Caveblazers is an interesting contrast to Spelunky

I keep playing Caveblazers [official site], stopping between lives only to message people to complain about Caveblazers. The roguelike-platformer has so many systems I find frustrating or unsatisfactory, but one big thing that keeps drawing me back.

I often see Caveblazers described as being like a “Spelunky 2”, and I can see why. They’re both 2D, sidescrolling platformers with roguelike elements, in which you crawl through dungeons, progress into different worlds, and deal with shrines. Both have daily challenge modes and both are, in the early levels, very brown. But I feel like all of these things could be said of a great many games, and Spelunky is mostly useful to me as a way to talk about Caveblazers’ many differences.

For example, Spelunky is a true platformer, in that many of its challenges involve precision jumping – across lava pits, above spikes, to avoid enemies, or to bonk enemies on the head. Caveblazers by comparison has few environment hazards, its spikes aren’t insta-kill, enemies can’t be head-bonked, and the player character takes no fall damage. This is all stuff I like.

Caveblazers is instead a game much more about combat. By default, you have a sword for melee and a bow for ranged attacks. You’ll reach the exit on each procedural level mainly by correctly killing enemies with those two weapons. This is where we get into the things I dislike.

I don’t think the melee combat is actually any good, because the game resists attempts to be precise. You obviously need to get up close and personal with enemies in order to hit them with your sword or whip or whatever, but all the characters are small, move quickly, and overlap in small spaces. It’s great that you don’t take damage for simply touching an enemy, but the overlap means that it’s hard to see signs of a coming enemy attack, and hard to tell whether your next blow is going to hit the enemy or hit behind the enemy. Even if you do detect a coming enemy attack, there’s no shield, dodge-roll or equivalent. The surest way to avoid the attack is to jump, which removes you from combat and often from the area of combat.

The result is that melee combat consists of a lot of spamming the attack button and bouncing around and past your enemy, while they do the same. It’s unsatisfying when you eventually do strike a killing blow as a result – I feel relief, but never feel in control.

Another side effect is that it’s really difficult to avoid taking damage altogether. If I win a melee fight without getting hit, it feels like luck, and a certain percentage of the time, I’m going to lose some health. Most attacks in the early game take away around 10 hitpoints from your starting pool of 100, which is relatively generous. I like the generosity, but it leads to deaths that happen because you’ve been gradually worn down across 50 enemies, with one in five getting a single hit.

Again, the comparison to Spelunky is useful here. In Spelunky, my death is almost always a story to tell, and often a funny one. “Oh, I was floating across the ice caves with a parachute and didn’t see that rock on a bouncepad. It knocked me unconscious then hit me three more times before I could wake up.” In Caveblazers, you die normally because a guy you’ve already killed 20 of got one blow on you and took away your last seven health points. That’s a story, but it’s a boring one and the only one.

I could keep going with the knock on effects of this. Here’s one more: health is found via randomly distributed meat and hearts found in chests, or purchased with gold via shrines. Because combat whittles your health little by little, your success is often highly dependent on the RNG of these health packs. Compare that with Spelunky, which had an almost guaranteed source of health on each level (the damsel/mansel/pug), but required you to take an extra risk (and therefore create a better story) to get it.

Let’s stop though, because I’ve been playing Caveblazers more and more with each passing day for the past week. I’ve criticised melee combat, but not mentioned ranged.

I love ranged combat. That’s true in most games, but here your bow and arrows are mapped to the right stick, can be fired in eight directions, and are infinite. That’s great already, but it gets better.

Unlike Spelunky, Caveblazers has persistent progression in the form of unlocks. Some of those unlocks are perks, which modify the stats of your character. Pretty early on I got a perk that when equipped causes my character to fire arrows more quickly.

As you play, you can then stack more modifiers on top of this. You’ll find a new bow and it’ll do more damage, but also add +3 to the knockback effect on enemies. Then you’ll find a ring your character can wear for that life, which adds another two to knockback. Then you’ll find a blessing, chosen from a selection of three, which adds a random chance for any fired arrow to be a double arrow, or an extra powerful arrow. Then you’ll find another blessing that makes one in ten shots also fire a bolt of lightning. Then maybe you’ll find a bow which fires five arrows simultaneously.

And so on. The longer you survive in the game, the more your traits, perks, blessings, weapons, rings and magical items stack on top of one another, to make what feel like absurdly powerful character builds. These can completely change your playstyle for the duration of a life, make that life precious to you, and make death a reason to wail with frustration.

I’m still discovering new things with each Caveblazers life, and those things are so often thrilling that I’m itching to try again after each and every death.

In this way, it’s just like Spelunky.

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19 Comments

  1. Sic says:

    How does it compare to, for instance, Catacomb Kids?

    • stringerdell says:

      Ive had catacomb kids for a long time, got caveblazers a couple of days ago and have almost played more of caveblazers by now.

      Its too early for me to say whether it approaches the greatness of spelunky but what an amazing game so far.

    • Graham Smith says:

      I really didn’t get on with Catacomb Kids. I found it fiddly to control, and with too many dark levels.

    • ersetzen says:

      Caveblazers feels much more rpg-y to me. Inventory management is a thing and a lot of player progression depends on your items. A lot of the challenge comes from managing your hitpoints so combat mostly comes down to kiting enemies around the level, risk of rain style.

      Catacomb kids feels more action oriented with i-frames when rolling and so on. Single enemies are also much more threatening since most everything can kill you if you don’t pay attention – or at least chop a limb of.

