Wot I Think: Caveblazers

There are a lot of games that look like they might give me that Spelunky feeling but most of them just leave me feeling a little empty. Not Caveblazers [official site] though. Rupeck Games’ debut captures the craft and chaotic delights of Spelunky better than anything I’ve played since Spelunky itself though and it has quickly become one of my favourite roguelike platformers.

I’m twice the man I used to be, strictly in terms of hitpoints, and this funky sword I found sets almost everything I touch on fire. They bleed as well, which seems like an appropriate response to being hit in the face with a sword. A demonic eye hovers around my head like a furious jelly drone, zapping orcs, bats and slimes if they stray too close. Oh, and I’m a vampiric sort, taking life from every foe I slay, but fading slowly whenever I go some time without tasting the blood of the fallen.

And then a giant mutant spider burns me to bits with a laser beam and I’m back to square one, half the man I used to be and with a measly bow and rusty sword to my name. I’ve unlocked a new hat though, so that’s something.

Caveblazers does not care how strong a character you’ve built; it’ll find a way to kill you, either through emergent catastrophes and chain reactions involving explosions, arrows, spikes and tumbling, or through an ill-timed boss for which your painfully unsuited in your current form. It can be a cruel game but in twenty five hours of playing, I haven’t once wanted to walk away.

I die and I start again, even though I’m barely able to get past the third area and sometimes struggle to see any uptick in my survival odds despite the lessons I’m learning, and the many items and abilities I’m unlocking as I go. The key to Caveblazers is that, like Spelunky, it’s a wonderful challenge that I’m committed to overcoming, but it also tells some of its best stories at the moment when everything goes wrong.

The physics are spot on. Arrows, fired using the right stick of a controller (which both I and the game would recommend, though mouse and keyboard works well enough), start to drop when they travel around half a screen, and can be fired in eight directions. You might even replace your bow with a sling that lobs bombs, which have more weight, and there are sticky grenades and stun orbs and all sorts of other items to throw as well. They all have just enough bounce and heft to allow for ricochets and awkward bounces, and creatures move superbly as well.

You can climb by jumping against walls and the AI will do that, which leads to gangs of goblins clambering toward you, sometimes slipping and impaling themselves on spikes, or flooding across a platform like a green tide. When everything on a level is in motion at the same time, there can be so much to keep track of, from dive-bombing bats to cheeky archers and angry floating skulls. And everything is capable of interacting with everything else, which leads back into those glorious chain reactions, which were such a hallmark of Spelunky. At times, Caveblazers is a factory of pratfalls and close shaves.

But there’s precision in there as well. My best runs have had me on the edge of my seat, clinging on to life with a handful of hitpoints and hoping a life-giving shrine will be just off-screen. I’m cautious in those situations, inching forward and defending high ground, battering enemies back with whatever weapon I’ve managed to loot. There are explosive blue bastards, essentially sentient detonations-in-waiting, that launch themselves into the air and then draw an arrow onto the screen toward the nearest hero. They then fly in that direction, exploding if they make contact with a person.

They are terrible things, especially for the cautious, wounded adventurer, not because they do MASSIVE DAMAGE, but because they create chaos. Scenery falls away, your character is launched through the air. There is a very brief but total loss of control.

The tug of war between control and chaos is the core of Caveblazers. Every item you find goes into your substantial backpack, and that gives you a sense of control over when to use those colourful but unidentified potions, or which weapons or magical items to use in any given situation. There are perks to pick from, unlocked as you play, and these will influence the kind of build you want, but you’re always victim to chance.

The pool of items isn’t enormous but there’s enough variety that, as The Rolling Stones wailed, you can’t always get what you want. The trick is to stay alive long enough that the random number generator favours you and you finally get what you need. And to stay alive, you’ll need to master movement and combat.

Fighting is simple. Ranged weapons – from bows to handcannons – on the right stick and melee attacks on a single button. Up to three swings can connect together in a combo, culminating in a heavy swipe. This allows you to juggle enemies slightly, or knock them backwards into traps, and your two basic weapons can be combined with magical items that can repel creatures, fire missiles or make great whopping spectral fists or spinning swords among other things.

Essentially, the randomised loot means that sometimes you’re going to be the vampire with the demonic eye fleet and the dragon sword, and sometimes you’re going to be a chap in dungarees with a sharp stick.

I’m getting into the details and the details are important, but the most important thing is that Caveblazers is the best Spelunky-like game since Spelunky. I’ve seen it described as a hybrid of Spelunky and Risk of Rain, and there’s some truth to that. At times it feels more like Spelunky RPG edition, or what I imagine a Spelunky sequel might have looked like.

