep an eye out for letters throughout each floor. These will ultimately be used for enchanting/leveling weapons and has a very aesthetic way of binding together (As seen above). Your weapon of choice, or lack thereof, in the beginning, is simply just your bare fists, but later you will gain access to bows, pikes, shields, swords, clubs, etc.
There is zero voice acting and/or dialogue in the game. Nevertheless, the developers did a great job regarding sound. Each attack feels and sounds as perfectly matched, as a paying customer should expect from their game, and the environment/enemies are no different. Enemies have distinct noises, allowing for the player to easily identify them, even before seeing them. The music consistently has a triumphant feel to it. Very similar to the action, this triumphant music never stops, nor does it really ever slow down. It's fitting in all the right aspects and never feels underwhelming nor overwhelming.
You can have about a dozen different save dungeons in the game that you have either hand crafted, or edited from pre-designed floors. You can lay out the border with multiple types of floor options, raise or lower floors, and create doors leading to new rooms, caves, corridors, or tunnels. Pick an army of minions, or a single incredibly worthy foe, or a combination of the two, and decorate everything around them with destroyable props. Don't forget to be a pain in the ASCII and make a few traps to spice everything up even more. Making it difficult is expected, but the catch is you must successfully beat your own dungeon before it can be published for others to attempt.
The dungeon maker mode is a very nice addition to the game. It allows creativity in a game that would otherwise eventually feel too repetitive. Even if your hopes are not to be your own founder of a "roguelike" dungeon, it can be enjoyable to make a chaotic game even more chaotic. The same principle applies to Dungeon Maker mode as the rest of the game, an online co-op option would make it exponentially more enjoyable to play.
History of ASCII and Roguelike games (Trivia)
ASCII (ass-kee), also known as "American Standard Code for Information Interchange," was used to make the earliest of dungeon crawler games but originally created for teleprinters, with its creation being inspired by morse code. By using basically only what you see on a keyboard today (numbers, symbols, uppercase letters, lowercase letters), individuals and companies were beginning to create map-like game dungeons for players to explore and survive. This was before hashtags were hashtags, and an "@" symbol was used to tag your friends in a really funny video on Facebook.
In the 80s, there was a growing popularity among college students for a game called Rogue, which is considered today to be the foundation of a sub-genre called "roguelike" RPGs (evident in the name). Roguelike RPGs have a few standard requirements: procedurally generated floors/areas, tile-based game designs, and permanent death of characters. Although there were a few games released a year or two before it, Rogue took advantage of being shared over ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a network funded by the United States Department of Defense. It's notable that ARPANET was the first network technology to use ICH/IP, which the entire Internet today is based on. This allowed for the game to be shared by masses (or those who did have a computer) instead of purchasing in a store or submitting a mail order.
[email protected] is an amazing game when you consider what it is representing. It's paying tribute to the history of RPG dungeon crawling games while offering a unique 3D and current gaming twist to it. Casually sitting between a game with depth and a game so simple in gameplay you can restart a couple times every day, every RPG fan could find something interesting about it. The co-op aspect of it deserves a good size update to allow online co-op, and then I believe the game would find a much greater support. If you're looking for a fun change of pace in a unique game world or just want a decent couch co-op, you'll find this to be a great experience especially if grabbed during a sale.
|+ Extremely smooth gameplay||– No online co-op|
|+ Feels retro and current at the same time||– Camera a little bit too zoomed in|
|+ Easy to pick up and play from scratch|
|+ Successful tribute to the past|