By John Walker on August 23rd, 2013 at 5:00 pm.
I’m very easily pleased. Just sit me down in front of an episode of Man Vs Food Nation, give me a killer sudoku, and I’m out of your hair. Similarly, give me a toppish-down or platforming rogue-like-like (as I think we’re all agreeing they should be known), and I’ll very likely be kept happy and out from under your feet. Which means it takes me some considerable effort to work out if the one that’s currently distracting me is doing so because it’s good, or because it’s there. I’m still trying to figure that out for Full Mojo Rampage. Either way, I can’t deny that I’m happily wiling away a few hours with its alpha. Also, gosh, I didn’t realise how much I’d missed circle-strafing.
There are all the usual alpha access predicaments here. It’s impossible to know what’s not in the game yet, and what’s never going to be. Is this slightly dissatisfying feature a result of unfinished development? How much more embellished will it become? I don’t know! I’m the worst psychic.
What we’ve got here so far is a meeting of a hack-me-do Torchlight-like, with a rogueish deadliness and procedurally generated dungeons. Yup, down with that. Rather than choosing a class, you instead choose a sort of god thing, for a peculiarly Westernised take on voodoo themes, and then augment with various pins and dolls, and the like. The deity you opt for changes what your special moves are, but leaves your basic combat the same – a ranged magic attack (that can be briefly improved with dropped magic wands as you explore). Further specialisation tends to be a lot more on the hoof.
However, there’s progression here. Death is very much the end, but gains along the way can change how you start over. Money, medals and XP gathered along the way can improve your character, spent on new “pins” that adjust your starting health, power, etc. It’s a little bit Rogue Legacy in this regard. Levelling up also improves overall stats, and in the full version of the game you’ll be able to unlock new deities, and new abilities they bless upon you.
The game itself is spent doing an awful lot of running in circles, literally, which is generally rather splendid. Circle-strafing is the order of the day, while weaving your way in between the dozen or so enemies you’re not currently targeting. The game’s as much about avoiding their ranged attacks as it is about slaloming between them without making any contact – generally bumping into baddies has the most heinous effect on your precious health. That’s made even more tricky since they spawn into the levels, rather than wander them waiting for you. And usually that’s something I find problematic, but for some reason – perhaps the game’s releasing a gas that’s breaking my mind – here it feels appropriate, enhances the twitchy reflex arcardiness of it.
As you go you pick up “mojos”, which are trinkets that when in your Equipment slots can boost stats or give you advantages. At the start you’ll have two equipment slots, and two or three inventory slots. These numbers go up during each game as you find bags, and can be permanently raised with tweaks made after a death. Deciding what you’ll equip, what you’ll keep, and what you’re forced to leave behind lets you fine tune on the fly, and occasionally you’ll find vendors who’ll buy stuff off you for a small puddle of coins.
Here’s what’s most impressed me: the changes. Each time you play through, while the levels go in a thematically similar order, the experience is surprisingly different. Not only are dungeons procedurally generated, meaning you get a unique run each time, but the missions and events can change too. So while in this alpha your primary tasks will be to shut portals, along the way you’ll not only have dungeons that might feature new elements, secret rooms, and the like, but also completely unique areas with specific missions. One time through I had to clear out a nest of giant spiders. Another time that area was a shop, letting me pick up some new dolls. Another tasked me to defend a group of friendly zombies from invading baby skellingtons.
Despite this, the issue at this point, as I see it, is one of balance. It doesn’t quite have that magic timing of a rogue-like-like quite right. Games last a bit too long to justify the huge amount of progress you need to repeat to reach your fail point. And while the finished version will let you continue from the start of its second chapter, getting that far currently takes a bit too long. Defeat is significant, as it should be for the genre, but the setback here feels a little much, despite the variety in another turn. Although, saying that, I do keep having another turn.
Certainly worthy of special mention are the graphics. The design and character animation is really stunning, each enemy utterly wonderfully realised and distinct. Learning attack patterns is relatively simple thanks to how quickly you get to know each type (something Teleglitch fans will perhaps find a dramatic relief!), and there’s a ton of them even in this early build. It never looks less than splendid.
Full Mojo hasn’t made me feel the need to reach for the klaxons in quite the way first encountering Rogue Legacy did. But it remains a really engrossing time. Like I say, it’s not always immediately possible to determine quite how much of that is due to the game’s kindly ticking a bunch of boxes that’s the equivalent of stroking my nose and giving me a ball of wool to play with, but I suspect there’s a fair bit more going on here. £13.49 seems a lot to ask for an unfinished, significantly incomplete game, so as ever this comes with that raised eyebrow of “do you really want to pay that much to playtest someone’s game?”. But I’m also pretty sure at this point it’ll be a good price by the time it’s a finished thing.