Curses 'N Chaos (PC) Review

By SSpectre 18.12.2015

Review for Curses

Tribute Games may be the most aptly-named game company in the world; building homages to classic games is practically their mission statement. There's nothing wrong with that, but the passion and novelty with which they've functioned has been on a noticeable decline in the span of only three games. From the surprisingly entertaining Breakout-The Legend of Zelda mash-up of their debut title Wizorb, to the serviceable Mercenary Kings, which is reminiscent of Metal Slug, the developer now moves on to its most inconsequential product yet: Curses 'N Chaos.

This title is so faithful to its roots that it could be mistaken for a resurrection of a cancelled 1990 beat-'em up; sprite details are barely perceptible, all the action takes place on single screens, and the gameplay has the depth of a thimble. Part of this shallowness is due to the game's habit of undermining its own mechanics. For example, to combat the "Who's Who" of fantasy enemies thrown at the protagonists, players will primarily use melee attacks - a standing combo, running attack, jumping attack, and uppercut. However, the standing combo is weaker than all the others and has an overlong animation, while the running attack and uppercut are largely situational techniques. This means that 90% of all player offence consists of jumping attacks, which looks absurd and feels exhausting.

Supplementing the wave-based combat is an alchemy system that fuses poor design with missed potential to form one unbelievably disappointing feature. Between levels items and weapons can be purchased, which can then be brought to a level, or mixed together to unlock better equipment in a sort of reverse tech tree. It's a very intriguing form of progression, but because each weapon can only be used once, and mid/high-level items are extremely expensive, they're all trapped in a permanent "too good to use" situation. Beat 'em ups are already the most repetitive genre ever devised; the last thing they needed to be introduced to was the concept of grind.

Screenshot for Curses 'N Chaos  on PC

This wasted system feels especially teasing, because the challenge here is clearly designed with powerful item use in mind. Those melee attacks are frustratingly hard to use thanks to their agonisingly short range, and unlike most beat 'em ups, enemies cause damage on contact. It's not uncommon to land a hit, only to have the target shrug it off and lethally stroll through the protagonist's fist and into the body behind it. The controls are smooth and responsive - as they damn well better be with this level of simplicity - with the exception of a long delay after taking mid-air damage, which seems to exist only to allow for an "air recovery" technique that's nearly impossible to pull off intentionally.

The only reason why Curses 'N Chaos is fun at all is right there in the title: chaos. If the awkward collision physics can be mastered, weaving through onslaughts of pixelated monsters and slipping in an opportunistic jump kick can be fairly enjoyable. This is especially true if the game is played cooperatively, as doing so drastically dilutes the challenge and makes collecting and crafting items much more practical. In fact, it's fairly obvious that playing with two controllers is the intended method, which begs the question: why bother having single-player if nothing in the game is designed for it? Especially in wave-based gameplay, would it be so difficult to just cut the number of enemies in half?

To give credit where it's due, the folks at Tribute Games are terrific 8-bit artists. The backgrounds, though largely static, are lusciously illustrated, and there's a great deal of visual variety to the enemy hordes. There's also a slightly de-saturated aesthetic that helps the game stand out from its retro competition, if only because it probably wasn't possible on actual 8-bit hardware. Furthermore, the chiptune soundtrack is catchy and perfectly fitting for the action, while the sound effects feature a nice mix of modern catharsis and old-school quirk.

Screenshot for Curses 'N Chaos  on PC

Cubed3 Rating

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

Curses 'N Chaos will appeal only to a very small niche market. Enjoying it requires an intact nostalgia bubble and a friend to play with, and even then, there are better options out there. Tribute Games have admirably captured the immediacy and charm of retro gaming, but they've also revived its unfair and ill-conceived design techniques, many of which died out for good reason.

Developer

Tribute Games

Publisher

Tribute Games

Genre

Brawler

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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