The rise of the rogue-lite has achieved full tenacity in the last few years. What seems to have been popularized by The Binding of Isaac has taken shape in some fashion in many that have followed. Dead Cells, Spelunky, Enter the Gungeon; none of these may have existed without the aid of trailblazers revolutionizing gaming niches. Particularly appealing to gaming purists, it pits the player into testing their skills within certain scenarios, hinged by the chance of positive or negative attributes that make a single expedition different from the last. What better way to measure one’s skills at their core? ScourgeBringer, the latest Early Access rogue-lite, understands this well.
Burning with style and dystopian/sci-fi dramatics, this comes together with pixel artistry that highlights slice-and-dice bravado. Predisposed with a world-ending plot, one is tasked to play the last light to existence’s survival. A typical, but workable plot that weaves the action together with primary motivation, lest one enjoys meaningless monster slaying. With three working stages and most of the gameplay quirks near perfection, its current state is on par with what the full game will provide. Its aesthetic sheen is evident upon impact; all else falls within some point of conflict.
Normally, “Story” is supposed to precede “Gameplay” in a typical post on this site. However, the story of ScourgeBringer, at least in Early Access, is fairly minimal. Humanity’s last hope is in the hands of Kyhra, who fights “ancient machines” that have eradicated the world. Playing through the game, very little is elaborated past that, leaving the player with a standard “Player good, enemies bad” mantra to work with. Some intrigue could come from The Chiming Tree, a rest area shrouded in mystery that one comes into after each death. Currently, there’s nothing really to comment on, and those wishing for a deeper narrative will be left hollow.
In terms of standard gameplay, this has found a nice sweet spot of fighting finesse and difficulty. Other outlets have compared this game to Celeste; I, unfortunately, have yet to play it, but if it’s anything like this, I’m missing out. Very quick and nimble, Kyhra has the capacity to kill multiple enemies without hitting the ground once. With a standard-attack flurry, a dash attack, a heavy attack, and a gun, there’s a lot to keep the action going, occasionally in one fell swoop. For many, this will be the defining factor to this game’s worth, and on the outset, it succeeds.
Specific praise can be placed on the implementation of the dash attack. Even if only Early Access, ScourgeBringer manages to make an impressive spectacle with only a single action. With the dash attack, one can zip through rooms, climb up to high places (double jumps and wall-jumps are also possible), and slam enemies onto surfaces. It’s a pinnacle move that I always found myself incorporating into combos and for general exploration. Having the player control like a ninja competing in the Olympics is such a great design choice that I was hooked on the control style immediately.
Then we have the game’s structure, which consists of a phoenix-style emphasis on improvement through rebirth. With every death, one is transported to The Chiming Tree, where one can spend points accumulated by defeating mini-bosses/bosses (one of each per area) on upgrades to make the journey easier. As of Early Access, ScourgeBringer has three areas to conquer, each with specific enemies and atmospheres. If one dies, they’re transported back to the very beginning, in typical rogue-lite fashion. Each upgrade is saved, as well, so continued playthroughs will only get easier with each death (or completions). This almost ensures that the control style has to hold up over the course of a gradually more lenient difficulty curve, which could turn off veteran players.
With repeated runs, I couldn’t help but notice large similarities with each area. Some distinction can be made with the third area, which has additional death traps adorned on room structures, though everything is still laid out similarly. Zipping through every area has an almost isolating effect through its small size and box-like outer shell. It can be discouraging to some to have future areas that do little to differentiate themselves as “new.” Even the enemy variety, which is at least present, only goes so far to provide true distinction. Floating gourd-like enemies that shoot laser shots can be found in every area, with little variety. In all, there are probably ten or so different enemy types in the entire game, not including bigger versions. What could be the biggest issue facing ScourgeBringer‘s eventual release is an issue of making things feel truly different with each run. A lack of enemy and area distinction could make repeated playthroughs—a crutch of the genre—not as enticing.
Another common implementation for rogue-lites include shop areas, which this game also does. It goes one step further, however, by also including an altar that powers up the player with specific perks. Both of these provide potential hospice for players, specifically for those struggling. All of the wares and perks are random, however, which can be frustrating for those desiring health items. These random aspects make up somewhat for the forgiving aspects of the game, adding a little pungent challenge to the remains of a rather simple game. In the end, it really comes down to the fun of airborne frenzies and speedrunning tendencies. If that’s the glamour to your world, this one is worth traveling into (apocalypse notwithstanding).
Graphics & Sound
Alluded to a few times early on, ScourgeBringer has pixel quality that rivals that of AAA titles, and it’s only in Early Access! The very title card gives off the impression of extravagant detail to be found within. As much of a shame as it is that each area isn’t more distinct, the visual details provided do some justice in making things interesting. Complimentary colors like dark purples, blues, and reds clash with the blazing battle effects that emphasize speed. Kyhra doesn’t look great, but the enemies combated have vivid bodies that invoke their strengths almost immediately. My personal favorites come in the form of laser-forming ice crystals in the second area, which are also among the most annoying enemies in-game. Such spectacle only makes the violent tendencies of action all the more thrilling, and the bosses have that same allure. To put it bluntly, this is a great-looking game.
What I expected the soundtrack to consist of going into it: synthwave, heavy drumbeats, and subtle ambience. What I got: heavy rock/metal, with some subtle ambience. It can take a lot to surprise me when it comes to games, but ScourgeBringer surprised me with its battle themes. The drones of low guitar chords constantly strumming as the action kicks in. It’s almost poetic, and not something I’ve encountered often, specifically with indie titles. What plays within The Chiming Tree was more what I would’ve expected, which isn’t necessarily an issue. However, most that I will remember will come from that first foray into action, with the instrumentation jamming. That surprise and awe will etch its place into my mind, though I can’t say the same for much else. It’s passable, though nothing with the same quality of overall impact as the visual appeal.