Sproggiwood is a cutesy, silly, top-down turn-based RPG-cum-roguelite. With city building elements. Like buses, eh? I’ve had a good play of it, and can give you some impressions.
I’m really enjoying this era we’re in. Having somehow written about videogame toys for the last fifteen years, I don’t remember a time when things have felt quite so experimental. Of course, that’s in large part due to the rise and rise of the indie scene, and of self-published titles on digital distribution instead of boxed games on shop shelves. It means that rather than each game attempting to be a duplication of the most recently successful game by someone else, developers are far more likely to iterate on each others’ ideas.
This means there are many failures among their numbers, but it also means an awful lot more games falling into the obscured middle – that place between noticeably great, and noticeably terrible. Sproggiwood finds itself in that obscured middle.
A more cynical perception of the innovation I described in the first paragraph could be to suggest there’s also a bit of fruit machining going on. Developers pulling the be-knobbed arm, and seeing which three gaming concepts shunk-shunk-shunk into place. Sproggiwood certainly has a tone of that too. The first dial cane to rest on top-down RPG, the second on rogue-lite, and the third came to a stop on turn-based strategy.
The result is something that looks an awful lot like Ittle Dew, but plays an awful lot like Pixel Dungeon meets Legends Of Yore, while having an extremely minimal town-building element on the side. And it’s utterly unobjectionable.
Your guide in a strange world (apparently based on Finnish folklore?) is Sproggi, a little pixie-thing of confusing morality. He gives you quests, which involve fighting your way through randomly generated dungeons, levelling up your chosen class from scratch each time, to defeat a tougher boss beastie and recover a chest.
There are four classes available near the start: farmer, warrior, thief and archer, and replaying a quest with each gets you further bonuses and extras. In quests, everything you pick up along the way (levels, skills, potions, scrolls…) disappear when you return. However, gold is kept, and can be used to buy better equipment for each class (swords, armour, bows, etc) in the betwixt level shop, which are permanent additions.
While you kick off each new quest with no skills, they’re quickly added as you level up, letting you work out the best string of additions for each character. And as you progress, new enemies discovered in later quests will appear in the older ones, offering a tougher challenge. It’s an interesting balance between the purist clean slate of a roguelike, and the progressive nature of an RPG. There’s always a sense of starting from scratch, but you can speed up that process as you tweak and improve.
And it’s fine. Which is, as ever, a lot harder to communicate than “amazing!” or “terrible!”. It’s fun, quite silly, engaging in its own way. But it’s not compelling, nor as funny as I think it wanted to be. The urge to replay a dungeon with a different class just isn’t there for me, since levels are not especially distinct.
Which leads me to wonder, would my attitude to this game be completely different if I were playing it on my Android tablet? I’ve sunk so many hours into Legends Of Yore that you’d not be able to look me in the eye if I told you (I’m level 148 with my current character) and I’m pretty certain all the same complaints could be levelled at it. And the ridiculous time I’ve sunk into Pixel Dungeon is equally tough to justify in this light.
In fact, it’s absolutely bewildering to me that this hasn’t been a tablet game. The entire interface looks like it’s been slightly clumsily ported across from one, right down to a big, pointless movement wheel that you could awkwardly click on with the mouse if for some reason WASD offends you. Every element of the interface looks deliberately designed for a touchscreen, despite the game currently only being available on PC. The result is a bit of a higgledy-piggledy mess of controls, with Spacebar sometimes being ‘attack’, sometimes being ‘wait’, which invariably leads to disaster.
At £11 on Steam, £9.50 on Humble, even the price falls into the realm of “fine”, not being outrageously expensive for the small scale of the game, although certainly not being cheap enough to encourage an impulse buy. Were it £3.50 on the Google Play store, I wouldn’t hesitate, but here, well, hesitation. It’s fine!