Friday, August 17

Review: Polygod [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When it comes to roguelikes, their popularity, and their inherent replayability without the need to necessarily create a ton of traditional content, it’s easy to understand their appeal from the development side. When all of the right elements are plugged into the formula it can also make for a lot of extended fun on the player side, so when everything really clicks it can be a good time. That said, getting things right can be challenging and just because something is procedurally generated and plays differently every time doesn’t make it inherently fun. This, for me, is the trap Polygod falls into.

Starting with the positive mechanically it’s a fairly competent, if decidedly low-tech in appearance, shooter. Movement is generally fluid, aiming works well enough considering you’re using a controller, and when you get fully into your shooter groove it can feel good. For every new run you’ll start out roughly weak as a kitten, work to get some kills, and then take the souls you gain to altars that will give you random choices for how to spend those souls to become more powerful. Once you’ve exhausted each world’s opening area you’ll then take a portal to take on its boss, who will offer a more difficult challenge. Defeat the boss and you’ll move onto the next of the 7 worlds with everything getting decidedly harder the further you get.

If you dig first-person shooters and don’t mind the difficulty curve mixed with a fair amount of stock circle strafing and shooting things on the move this may be appealing. Unfortunately, after repeated play the cracks in the experience begin to show pretty easily. For all of the randomness that procedural generation can bring to the table from run to run the differences you’ll see aren’t honestly that major in terms of your experience. Yes, the layout, placement of altars, and enhancements you’ll choose from (assuming you continue to try new seeds) can vary pretty wildly and that does change the experience. That doesn’t necessarily make it feel like less of a grind and more fun though. The fact that nothing at all persists or progresses aside from your own knowledge and skills between runs contributes to this as well, so you lose that hook of knowing in the next run you’ll be more powerful in some way.

Contributing to frustrations the degree of difficulty isn’t so much of a uniform slope as it is a jagged mountain of relative inconsistency. Certainly better and worse upgrade options or combinations play into this feeling but there’s not too often a feeling of “just right” compared to too easy or too hard. Environments play into this, with some that are wide open and others that are heavily constrained to the point they feel a bit unfair, offering you insufficient room to evade fire very well. This can encourage a degree of being cheap and trying to test the limits of how far off you can be and still hit enemies. Some enemies also have a tendency to be hard to differentiate from the scenery, leading to frustrations where sometimes you’re being hit or will even be killed without being able to figure out what’s even shooting you.

If you’re willing to roll with the punches and the things it doesn’t quite get right Polygod does offer up a different take on first-person shooting, and the more familiar you become with its quirks the more successful you’ll be. As with all roguelikes it isn’t so much about the destination (beyond the goal to eventually beat it all), it’s about enjoying the repeated attempts and feeling that you’re getting wiser and better as you go. Some progression across runs would have helped to add more oomph to push you to do “just one more run” but at least with a wide variety of power-up options from the get-go you never know what you may be working with.

Score: 6

  • If you’re looking for a first-person shooting challenge it will deliver
  • Has a clean overall look and controls well
  • There is a great deal of variability per run, though not in all areas

  • There is no progression outside of the current run, something that’s become off-trend
  • Some levels feel constrained and a bit cheap, limiting your maneuverability
  • There will be cases where you can’t tell what is shooting you before you’ll die