ScourgeBringer Review (Xbox One)
There’s no sign of the roguelike rush stopping any time soon, and ScourgeBringer is the latest to join the often-punishing genre. A well made game that nails its gameplay execution, ScourgeBringer is a fun ride that will remind you of a game with tight controls from the NES or SNES era.
There’s a story to ScourgeBringer, but it’s ancillary to the experience. From the time you first load up the game, you’ll be playing through your first run in a couple minutes. You’ll find data terminals along the way that will expand the narrative, but they’re really only exciting in terms of pushing your completion percentage forward rather than in giving you interesting new information to pore over.
The world-building is interesting in as much as it affects the gameplay, which is really what ScourgeBringer is all about. There are six worlds to traverse through (although you’re limited to the first five on your initial run through) that really feel substantively different from one another. Aside from the difference in environmental hazards (first you’ll deal with pressure activated spikes before moving on to noxious gas or semi-permeable platforms) each world has a distinct feel and color palette. For a game reminiscent of the 8-bit days, ScourgeBringer does a great job of making you feel a part of the world. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s cool that the first world feels lush, the second feels cold, and so on.
Okay, great, so it’s a pretty game with no story, but how does it play? Luckily, ScourgeBringer nails what I feel is the most important aspect of a roguelike, the gameplay. The controls are incredibly responsive and your arsenal of moves serves you well to move from one enemy to the next without ever hitting the ground. You can run up walls, double jump, and slash, smash, and dash through your enemies. Hitting an enemy resets your jump, so it’s very easy to get into a flow state where one continuous combo can take out an entire room. While you can play the game with a mouse and keyboard, ScourgeBringer is definitely best experienced with a controller.
Gameplay is modified by a skill tree, where you can spend points earned from defeating bosses and mini-bosses to upgrade your character. Several of the upgrades make quite a difference, like the fury attack, which pauses time and unleashes a flurry of attacks all over your current room. Some are less necessary, like the upgrade that lets you travel between rooms you’ve already cleared. Still others I’d say are core aspects of the gameplay. Skills like being able to return projectiles back at enemies feel like a basic tenet of the gameplay, and are necessary to unlock to play the game how it seems it was meant to be played.
There’s another weapon, the gun, that I found useful in emergencies, to help clear out some space in a room, but for whatever reason, it feels out of place. You can replace your starting gun with new ones you’ll find at a shop, but they all felt somewhat underwhelming. There are also upgrades that you can receive for clearing a challenge room, randomly at the conclusion of any room, or in rooms that give you a choice of three (or four) buffs. Stack enough of these buffs and you’ll feel a difference, but it’s likely you’re going to need the same amount of skill to clear a world whether or not your fury meter recharges 10% faster.
The procedurally generated individual rooms are where you’ll hone your skills and where you’ll try to avoid damage before facing the two bosses of each level. The first boss will never be too much of a challenge, particularly with a fury attack to unleash during the fight, but once you finish that, the door to the level’s ‘Judge’ or final boss will open. These guys feel particularly tough because of the length of the fights. Most normal rooms will be cleared in maybe 20 seconds, but bosses have more significant health bars and will vary their attacks once you hurt them enough. It can take a few runs before you’re comfortable with a boss’ patterns, but in true roguelike/git gud fashion, it’s practice and patience that will allow you to progress.
Practice and patience is really the name of the game for ScourgeBringer as you’re going to be playing the first few levels of the game a lot. There are upgrades along the way that can help you get upgrade points faster, so you’ll probably max out the skill tree pretty quickly. Outside of being able to carry over a single buff if you acquire three, once you max out the skill tree, there really isn’t any sense that you’re making progress on your character, you’re essentially done. This makes the late game all about refining your gameplay, which is certainly a good focus for a game like this, but it would have been nice if less skilled players had more to unlock along the way to push them to the finish. You definitely won’t be able to grind your way through this game, you’ll have to improve.
All in all, ScourgeBringer is a really fun game that ends up being a little shallow. As an action platformer, the game is outstanding, if a bit short. As a roguelike, it checks the boxes, but doesn’t do anything unique. I think anyone who plays games in either of these categories will enjoy playing ScourgeBringer as long as they don’t expect 50 hours of gameplay.