Roguelikes are deceptively simple but extremely difficult to perfect, both in play and design. For those unfamiliar with the term, a roguelike is originally a game with three major elements, permanent death, randomly generated dungeons or areas and turn based gameplay. As the genre evolved “real time” aspects from other genres were introduced. The great appeal of a roguelike is the very high stakes of death, once you die you can’t reload. Many people initially associate this with frustration, reminding themselves of the days when save games didn’t exist. However with randomly generated levels each playthrough is very different, with the interesting side-effect that it becomes impossible to beat the game by simply memory alone. The only way you get better is by mastering the underlying systems of the game and hence the experience becomes less about beating the game itself, but competing against yourself. A good roguelike is a very pure example of why we play games, not for reaching the end goal but the enjoyment we experience or knowledge we gain along the way. POLYGOD certainly takes a solid shot at the genre, let’s see if it hits the target.
POLYGOD drops you in with little explanation, for a roguelike this is a good thing, part of the enjoyment is figuring the game out for yourself. Likewise, POLYGOD literally drops you in, you start each level by falling from great height, giving you a glimpse of the entire stage. But before you enter any randomly generated areas you are given time to explore a sort of hub. Strange characters speak in rather cryptic messages, only giving you more questions of the strange world you occupy, rather than answer any. Thoughtful ambient music accompanies you wherever you aren’t fighting, yet again implying there is more to this place than meets the eye.
Most of your actions will be moving, jumping and shooting, but occasionally using right click to operate some specific Blessings, POLYGOD’s term for power-ups. Your initial movement is very fast and most enemies will shoot bullets in a similar way to yourself, the projectiles moving just about slow enough to dodge out the way. The first zone consists of lush green trees and bushes with a few futuristic orange bladed wind turbines for extra charm. POLYGOD is purposefully going a garish look, it doesn’t always work but it does manage to pull it off most of the time.
The enemy placement in each level and the procedural level design never feels unfair. However the enemies lack some audio cues, creating some annoying situations when an enemy sneaks up behind you. Additionally, after getting hit there is no period of vulnerability, some enemies which shoot multiple bullets at once can easily kill you in a fraction of a second. Some flying enemies have a tendency move erratically, sometimes charging towards you and also killing you almost instantly. I have nothing wrong with dying quickly, this is a roguelike after all, however the unpredictable nature of some of the enemies can be especially frustrating.
Each zone has numerous altars where you can upgrade your abilities with a choice of 3 Blessings. Ranging from some basic health and damage upgrades, to far more interesting abilities, one of which lets you greatly increase your damage if you right click to pray beforehand. After a few hours of play you’ll probably come across all 56 blessings, however you can combine them in a myriad of ways to create some really interesting builds. In a way very reminiscent of The Binding of Isaac, you’ll find yourself cackling with glee when you combine a blessing that multiplies your bullets and one that also sends shrapnel in all directions. Sometimes these Blessings come with a disadvantage, one time I bought too many damage blessings that also decreased my movement speed. I could destroy almost anything in one hit, but I had no chance to dodge anything. With a promised total of 100 blessings in the final game, POLYGOD creates some really interesting decisions. You’ll have you weigh up practicality, personal preference and cost each time you come across an altar. There is also a multiplayer mode with randomly generated maps, but unfortunately I didn’t get to try this out.
In POLYGOD’s current form, there is no doubt it’s greatly lacking in balance. The second zone feels refreshingly different to the first, the wide open sea means you can snipe enemies from a distance. However unpredictable flying enemies might have you quitting the game with frustration. With the POLYGOD being in early access however, and the developer giving a specific emphasis on balance this isn’t as much of an issue until the final release. It will probably frustrate you and it’s certainly not finished, but there is no doubt POLYGOD is brimming with potential, and presently there is lots of fun to be had. If you’re the kind of player that likes to jump on message boards and discuss balance, you’ll enjoy watching POLYGOD grow with time. If you aren’t that kind of person, perhaps wait a bit and see what has changed in a few months.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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