The truth is that a game I installed on the off-chance it might give me a little bit of that Spelunky feeling has ended up being one of my favourites of the year so far, and an outstanding example of how to borrow and remould elements of a seminal indie title. There’s so much to admire, from the graphical flourishes as crates splinter and corpses cartoonishly slop and slide down walls leaving trails of blood, to the other heroes (AI controlled) who will assist you, but also steal loot from under your nose. Not everything pleases me – I wish there were more variety in the areas and the enemies met, and that the bosses didn’t just get more hitpoints from one stage to the next. They’re brill designs, but the game cycles them randomly so as you progress, you just end up with stronger versions rather than new variants, and that just makes for longer, repetitive battles.

But these are small complaints. Caveblazers is superb and I’m looking forward to discovering all of its secrets, and to the local multiplayer add-on that’s apparently coming soon. I can see myself playing for years to come.

Caveblazers is available now for Windows, via Steam and the Humble Store, for £6.99.

26 Comments

  1. Sp4rkR4t says:

    I saw the Yogscast logo on the trailer, If I buy it am I giving those people any money?

    • Merry says:

      I have asked them

      Perhaps you should too?

    • Bullfrog says:

      I believe they are publishing this so probably yes.

    • GeoX says:

      Wait, am I supposed to like Yogscast or hate them? Context, people!

      • Sezze says:

        GeoX, there’s not really any reason to dislike them. The Yogscast makes YouTube videos which are meant to be entertaining, but if you don’t like their humor then of course you won’t like their content, but they are still nice passionate people so them publishing a game should definitely not be a reason to avoid it.

        • GeoX says:

          I don’t dislike them; I don’t know anything about them. But it seemed like some people were hinting that there was reason to.

    • Solidstate89 says:

      They’re publishing it, so yeah.

  2. Merry says:

    Ugh

    Please can we ban roguelike, war, zombie, pixel, erm visceral, frantic … etc. and all that from RPS?

    Everything like this is clearly not a game

  3. Viral Frog says:

    Then I must not like video games at all because, with the exception of zombie, those words sum up the majority of my favorite games. Err, not-games. My favorite not-games.

    (This was intended to be a response to Merry ^)

  4. caff says:

    I’m really pleased.

    I love the Yogscast – they are a great bunch who have done an incredible amount for charity via humblebundle over the years.

    Yes, there was a bad experience with a developer a few years back with promises they couldn’t deliver on, but that’s nothing unusual.

    This sounds great and I will be buying.

  5. Ejia says:

    If I hate roguelikes, would this change my mind? I don’t even completely like roguelites like FTL and Risk of Rain, and I certainly didn’t enjoy Spelunky.

    • LTK says:

      Neither Spelunky nor Risk of Rain really grabbed me when I played them so it seems unlikely that this game would be suited to the likes of us.

    • esooly says:

      try enter the gungeon

    • PharaohAtem says:

      I suggest to you “Rogue Legacy”. It’s my personal favorite Rogue-Lite.

    • rgk says:

      Ignore everything else and try Dead Cells.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Dorga says:

    Sounds brillo.
    Adam have you tried Catacomb Kids? You should.

  7. Catchcart says:

    There are a lot of games that look like they might give me that Spelunky feeling but most of them just leave me feeling a little empty.

    My experience, exactly.

    At times it feels more like Spelunky RPG edition, or what I imagine a Spelunky sequel might have looked like.

    I want to believe. But my library is just littered with these. People have been trying to capture the spelunkiness of Spelunky for years. My guess is we’ll never really hit it until Yu donates his brain to science and we can carve it out in delicious gooey chunks.

  8. blind_boy_grunt says:

    half the review i was screaming “no”, “No no”, “hell no”. Swords with modular dmg, “tug of war between control and chaos”. Spelunky is none of these things, every item has a singular reason for existing, some more useful than others. And there is no tug between control and chaos. If you loose control, you loose, unless you are very lucky. But that is how i play spelunky, yama or its a lost run. But after the half of the review and i must say the game sounds interesting.

    • shinkshank says:

      I felt similarly reading through it. “Spelunky but RPG” is sort of exactly in the opposite direction of what Spelunky was trying to do, be “Roguelike but without RPG”. It very intentionally did away with stuff like stats, inventories and loot dependency, which is what made it great. I’m also very un-enthusiastic about having to unlock gear, because meta-progression systems have never felt like anything other than an artificial way to hook me into playing the game some more.

      But I guess I’d have to give it a shot before I can really poo-poo it, since the real meat of Spelunky is the pin-point precise and fast-paced gameplay, which apparently this game does provide.

  9. Hoot says:

    Man, the list of candidates that I wanna do Let’s Plays for (link to youtube.com) just keeps increasing.

    I gotta finish my current ones and maybe start up Dead Cells and this. If it’s half as good as Spelunky then it sounds like it’s gonna be an essential purchase. Graphically though it looks like a prettier version of Risk of Rain.

  10. Marclev says:

    So … it’s another Roguelike?

  11. Jeremy says:

    Arg… this looks so good. I just picked up Dead Cells, has anyone played BOTH games? I’m curious to know what sort of differences there are between the two, and whether I should hold off on getting this.