In our now-defunct Indie Bin feature, we covered a title by the name of Slay the Spire. With so many little games vying for our collective time, it's tough to give everything the same amount of attention. We now try to cover as many smaller experiences as we can with our relatively new Mini Review format, but this particular game arrived a little early for that. As 2019 draws to a close, I want to highlight this thing, because it frankly deserves it.
Slay the Spire is a deck-building, card-battling roguelike from developer MegaCrit. Before I played it, I'd dabbled in roguelikes (and rogue-lites) a few times, but I'd written off the idea of playing a game about collecting cards and battling with them. However, I'd heard from a few places that this game was definitely doing something right, so I was curious to jump in and see what the fuss was about. I'm very glad I did.
The way it works -- at least at the beginning -- is you pick one of three characters, who each have access to their own set of cards. Much of the game relies on random elements, and so each run can be wildly different from the last, even with a small pool of cards at your disposal. You're working your way up the titular spire, engaging in fights with monsters and slowly accumulating cards, gold, and other bonuses. Sometimes the path you choose will be linear, but it can often present you with choices too. Maybe you want to enter combat to earn more gold and unlock a new card, or maybe you should take a much-needed rest. Whichever randomly generated path you take as you climb the spire, you'll gradually build up a deck of cards to use in battle.
None of this is particularly ground-breaking stuff, but what's so clever about Slay the Spire is the way everything plays off of everything else. It costs energy to play most cards during your turn, so you need to find a balance between attacking, defending, and using abilities. However, the game tells you what the enemy intends to do on its next turn, so you can plan accordingly. Cards you use are discarded until your deck runs out, at which point your discard pile is reshuffled and brought back into play. Some cards will exhaust, which means they're eliminated from play altogether for that battle. You have access to useful potions, and as you progress, you'll unlock numerous Relics, potentially game-changing objects that have some powerful effects. All these things synergise together in fascinating ways, and it can be extremely satisfying to see the results.
It's a wonderful feeling when you come across a combination of cards, Relics, and tactics that works brilliantly to your advantage. The thing is, you aren't necessarily going to find that perfect combo due to the roguelike elements. You're not going to know which cards will show up (and you unlock more as you gain XP), and you won't know which Relics will make an appearance. The result is that you'll sometimes be forced to play in ways you wouldn't normally; perhaps you'll need to play more defensively due to a lack of decent attack cards, for instance. Fortunately, there are lots of viable strategies, and you'll quite often stumble upon powerful synergies you hadn't even thought of. You can build very strong decks around exhausting cards, or decks that take advantage of inflicting status effects. The variety is pretty crazy.
It's one of those games that you'll intend to play for 20 minutes, only for a few hours to pass by without you noticing. There's such an addictive quality to the emergent strategy that comes from all the moving parts. Each character plays differently, there are multiple modes to explore, and the loop is practically endless. It can also be extremely tough, with some of the later bosses proving to be super hard with the wrong deck. This is maybe where the game falls down slightly, as you're never quite sure which bosses you'll face, and this information could be pivotal to your decision making. Still, you'll learn something new with each and every run.
I'm not playing the game so much at this point in the year, but it really got its hooks in me for a good while. It crosses my mind to dip back in, but I just know it'll stop me from playing anything else. Slay the Spire isn't perfect; the art style isn't great, and the technical performance can be poor in places. However, the gameplay loop is consistently compelling. If you enjoy roguelikes, I strongly recommend you give this game a try.
Have you played Slay the Spire on PS4? Do you agree that it's a corker, or are you less enthusiastic? Will you be trying it out if you haven't already? Lay out all your cards in the comments below.