by October 27, 2020 @ 8:15 am
Reviewed on Switch
There’s been no shortage of action-roguelites over the past several years, let alone in 2020. It may sound cliche because it’s been said so many times before, but the whole “one more try” thing is very much true when a roguelite is executed properly. ScourgeBringer delivers both familiarity and novelty, and it’s executed incredibly well, making it one of the most addictive and engaging entries in the genre you’ll play all year.
Rather than playing through long horizontal or vertical areas, all of the action in ScourgeBringer takes places in small, single-screen rooms. These procedurally-generated chambers fill with enemies, and you’ll have to dodge their attacks and use your wits to dispose of them. You’ll hack and slash your way through strange creatures and robotic beasts, shoot them down with your blaster, and stun them with powerful blows.
This may sound like it’s par for the course if you’ve played games like Dead Cells, Enter the Gungeon, or Neon Abyss. ScourgeBriner definitely seems to take cues from those titles, but it adds a unique hook: You can practically slice and dice your way through enemies without ever touching the floor. When you enter a room, enemies spawn instantly — some will move along the floor while other levitate. When you perform jumping slashes and dash attacks, you’ll remain suspended in the air briefly. This allows you to chain together attacks and perform nearly endless combos. It’s absolutely insane.
There’s something remarkable about the feet-never-hit-the-floor direction that ScourgeBringer takes. Sure, it’s a nice way to challenge yourself, but it can effect gameplay, as well. There’s a temporary upgrade you’ll discover, for example, that increases your damage output by 10 percent per enemy killed if you don’t land on the floor. That massively boosts your attack power, and the only caveat is that you have to chain together aerial combos without touching the floor.
You’ll encounter plenty of other upgrades along the way, each with their own perks. You can upgrade your blaster and turn it into a shotgun or machine gun. There’s another upgrade that allows you to deal more damage if you’re low on health. You’ll even be able to dish out increased damage to stunned enemies.
Stunning baddies is a major component of ScourgeBringer. Your stun attack — which takes a split second longer to execute than your standard attack — is a major part of your moveset. When you see an exclamation point appear above your enemies, that means they’re about to deliver a high-powered attack. You can either find cover or perform a stun attack. This will render them incapacitated for a few seconds. Because the time it takes an enemy to attack after you see the exclamation point varies from creature to creature, it’s up to you whether you want to take the chance.
Stun attacks are definitely worth it under the right circumstances. You don’t want to spam the move, because that’ll likely be your downfall due to the amount of time it takes to execute. That said, you can unlock abilities that make this risk-versus-reward attack even more powerful. These special skills include knocking enemies into each other and even smashing projectiles back at your foes.
The Giving Tree
The skill tree in ScourgeBringer takes on the form of a literal tree, known as the Chiming Tree. Defeating bosses and mini-bosses earns you judge blood. When you’re defeated, you’ll take this currency back to the hub world, where the Chiming Tree is located. Here you can upgrade your skills and unlock special attributes and perks, such as increased health, combo multipliers, longer dashing, and stun abilities.
When you defeat enemies, you also earn blood droplets. These can be used to unlock temporary buffs and weapon upgrades within the chambers. You’ll typically lose these upon dying and being sent back to the Chiming Tree. Eventually you can unlock an ability that turns blood droplets into judge blood, trading in high amounts of blood droplets for a single drop of judge blood. It can definitely be worth it, especially as you try to unlock better skills for protagonist Khyra.
Unfortunately, not all upgrades are created equal. It’s great sending enemies flying into each other or unleashing a fury attack that deals huge damage to all foes on the screen. On the flipside, though, upgrades like increased combo time pale in comparison to attack buffs. Unlocking new skills is still fun, but you’ll notice some disparity in the quality of about half the upgrades you can spend your hard-earned judge blood on.
A Mysterious and Ambiguous World
My least favorite thing about ScourgeBringer is probably the narrative. I personally don’t need huge amounts of story and plot devices to drive my roguelites, but ScourgeBringer seems to almost go out of its way to present a narrative that, ultimately, isn’t very strong.
As the warrior Khyra, you explore the land in search of answers after the world has been destroyed following an attack by an evil entity… or something like that. The story can be mostly written off, though you’ll sporadically encounter computer terminals that feed you bits of jumbled story through logs from an ancient civilization. Though not exactly terrible, the story bits definitely feel rote and unnecessary.
On the plus side, the visuals help build the world of ScourgeBringer. The pixel art is highly minimalistic, with dark backgrounds and simple foregrounds. This gives the game a sort of NES quality (though obviously much more detailed). Enemies feature strange, alien designs and look like a cross between Metroid and Dead Cells villains. Then there’s Khyra, who looks like a badass with her big, wild hair as she cleaves through enemy threats. The way she animates alone adds a nice sense of style to the action.
It can take a while to really get going as you’ll have to grind a tad for some decent upgrades, but ScourgeBringer offers up a gameplay loop that holds up quite nicely with the best roguelites. After you play through it, you may not be all that enticed to return to the game immediately, but it’s great while it lasts.
ScourgeBringer will undoubtedly hook you. It’s addictive. It’s fun. It looks, plays, and controls great. It doesn’t quite dethrone games like Dead Cells or Enter the Gungeon at the top of the roguelite mountain, but it’s an awesome action game in its own right that’s worth sinking your time into.
Score: 8 out of 10
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