Roguelikes are everywhere you look these days, with the big names like Dark Souls and Bloodborne (yes, they’re roguelikes) bringing in the big bucks and new audiences, to well-known indie titles such as Rogue Legacy and Spelunky, all the way down to lesser known ones such as Hammerwatch and the new Early Access title from Unika Games: Endorlight.
At present the game is still in Alpha stage, meaning it is currently lacking anything like a tutorial or intro sequence (whether either of those will be added later isn’t clear) and isn’t free of bugs and other issues. It is surprisingly polished for a game in Alpha, however. A side-scrolling platform action roguelike may not slide off the tongue easily, but it sums up the game better than any other description. The aim of the game is, well, there isn’t one as of yet, you merely collect treasure and try to survive for as long as possible while descending through increasingly difficult levels.
With partial controller support extending to the gameplay only, navigating menus is left to the mouse, it means that controlling the little pixel art adventurer is as simple as moving the analog stick and pressing a few buttons. These buttons are configurable so you can remap the jump, whip, axe and bow buttons to your most comfortable layout. Yes, there really are three different weapons to use, with more to be added in updates as the game reaches Beta.
All this sounds simple enough, but things do become quite difficult as you descend lower into Endorlight’s cavernous levels. The enemies don’t change much, most simply move from one end of their platform to the other, but the damage they do increases upon contact. The damage levels do seem to vary at random however, meaning that you’re never quite sure how many hearts of health you’ll lose and when you only have five at the start of every level, regardless of whether you ended the previous level with more, combined with the permadeath mechanic, it makes for a potentially frustrating experience. This also becomes a problem when enemy placements become rather unfair, even going so far as to drop them at the start of a level, leading to unavoidable and extremely cheap loss of health.
Health bonuses can be discovered throughout each level, increasing your maximum health for the duration of that particular stage. This is due to change is an imminent update, with these upgrades being offered by a merchant instead (much like Spelunky). With this merchant in place, it would make much more sense to collect the treasures and gold scattered around the game, in chests and crates. Some crates are booby-trapped, a bomb dropping instead of loot and exploding after a second or two, giving you the slightest opportunity to escape unharmed. Unless it decides to explode without warning upon hitting the crate, which happens A LOT. This is another flaw that ruins a roguelike, as it can result in instant death if you aren’t careful and lose you hours of progress through no fault of your own, merely a design flaw.
Explosions can at least be useful, as Endorlight’s environments are fully destructible. Choose the right moment to hit that exploding enemy with a shot from your bow and it could cause the floor to crumble away, opening up a shortcut to the level below, avoiding a tough section or perhaps gaining access to a treasure chest that may have been out of reach otherwise. This brings a tactical edge to the game from time to time, and getting that stroke of luck with enemy placement can result in a spectacular shower of rubble and the pixelated corpses of creatures unfortunate enough to be within the blast radius, via some impressive physics. There does appear to a significant, albeit seemingly random, bug in relation to these big blasts, crashing the game back to desktop and wiping your progress. Being in Alpha does have its drawbacks, after all.
The explosive content does require sound, another matter hopefully to be resolved in Beta, as it’s currently an oddly silent affair. A strange thing to leave out at the beginning of development, especially as all attacks have sound and the soundtrack blares out nicely throughout the game – only the one track at the moment, which can get repetitive despite its catchiness. The game’s presentation as a whole is good though, especially at such an early stage, with a solid framerate delivering a largely enjoyable gameplay experience and basic-but-colourful art direction.
Are there changes that need to be made? Absolutely. The character’s speed is too quick to gather speed and too slow to stop, meaning the platforming has its awkward and painful moments; enemy designs could be more varied and their placement could be made fairer; more music tracks are necessary; and much more. All these changes may well be on the horizon considering the nature of the Early Access system, along with the proposed additions of bosses, new biomes and Steam leaderboards, all adding up to a game that has some potential.
At such a low price (the game is currently £1.99, although the developer seems unsure whether it will remain that price upon completion) Endorlight offers an enjoyable roguelike game, though whether it can reach the level of quality seen in Spelunky or Rogue Legacy is unlikely despite its potential.
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