The first time you start-up Curses ‘n’ Chaos, you’ll see the beautifully animated intro sequence, telling us the story of two warriors being cursed by the Wizard King, to be forever dogged by Death himself. Allison, an alchemist who saves the warriors from the reaper’s clutches, declares that the only way to lift the curse is to concoct the Elixir of Life. Finding the ingredients requires you to fight monsters, Allison announces gleefully.
It’s best not to think of the story on offer here, it’s paper thin and really only exists to give the player a reason to punch monsters in the face for hours on end. Strange then, that Tribute Games decided to open the game with a menu screen, without explanation. Selecting ‘fight’ will give you the option to choose one of the two characters, though neither choice will affect the gameplay in any way, and then you’ll drop right into the action.
Upon starting the first wave, you’ll notice the stunning background art that brings to mind the 2D Castlevania games. The pixel art here is top-notch, with incredible detail in both the settings and the enemy creatures. From floating skulls and giant frogs, to bears and cute little anime-inspired witches, they’re all well animated and look great. The same can’t be said about the player characters, however. They’re still well animated, but there’s nowhere near the level of detail, looking like 8-bit characters in a 16-bit setting. It’s very jarring.
The gameplay itself is fun though, as you punch and kick your way through each wave of enemies. The simplistic fighting can get repetitive, but it does reward quick reactions as you chain together attacks and increase your chances of better item drops from downed monsters. Your attack chain is broken whenever you take a hit, which can happen unfairly at times as an enemy manages to knock you down without actually touching you, or even as your fist connects with their face. Learning the exact patterns for every enemy seems to be the way forward, but it does create a rather large barrier to entry for players just looking for a fun button-masher.
There are several screens to play through in Curses ‘n’ Chaos, each with ten waves of enemies and ending with a boss fight. Boss fights are challenging but fun, moving away from the chain mechanic and forcing you to just survive as you learn their movement patterns and counter accordingly. The twist in the game is that there is a time limit for each wave, but reaching zero doesn’t hit you with a ‘game over’ here, instead Death appears and you can still finish off the last enemies before he kills you in one hit of his scythe. During boss battles, certain attacks produce time bonuses that hold off Death’s entrance, but sometimes these attacks don’t come. If this happens then you’re left flailing around, trying to avoid Death and fight the boss – frustrating doesn’t quite cover how it feels when this happens.
No matter how you end your time in each level, whether you beat the boss or die trying, you’ll take away the money earned. Returning to the menu shown at the beginning of the game, you can choose to buy items either for use in-game (cannonballs can be shot across the screen, potions restore health, shurikens and bows deal standard damage, etc.) or to mix together in order to produce more powerful items – or even ingredients necessary to create the Elixir of Life and beat the game. You’ll probably find yourself creating junk most of the time though.
The music is a particular highlight of the game, with its energetic chiptune stylings that perfectly suit the frantic brawling on-screen. The rest of the sound is fairly standard, even dull at times, but the music tracks do make up for the rest of the game’s audio failings.
Curses ‘n’ Chaos seems designed for two players, be it local or online (it even offers cross-play – and cross-buy – between PS4 and Vita), but the latter is only really feasible with friends as trying to find a public game is nigh impossible. This is a real shame, as the game could be so much more fun with others, sharing lives between the two characters and forcing you to cooperate.
Tribute Games has created a genuinely fun game here, but regular players will soon find themselves tiring of the repetitive gameplay and tough difficulty, meaning that only the hardcore gamers will get anything of value from Curses ‘n’ Chaos.
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