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Dead Letters Office: Hieroglyphika

Perilous pictographs

Roguelikes are made of letters. The earliest example of the form, Rogue itself, was designed to work on Text User Interfaces and was able to conjure up a dungeon and its denizens using the basic building blocks of language. From Aquators to Zombies, Rogue contained a literal alphabet of monsters.

Hieroglyphika [official site], released yesterday, is a traditional roguelike in many ways. There are monsters with various behaviours, strengths and weaknesses, traps littering the dungeon floor, and treasures to collect. But there is no text. Thematically, that's because you're surrounded by dead languages, trapped in tombs full of horrors. Pragmatically, it means you'll have to learn how things work by observing actions and reactions. It's a neat twist and a smart game.

I haven't played anywhere near enough to make a judgement. This morning, I saw the game was out and quickly installed so that I could spend a few minutes in its company. It's an attractive beast and the approach seems to be somewhere between the puzzling sort of roguelike (think Desktop Dungeons and Hoplite) and the more familiar turn-based hacking and slashing. Levels are small and absolutely littered with traps so exploration takes a backseat to herding enemies as you attempt to slay them before they can chip away at your own considerable health bar.

Even in the earliest stage, some neat tricks are on display. Killing some enemies causes a scarab to emerge - collecting a white scarab healed me but the black scarab that popped out of one corpse appeared to go on a rampage, killing other creatures. Peculiar. After a while it changed into a white scarab and skittered about the place, occasionally bumbling into a trap and losing some health.

I don't understand why that happened and that, as you've probably figured out by now, is rather the whole point. No textual explanations, maximum mysteries. I'd like to play more.

Hieroglyphika is £6.29 on Steam now.

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