Thursday, February 7

Review: City of Brass [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Roguelikes can tend to be one of the most divisive “genres” out there, with it not being unusual to see wide disparities of opinion on the same game. Their degree of challenge is often a stumbling block but their inherent similarities to old school arcade games, with there being an element of repetition for the sake of learning and getting further, can also be a problem for some people. With its first-person view, procedurally-generated areas, and somewhat unique play mechanics City of Brass has a very different feel to it, but I would imagine some of its qualities will also lead to the gaps in opinion I cited, since it isn’t without its flaws.

Carrying a very “Arabian Nights” theme I’d say that the setting is the first thing that that helps to establish this won’t be your typical first-person game. When you then realize your weapons are a sword (later characters will change the weapon, but not its melee nature) and a whip, and this isn’t a shooter, the initial feeling of unease isn’t unusual… this is something new, different, and a bit risky. Probably the best and smartest element of the game is the use of the whip, which proves to be quite versatile. Whether you’re using it to stun enemies, pull them towards you (more on that later), or to grab items and gold from afar it’s really the star of the show. If you keep an eye out, rings higher up are also a very handy means of quick traversal at times, and helping make the whip and its use a lot of fun.

The combat is probably one of the things that will divide people the most. Since this is sort of a first-person hack and slash the flow of things takes some getting used to, especially when the screen gets crowded and you have ranged foes firing on you. Initially this can be frustrating but as you get more used to the mechanics there are a variety of ways to deal with many situations. Throwing objects like lanterns that can catch enemies on fire is a great go-to option, though it can be very tricky to judge the range and that can be a bust. Luring enemies into traps that are often plentiful in most rooms is also a great option. Lining them up and then either shoving them back or pulling them into traps with the whip is very effective and satisfying. Traversal isn’t always possible but can be handy for pulling away from a pack and trying to whittle them down. While you can still run into trouble with the perspective and enemies being able to flank you, with some practice and understanding of the opportunities around you the combat can be quite satisfying.

The other element that will probably aggravate people, and this is in common with most roguelikes, is the degree of challenge. On default, especially in the early going, the game can feel pretty unfair. Healing opportunities are very limited, and the perks and added gear you can buy from various genie vendors peppered everywhere are very random, as are the effects of random potions you’ll find to drink. Mix this with the very trap-heavy layouts of some rooms and it’s a recipe for aggravation at times. To help with that, what you should absolutely do when you are first getting started is make use of the blessings that will tone down various aspects of the game as you get used to it. Added health, trap reduction, cheaper gear, and other options are available, and there should be no shame in using them. As you get further new and unexpected things will happen, giving you slightly better odds of surviving long enough to understand what to do the next time you face them can be vital.

I have no doubt that City of Brass won’t provide an experience everyone will love, but then again that’s not a shock when games try new things. Especially on default difficulty it’s a lot to take in as you get used to the flow of combat and how best to deal with specific enemies and traps you’ll encounter. One detail I appreciate, and worth mentioning, is that the two initial character options you have to play with are a male and female, who play roughly the same. It may seem like a small thing but it’s a great inclusive move and one I felt was noteworthy. It also helps underline the point that the developers obviously put a great deal of effort into making the experience scalable up or down depending on what you’re looking for or can handle. It shouldn’t be about ego early on, take the help as you familiarize yourself with this unique title rather than get aggravated with it. Just like there are blessings there are optional curses as well, so don’t worry, there’s more than enough challenge here for those looking for it.

Score: 8

  • Unique first-person combat mechanics and flow
  • The blessing/curse system should help people tune the game to their liking in terms of challenge, USE IT
  • The whip is simply a lot of fun and proves to be very useful in a variety of ways

  • Even for experienced gamers getting started on the default difficulty can be tough, as the game is simply not quite like anything you’ve played and takes some getting used to
  • Repetition can be a problem after a handful of runs if the unique combat and traversal don’t grab you
  • In general, even with the blessings and ways you can tune things, the lack of healing opportunities in many runs is a frustration