Bard’s Gold is a fairly simple rogue-like with a few quirks that are unique enough to easily differentiate it from other similar games. Without much backstory or context, the player is thrust into the role of a Bard searching to take back his gold. This lack of context carries over into the gameplay where we don’t get any sort of tutorial, not uncommon for games like this.
Rogue-like games have been around for quite a while. In fact, Bard’s Gold has many staples of classic rogue-likes, such as challenging levels and many secrets. Games being alike is nothing new and has helped to create many of the great games we have today. The main difference between Bard’s Gold and most others is how it determines what you do AFTER you die. Rogue-likes accept (and force you to accept) that death happens. A rogue-like that handles death in a way I enjoy is Rogue Legacy. In Rogue Legacy, when you die, you spend your money on upgrades for your next of kin, whatever you don’t use, you lose.
This is where Bard’s Gold does something different. Bard’s Gold allows the player to use their gems on upgrades that retain the progress you’ve made towards them. For example, if an upgrade costs 5000 gems, you can sink 2500 into it without worrying about losing that progress. This is not the case in most other rogue-likes. Most times you simply lose whatever you gained or only get to keep upgrades you can afford at the end of a run (e.g. Rogue Legacy). This is the first thing about Bard’s Gold that makes it feel very forgiving. Personally, this forgiving feeling made me come back to the game over and over again without worrying about ‘wasting my time’.
Another feature that supports this feeling is the difficulty setting and lives system. There are three difficulties: Normal (more lives, less gems, less randomness, checkpoints active), Retro (less lives, medium gems, medium randomness, checkpoints active), and Rogue-Like (life bar, most gems, most randomness, no checkpoints). In normal and retro, you will retain the upgrades you’ve acquired and will be able to choose which world you’d like to go to (after clearing previous worlds). On the flip-side, Rogue-Like allows players to relive the old days of hardcore rogue-likes where you only get one life per run and when you die, you lose everything. This means all gems, progress, and upgrades bought from the shop. Bard’s Gold also sports a shop that appears in every 2-3 levels. This shop has everything from lives, weapon damage upgrades, weapon type upgrades (3-way dagger/throwing axe), to bubbles that protect the player for one hit. These shops are fairly common and prices aren’t too high. With these shops and the upgrades at the end of each run, players are forced to decide if they’d rather spend their gems during the run or after it ends. This creates a wonderful risk-reward scenario where buying that bubble may be the difference between life and death against the boss at the end of the world.
As far as bosses go, I wish I could have made more progress. I was personally only able to defeat the first boss and come within a level or two of the second. The boss fight I did encounter was entertaining enough if not a little too easy. There seems to be mini-bosses through out the game that are much larger and meaner than other enemies in the levels. One of the ones I fought followed me though out the level and didn’t stop because there was terrain, this forced me to run and jump all over the area trying to keep some distance between me and him. With how the life systems works, it doesn’t matter what hits you, you’ll lose a life with only one touch. This means that even normal enemies will give players as much grief as bosses or mini-bosses. There is a plethora of enemies to stop you on your journey. Some of these are as typical as slimes and beholders , while others are as strange as flying books and pale lumbering monsters that look like boxing champions. For as many enemies as each level has, it has nearly the same (if not more) traps. These traps include wall spikes, retracting floor spikes, ceiling spikes that occasionally fall, spikes on floating blocks, and pressure plates that shoot arrows from across the level.
Bard’s Gold isn’t all death and despair, however. The game features an interesting take on another rogue-like staple, secrets. Bard’s Gold hides secrets in plain sight, only truly visible when wearing Magic Glasses. These glasses are a piece of equipment that makes sparkles appear that the player can shoot to have gems, map fragments, or the occasional secret door appear. These secrets make grinding for gems much easier and fun. Even if the game can be a bit repetitive, learning from each level feels fun and rewarding. There are more secrets in Bard’s Gold, but I can’t be giving ALL of them away. If you’d like to see how you fair and find what you can find, pick up Bard’s Gold. At five dollars, you won’t find yourself trying to reclaim what you lost like our ill-fated Bard.
[Post-completion note: After sitting down and putting more time and patience behind my play style, I managed to complete the whole game in one run. It was very fun and rewarding. I realize now how important patience is in this game and that makes it all the more intriguing.]
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