Tuesday, January 22

Review: Caveblazers [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Dungeon-crawling exploration in games can take many forms, typically top-down or first-person, and those are represented on Switch, but then there’s side-scrolling as well. Whether cave diving in something like H.E.R.O. or doing some sort of mining like in Spelunker there have been classic examples but the most common modern title cited is Spelunky. Surprisingly still not ported over to Switch, this is an indie darling roguelike that’s full of challenge. In a similar vein, but with different pacing and combat, you have Caveblazers, working with a great pixel art style and featuring all sorts of ways to power up and (more commonly) die.

Your goal with every run is to get further than you did before, and as is the case with all roguelikes what you’ll be working with will differ every time. Will you find a powerful melee weapon, favoring getting up close and personal? A bow that lets you sling death from a distance? Perhaps some blessings that clearly favor a more or less aggressive style of play? If you’ve gone through multiple runs you’ll unlock different perks to choose from, in some cases acting as a sort of bet on which direction you’ll take. It sucks if you pick a melee-focused perk and get a tricked out bow but only a default sword but that’s the nature of the beast. It’s always up in the air and while some people may find that aggravating roguelike fans will find this represents the genre well.

The dungeons are all procedurally generated, though the degree of variance in layout doesn’t tend to be too massive, which feels like a good balance. Potions are aggravatingly random and until you decide to take a swig of one in any given run you’ll have no idea what effect it may have. Maybe invincibility, maybe a boost to maximum health (or, just as likely, a reduction), or maybe it’ll set you on fire. This always makes boss fights a bit of a dilemma, do you hold your potions until then in the hopes that you can do some extra quick damage or resist attacks? Some bosses don’t tend to be too challenging but others can be downright brutal if you’re not properly equipped. On many levels you’re at the mercy of the RNG gods but smart play can hope to save you, at least for a little while. It's worth noting for a bit of a change of pace an Arena mode unlocks which just gives you straight-up combat and different rules, a touch I appreciated.

When it comes to issues, outside of the normal problems people may have with the chaos inherent in roguelikes there are a few gripes. The first one is kind of odd to me, as it goes against what I’d consider the normal grain, but there’s no pause in the action for you to make use of potions or manage your inventory. Especially if things get tense and desperate in a boss fight this will tend to lead to your demise and it seems like an odd choice. Second, just in general the controls feel a bit wonky with how you aim and fire your ranged weapon. Jumping and shooting is possible but a bit uncomfortable, and the old school locked 8 angles you can fire in hold you back a bit too much. The last issue I had has to do with fine control over your character movement. Spikes are the devil as they do 80 damage straight-up and will ruin a run in a hurry. While you can avoid them and even walk through them if you’re on the surface already when they’re positioned near the top of an area you’ll wall jump up to or just generally in a bad spot it can be tough to avoid them because your character’s movements generally lack nuance. It’s not something you hit as an issue often but I do wish the control was a little more tight for such situations.

On the whole Caveblazers is a ton of challenging fun and currently has no direct competition on the Switch. If you can get over and live with the difficulty hump it gets marginally easier with experience,and possibly as you get new perks. However, every run will throw new choices and challenges at you, never letting you get too comfortable and making subsequent runs swing between getting destroyed in the first minute or two to rolling through a few bosses before getting taken down. If you’ve been looking for a new kind of challenge, and can deal with its quirks, it’s a solid choice.

Score: 8

  • Loads of different bosses to face
  • Every run can be radically different depending on what gear you find
  • Progress will unlock new perks which can change up how you play significantly in some cases
  • An unlockable Arena mode adds another way to play with its own challenges

  • Inventory management without a pause can be a pain
  • Use of your ranged weapon can be awkward and aiming doesn’t take full advantage of the analog stick
  • Fine movement lacks nuance, which can suck in specific situations, usually involving spikes