Hacking, slashing and indeed crawling through dungeons should get boring, shouldn’t it? Even when they’re randomly generated, aren’t they all the same? Dank, grimy, dim and claustrophobic. Rubbish places. If I came across one at the bottom of my street I’d complain to the council. But when Cardinal Quest invites me to go slay an evil minotaur I’m more than ready to trudge down, level by level, seeing what I can discover. Spruced up, streamlined Roguelikes are becoming more popular and this is a fine example.
Two things to state straight off the bat. This is an attractive game and it will attempt to hold your hand. I know some people find this sort of thing very disconcerting. Especially as most Roguelikes are ugly brutes that don’t even have hands to hold yours with. You have to coax their charms out of them. Admittedly when you do, suddenly every visual facet makes sense and every action is second nature. With Cardinal Quest, there’s less coaxing and less payoff, but there’s plenty of fun to be had.
Picture this scenario. A kobold stands in a room, conveniently blocking the route to a treasure chest. The swine! You should give him a piece of your mind. First of all though, best to ‘w’ield your short sword. No, don’t ‘h’old it, ‘w’ield it or you’ll be fighting with your bare hands. Now, go at him!
Well, this is no good at all. You hit him but he hit you back. You’re bleeding everywhere. Best ‘d’rink a health potion. Actually, no. You’re better off ‘q’uaffing it. Try to ‘d’rink it and you’ll end up ‘d’ropping it. Now, hit him again.
OK, he’s dead. Step over the body and ‘l’ook in that chest. Actually, what you’re doing there is ‘l’ooking at the chest, not in the chest. Listen, just ‘o’pen it. OK, now ‘t’ake everything out of it and ‘p’ick them up. Hmmm. For some reason you just ‘p’ut the chest on your head.
That is almost exactly how Roguelikes are played by the common man. A confusing world of letters and symbols that are pretending to be both nouns and verbs. Don’t get me wrong, I love them but sometimes it’s a pleasure just to wade in and start exploring. In Cardinal Quest I always wield my weapon. It sticks magically to my hand. If I find a better one, the old one is magically converted into money. I don’t even have to find a shopkeeper! If I find a duplicate, my character says “I don’t need this” and, once again, he converts it into money.
It’s refreshing because it means the inventory doesn’t become cluttered and you can concentrate on finding fun new stuff. There are still choices; find a good sword and it won’t replace a good staff because they have different qualities. But find a better sword and that’s the only one you’ll keep.
If you find a helmet it goes straight on your head. You can’t forget to equip it or wear it as a shoe.
Magic and skills are handled in a similar way to Desktop Dungeons, though the game is more action, less puzzle. You find skills, they fill slots and have a cooldown timer. It works brilliantly. My only concern is that there may not be enough variety in enemy types and equipment but only time will tell, particularly as designer Ido Yehieli seems keen on additional content, including difficulty levels and the ability to save. At the moment there's no save option at all but this is a small game to play in short bursts so it didn't bother me too much at all.
The newly available demo allows you to explore down to level three, which if you fully explore every floor is a fair bit of game. And it’s all random so a few playthroughs will let you see more stuff. If you want more the game is currently $4.45 through BMTMicro or FastSpring, though Ido does say he’s submitted it to other digital portals and is waiting to hear back so if you like all your games in once place, it could be worth seeing what happens on that front.