Ever since FTL and Binding of Isaac I’ve been a lover of Roguelikes of all shapes and sizes. A personal favourite of mine being Risk of Rain 1 for its high-skill ceiling, wonderful aesthetic and relentless need for quick reactions and decision making. Scourgebringer is in a similar vain to Risk of Rain but instead of a cast of characters that all do very different things you play as one character who does one thing very, very well.
You play as a young girl with white hair and a sword who’s entered an alternate dimension to save humanity and the world. This alternate reality just so happens to be compartmentalised into multiple small rooms in a labyrinth filled with a myriad of monsters to munch on your majestic mane. That’s the plot. You may discover small traces of lore and story through diaries and computer data but for the most part, you just told: “Go kill stuff.” In a similar vain to Dark Souls. Plot is nice, but gameplay is nicer.
The first thing to note about Scourgebringer is the beautiful visuals. While yes it’s another pixel graphics indie game it still manages to stand out in my view. Each level is dominated by a fantastic use of colour theory. The first level being primarily a deep-sea green and blue combo while the monsters are a bright red or cyan. The second level being blood red and ice blue. Now, this might seem horribly nerdy to you but because the game is so fast-paced this allows you to very quickly differentiate between what’s the background and what is an enemy. As much as I love Binding of Isaac its colour scheme is relatively bland and often times monsters are the exact same colour as the ground they walk on. Scourgebringer avoids this issue and since you’re moving three or four times faster than Binding of Isaac then that need for clarity is even more important.
The gameplay of Scourgebringer is another Dark Souls mindset. Tough but fair. As simple or as complicated as you want it to be. You have one light melee attack, one heavy melee attack, a dash attack and a gun. If you want you can spam the light attack and dash attack to duck, dodge and weave between enemy attacks and just be altogether impossible to hit. Or if you want that risk-reward gameplay that roguelikes are known for then you can use the heavy attack to send bullets flying back at enemies and even stun them before they can initiate their super moves. All the while you can weave in firing your ranged weapon to just add that extra level of damage and complexity to the affair.
As you play the game you will earn coagulated blood that can be spent on a talent tree in the main hub. These talents vary from a ground pound attack to a combo meter that as it goes up the in-run currency you gain per kill increases. This is something that games like Rogue Legacy and the more recent Hades have similarly implemented. As much as starting from zero each run can be an interesting challenge; not everyone has the time to sink one-thousand hours into a roguelike and they just want to beat the final boss and move on to the next game on their list.
While your main attack never changes you do, however, find different guns throughout your run. The differences usually just the amount of bullets it fires at once or per second but the strength comes in mods. The in-run shops you’ll find will have various mods for sale such as a bleed effect or a banish effect that increases the damage to specific enemies. Different guns have differing amounts of mod slots so you’re encouraged to keep upgrading and improving your arsenal as the run goes on.
In each level you will also find a dais of oozing blood, this blood will grant you a temporary buff similar to Noita or the items in Binding of Isaac. These are your main source of power throughout the run. Either by buffing the rarity of items found or by straight up making your heavy attack hit a wider arch thus allowing you to more safely hit bullets back at your enemies.
And what Roguelike would be complete without bosses? At the end of each level, there is a boss door. To open it up you need to beat a random mini-boss. Each level has a small list of random mini-bosses so you always have a decent idea of what to expect but it could still throw you. The boss, however, is always the same. They have a set of attacks they use and a set amount of health. While the boss fights are, by themselves, pretty tough. Especially the first time you encounter them, they do end up feeling a little samey after a while but that’s never stopped lovers of Roguelikes before (I could probably tell you in detail what each boss of Binding of Isaac does and how but I still love that game) and I’m sure it won’t stop us now.
So you’ve probably noticed a lot of comparing and contrasting in this review and you might be saying “Does this game do anything original?” And honestly, no not really? But neither did BoI, Risk of Rain, Hades, etc, etc. Roguelikes by their very name are derivative and that is by no measure a bad thing. Each game builds on the lessons learned by their predecessors and is better for it.
What Scourgebringer, and other Roguelikes, does original is so nebulous that it’s hard to explain. It’s the way it feels to play. It’s that visceral nature of the combat that smarter men than I might struggle to explain why it differs from Katana Zero or Black Future 88. Binding of Isaac is oppressive and depressing, FTL is wonderous yet daunting and Scourgebringer is intense and masterful.
For just shy of £14 this game is well worth the price of entry and may well be my indie-game of the year. (Yes I have played Hades.) So do not sleep on it!