      Basically: It really comes down to what you want to get out of the game. Catacomb Kids has more ways to interact with the world so it requires frequent improvisation and creates a lot of unique and memorable moments. Caveblazers is amazing at scratching that risk of rain itch for me, including the whole just-one-more-run thing.

      • Tacroy says:

        Yeah, Caveblazers really puts me in mind of a real-time Nethack; if you don’t have a plan going into combat, you can expect to lose some HP.

  2. Viral Frog says:

    I am now torn on keeping Caveblazers on my wishlist or removing it and moving on. I mean, I do have Spelunky after all. And at least with Spelunky, I don’t get frustrated with my deaths. In fact, 9 times out of 10, I’m about to roll on the floor laughing over them. Caveblazers seems like a fairly significant step down from what makes Spelunky so great.

    • April March says:

      That was what I was thinking as well. This article seems to come from a place of love for Caveblazers, but it’s the kind of article that on a clickbaity site would be called Why Caveblazers Is Horrible.

  3. Premium User Badge

    DantronLesotho says:

    Have played a little bit of this and really like it so far, minus the combat complaints you mentioned. I think it’ll get better/easier as I learn the enemies’ timing though.

  4. mcnostril says:

    I’m finding the constant spelunky comparisons very puzzling since other than the looks and being a platformer they have very little in common as far as I’m concerned. This is mostly a game about fighting lots of monsters while increasing in power and trying to avoid damage. The pace is very different; there is very little of the careful environmental navigation of spelunky, and there aren’t that many emergent situations other than the occasional “this monster bounced me off into a spike” sort of thing.
    It’s definitely a lot closer to Risk of Rain than anything else. Most of the fun comes from the combination of equipment and blessings that allow you to more efficiently murder everything/take less damage on your way to the next level. It even shares the same flaw of having some runs become a frustrating grind due to bad item combos and others becoming hilariously easy with OP weapon/blessing combos.

    Also the health thing mentioned in the article is a bit off, as the game always spawns a health shrine every two levels. Whether you can afford it or not depends largely on how diligently you have been collecting/spending gold. Bosses tend to also drop health items after beating them if you’re low on health.
    That being said, managing health is a very big part of the game, and a lot of deaths by attrition are exactly as described (especially with the javelin throwing orcs that will continually spawn to chase you – they’re very quick to throw those things with good accuracy).

  5. Catchcart says:

    Thanks, Graham. Adam’s review was excellent but I needed that better-bordering-on-obsessive measure of the game’s true readings on the spelunkometer.

  6. Lobotomist says:

    How does it compares to Dead Cells ?

    • Tacroy says:

      IMO Caveblazers is closer to Dead Cells than it is to Spelunky.

      The main difference between Caveblazers and Dead Cells is that Dead Cells follows the Dark Souls philosophy of combat – know thyself, know thy enemy and you can run through them like a bloody wind.

      Caveblazers on the other hand tends to feel unfair unless you go really slow – despite being realtime, it draws from the Nethack school of “you damn well better have a plan or else you are going to die”. I think it’s because the windup on enemy attacks is fast relative to the size of the levels, but if you accidentally draw aggro from an enemy you weren’t expecting you can say goodbye to anywhere from 1/10th to 1/5th of your HP.

      The problem with Caveblazers is that it doesn’t have many good options for controlling the RNG, so it tends to shove you into situations where you just kinda die. This is particularly apparent when it comes to the bosses, because if you just happen to roll a boss that’s strong against whatever piecemeal build you’ve brought to the table there’s nothing you can do but die slowly.

      You can mitigate this somewhat with the perks from the starting area, but they’re oddly balanced and you have to unlock them.

      • Jazzhole says:

        It’s not a Dark Souls philosophy – it’s applicable to almost EVERY game.

        People and developers really need to stop with all these Dark Souls comparisons.

    • Graham Smith says:

      Dead Cells is just much better setup for melee combat. Larger enemies and slower movement that make it possible to see coming attacks; dodge-rolls and shields which make them easier to block or avoid; flat corridor-shaped areas of engagement that confine enemies, make retreating possible, and allow for crowd-control via turrets and traps.

      It’s true that once you get good, you can cut a swathe through them quickly. Caveblazers by comparison doesn’t feel like it supports that personal progression as much, which I think is to its detriment.

  7. caff says:

    Enjoying Caveblazers a lot. I’m not really as fan of combat-heavy games but I find this to be a gradual learning experience that presents a decent challenge that you can pace yourself with.

  8. Tacroy says:

    One thing that Caveblazers never really explains is that there is a parry mechanic – if you attack at the same time as an enemy, you both get flung backwards (and sometimes you deal damage to the enemy).

    But yeah the small sprites mean that it’s really hard to predict enemy attacks except by behavior (e.g, I know this guy’s AI is gonna make him attack right about… now).

    The game could really benefit from some more defensive options. Maybe have shields which can be equipped in the bow slot, or something.

  9. Flavorfish says:

    It sounds more like Risk of Rain then Spelunky. It really doesn’t sound like it offers the emergence and strategy of Spelunky at all, it sounds more like it offers the reward structure of

  10. El_Enemigo says:

    I love this game since I bought it on Early Access.
    However, after the game was out of EA and released their 1.0, there is a game breaking bug that while you are playing turn the screens black and freezes your computer.

    The only way you have to move forward is to turn off and on your PC.

    I reported this error twice and saw that there are people experiencing the same thing. However, the creators never replied to my comments. I stopped playing ever since.

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