Checks Out Sproggiwood

Megan Fox of Rocketcat Games has evidently been doing PR duty for Sproggiwood developers Freehold Games these past couple of weeks. She sent me a build of Sproggiwood to check out a few days ago, and in true fashion, I did so with my headset on and FRAPS a-running. The result:

So! What did I think?

In its first 40 minutes, Sproggiwood presents us with a number of stripped-down and simplified mechanics: the replacement of magic points with stamina stars, say, or the simplified inventory and equipment systems (which reminds me a lot of Cardinal Quest 2). On the plus side, these choices render the game easy to play and extremely accessible. On the minus side, they threaten to hurt the game’s replayability over the long haul; unless things get much more complicated a few levels in, I can’t imagine Sproggiwood having the staying power of, say, Nethack. That said, I’ve never been an especially hardcore roguelike purist, so the boost to accessibility strikes me as a reasonable trade-off–your mileage may vary.

This is offset somewhat by the game’s commitment to an overarching progression scheme. If the game’s simplifications remind me of Cardinal Quest 2, then its element of persistent progress between character deaths reminds me of Dungeonmans (or, to a lesser extent, Rogue Legacy). There are choices to be made in improving your village in between dungeon runs, with your chosen improvements persisting despite individual character deaths. This offers a welcome element of long-term investment, an alternative to the entirely segregated progression of individual runs of “pure” roguelikes that I am increasingly coming to appreciate.

One thing I neglected to mention in the video (because it only struck me on reflection) is that Sproggiwood seems to make some use of deterministic mechanics. During the whole time I played, I didn’t notice a single attack missing (although, with that said, attack damage can evidently vary by as much as 40%). The game makes some admirable use of enemy behaviors and terrain effects to add some emergent complexity to what would otherwise be a very by-the-numbers experience. Slime behavior, in particular, makes your positioning of paramount importance.

It also bears mentioning that Sproggiwood is incredibly cute. The world is all bright colors, blocks, and soft curves; it’s like you’re playing with children’s toys. I found the aesthetic rather charming, though I could see it turning off certain players.

If I had to criticize Sproggiwood for something, it would be a lack of content variety in the early levels. The clear majority of all equippable magical items I found involved fire in some way (though this may have just been coincidence); most early-game enemies are palette-swapped slimes of one sort or another; and the environments themselves are a little on the unmemorable side. I don’t know if this is purely an issue in the early game, or if it’s something that Freehold intend to fix with content patches, but it is perhaps something to bear in mind.

All in all, my first impressions are quite positive. The first 40 minutes of the game are tightly designed, accessible, and tactically challenging compared to the simplicity of the elements on display. Someone looking for a lightweight, accessible graphical roguelike could do a lot worse. More details on where to snag Sproggiwood here.

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