By: Roberto Nieves
Developer: Flying Oak Games
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Available on: PC (Steam, Epic, GOG), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, PS Vita
Roguelikes are a dime a dozen these days, but as Dr. Indiana Jones once said, "It's not the years, it's the mileage." Several years ago, Flying Oak Games and lead creator Thomas Helmut created a radically new twin-stick shooter, NeuroVoider, a game that I played in PAX EAST 2017, and I happened to review, calling it an "absolutely fantastic twin-stick shooter and a great cyberpunk action game." After careful, diligent construction, patience, and polish. Mr. Helmut and Flying Oak games have returned for their latest creation, ScourgeBringer, a post-apocalyptic rogue-like hack'n'slash that puts players in a deadly maze of monsters and demons. With the fondest of memories of NeuroVoider, ScourgeBringer is an incredibly swift, strong, and delightful roguelike action game that is sure to please anyone with a hunkering for straightforward, challenging action. When it arrived, everything came to an end. On a planet once known as Earth, a monolithic temple floats above the scorched earth, terrorizing and destroying what is left of human civilization. This mysterious ship is known as the ScourgeBringer, as it reigns death and destruction across the land. A young warrior unsheathes her sword on a crusade to rid the planet of the ScourgeBringer. Inside is an endless, eternal battle, an ordeal of tormentors violence. The ScourgeBringer brings magical and unnatural happenings, making death irrelevant, but the only way to escape is to fight and slay. ScourgeBringer is like NeuroVoider in many ways. Players fight in small, procedurally generated arenas with different layouts and enemy types, culminating in a massive boss fight at the end of each section. The goal is to make it to the end, defeat the final boss, and destroy the ScourgeBringer. Along the way, players utilize a variety of skills built over a solid period of time. This comes in the form of blood. Blood is a currency that can buy new weapons and perks while on a run. Judge blood comes from slaying one of the games many bosses and mid-bosses. The Judge's blood can unlock new attacks, such as a Fury attack that can decimate all foes in an arena. Additionally, players may use their own health points to purchase new weapons and attributes.
ScourgeBringer provides that same level of challenge and fast-paced gameplay as established by its predecessor. Combat is sublime, smooth, swift, and remarkably tight. It can, at times, maybe be a little too fast as it's easy to get lost in the frantic combat, but that would be the only grievance for an otherwise remarkably strong game. Each play and run constantly encourages the player to play one more time, which is the makings of great game mechanics. The key to success in ScourgeBringer is the Smash Attack, which deflects volleys of enemy fire back at the target. This is essential for surviving boss encounters.
The controls are tighter than a string on a guitar, and that is a great feeling. As the man character is nimble and swift, ScourgeBringer never feels fidgety or loose. Every jump and swipe feels exact, direct, and punctual. Nothing ever feels floaty or off. Every action felt within my control. Perhaps, the controls would actually work to my detriment in thinking too fast, and I'd lunge into a situation I should have been more careful about, but that happening is more of an occurrence of overconfidence from the player. The action and controls complement each other in the best way possible.
The world is dark yet immersive and filled with mystery. The enemies are seen, from toxic gaseous monstrosities to shielded beasts, are refreshingly distinct especially depending on which zone the player finds themselves in. The mid-bosses and main bosses, The Judges, are quite challenging and come in various ways. Even though players can acquire new weapons and perks, these enemies still put up a fight and will send players onto multiple runs.
One of the biggest aspects not seen much in roguelikes is the accessibility options. Among the various options, such as health regeneration and encouraging more item drops, ScourgeBringer also allows for adaptive difficulty. ScourgeBringer learns from the player, from their combat styles to how long their run is and adapts difficulty to be easier or more challenging. This addition adds a social functionality to ScourgeBringer to help players unfamiliar with action titles or roguelikes adapt to such a game.
ScourgeBringer made its way to the PlayStation 4, but for those still rocking a PlayStation Vita, the technical achievements made on the system are incredible. The game runs nearly identical to its Steam and console counterparts, and the only difference is using the rear touchpad for shooting. From its presentation to sound, ScourgeBringer is another testament to how incredible Sony PlayStations portable handheld is and a bittersweet example of what could have been for the handheld.
Having played many roguelikes in my time, ScourgeBringer is easily one of the best ones as it allows players to tailor their run to how they see fit, but without compromising the integrity or core meanings of the gameplay mechanics. The roguelikes that are most revered and successful are the ones that are balanced and give players autonomy of how to perform run. Other roguelikes can punish the player, such as Blacksea Odyssey and its random rune drops that effectively determine success regardless of skill. For ScourgeBringer, success is in the player's hands, and it will require skill, but the game doesn't have to work against you. At its core, ScourgeBringer is an old-fashioned game that wants players to have fun and be challenged but not at the expense of that fun and enjoyment. It's the mark of a masterful developer and that level of polish to be commended.
Perhaps the only grievance to be made regarding ScourgeBringer is what most, if not all, roguelikes have is the repetition of action. Players will visit the first areas of the game more often than they would like. Each run holds new weapons, perks, and Judge Blood to make more permanent upgrades for players, but it still grinds it when there's the repetition of facing the first few bosses over and over again. The silver lining is that, similar to NeuroVoider; the experience keeps players wanting to come back for more, making it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
There are many roguelikes out there, but, ScourgeBringer is one of the best ones. Its tight controls, immersive world, and excellent gameplay keep players coming back. Fly Oak Games has done tremendous work in its style and mechanics. With ScourgBringer, this makes another major accomplishment, both for players and the studio. I'm more than excited for whatever next step Flying Oak games make, and I encourage players to make that first step into the ScourgeBringer.
ScourgeBringer was reviewed on the Sony PlayStation Vita and Nintendo Switch for comparison, thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up thanks to Dear Villagers and Flying Oak Games.