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Oh look, another roguelike. What a surprise. What a revelation. It’s not like they’re everywhere these days or anything. Oh no, wait! Plot twist: Caveblazers is fantastic.
If you’ve been reading up on Rupeck Games’ Caveblazers then you’d have heard that it’s a lot like Spelunky. While that statement is somewhat true, it also sets players up to expect a clone – a game that wants nothing but to be Spelunky. And that sells it short. So, so short. Caveblazers holds its own and stands out in this flooded genre. It’s got to be one of my favourite roguelikes of the year so far.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been much of an advocate for Spelunky. I’ve enjoyed it just fine, but it’s never sucked me in like a lot of people out there. So it’s safe to say that when Caveblazers came along I wasn’t particularly excited about it, and I think that set me up for a pleasant surprise.
You start much like other roguelike platformers: standing at the entrance to the gauntlet. An old man, who seems to be living on a wooden platform above, mocks me as I familiarise myself with the controls. I’m no different to the other adventurers that came before and he knows it. “Screw you, old man!” I shout out loud as I head through the ancient stone door.
The overall goal of Caveblazers is to work your way through randomly generated levels from top to bottom, all the while killing and looting on the way. Unlike Spelunky, you aren’t forced to move as quickly as possible but encouraged to explore instead. The levels are rather large with plenty of treasure and shrines to discover, so it’s worth taking your time. Not to mention that enemies are smart enough to give chase and even do some platforming of their own. Charging your way down is a sure fire way to get overwhelmed and end your run prematurely. In those cases, it’s all about how you manage threat and find more advantageous positions.
Typically, you’ll start with a sword and bow, but you’ll unlock perks as you play which will change your starting abilities. A simple combo attack can be pulled off by mashing the attack button, and there’s a downwards attack to surprise enemies from above. The bow is also an effective weapon but can only be fired in eight directions, so you can’t be cheeky and snipe every enemy you see. Instead, it’s useful for dealing some damage or thinning the heard before heading in to finish the job.
The combat is very enjoyable overall. It’s something I thought would be underwhelming, but it’s one of the most satisfying aspects of Caveblazers, despite how simple it is. That’s mostly down to the way enemies die. From exploding into a million giblets, to collapsing in a heap from a well-placed arrow. These pretty little sprites sure make a mess once you’re done.
With each level you complete, there’ll be tougher enemies to face, so it’s important that you collect as many buffs and abilities as you can. These are gained from spending gold at a shrine or finding blessings, and if the RNG gods are kind, you’ll have a range of skills that feed off of one another. In addition to that, there are a wide array of potions to find, but their effects are randomised on each run. These can do anything from levelling up your attacks to setting you on fire, so you’ll have to pick opportune moments to try them out.
Of course, as is the case with most roguelikes, you’ll be subject to an unfair death on an occasion. It comes with the territory. After a few hours of play, I was on the best run I’d had so far. Every arrow and sword swing set enemies alight and each kill healed me and increased my max health. I was a monster. Unstoppable. I was certain I’d complete Caveblazers this time around.
Then along comes a Jumper, a blue bastard that dashes at you and explodes on impact. And it did just that. If I wasn’t dealing with a swarm of Orcs I would’ve seen it coming. I was flung over the edge and into the unconquered levels below. Before I could react, I fell into a bed of spikes and so my run was over.
Aside from a lot of enemy archers later on, the game manages to retain a challenging and fair balance. The same cannot be said for boss fights, however. Most encounters rely heavily on the bow and some attacks seem impossible to evade without the right abilities. But, once you understand their attack patterns it’s just a case of whittling down their health and feels rather unexciting at times.
If there is one thing that really falls short it’s that its visuals don’t stand out and lack imagination. Many items and enemies are completely by-the-books, and by spicing things up, Rupeck Games could lift up the overall character of their game. A little more personality would go a long way for people on the fence about it.
That being said, Caveblazers is one of those games where I find myself hitting restart immediately after dying. It has an addictive loop – full of treasure, interesting abilities, and clever AI. No amount of old-man-mockery will stop me from heading in for just one more run. “Screw you, old man!”
• Developer Rupeck Games • Publisher Yogscast • Genre Roguelike platformer •Platform PC • Price $9.99/£6.99 • Origin UK • Release May 24, 2017
A review copy of Caveblazers was provided by the developer.