A Ziggurat Review

Let’s play a game … I’m going to describe a game, and you try to say what I’m thinking of. Ready?

A procedurally generated action game with RPG elements that takes place in rooms full of monster and the only way to advance is killing the monsters, but life is precious so you must take care that you dodge and weave all the monsters while shooting them at range. Also, you get randomly generated rewards after defeating bosses, randomly found in rooms, or after paying a price of some sort.

Was your first thought Ziggurat?

If so congratulations, you can read a title of a blog post. The point I am trying to make is that “Roguelikes” are becoming more and more…. Binding of Isaac-y.

Now, I don’t have much against Binding of Isaac, it’s an ok-ish game. But, I have accidentally bought Binding of Isaac for a fifth time. First was the game itself, the second was Paranautical Activity (Binding of Ahab: Moby Hitler edition), then Rogue Shooter (Binding of Doomguy: This Time, we Killed the Z Dimension!), Eldrtich (Binding of Cthulhu: Minecraft is OP), and recently Ziggurat (Binding of Gandalf: Wizards ‘n’ Slimes), and, well… it’s getting annoying.

I like Roguelikes. I do, it’s just that these games are less and less like a Roguelike, and it makes me sad.

Now, “Roguelike” is a relatively new term, in the public sphere at least. Rogue actually came out in 1980. But the mainstream didn’t really care until BoI came out. While still in its infancy, there is a few discrepancies about how Rogue-ish a game needs to be to be called a Roguelike.

Personally, I find there are a few main qualifications to be considered a Roguelike:

  1. Permadeath and random generated levels
  2. A clock that counts down to death
  3. A variety of ways to approach a situation

Permadeath and Random Generated Levels

The randomness and permadeath is there to make you take care in every situation. As you build up your character, there are often instant-death traps scattered all about, or cursed rings that will slowly kill you. A Roguelike is all about tiptoeing your way through a situation, carefully planning your move and unlocking your inner Batman by having a solution to EVERY problem.

It also creates a lot of risk-v-reward scenarios, where you are forced to gamble your life to chance. A monster is chasing you, and it can kill you very easily. Do you drink this potion, even though it has no label? Do you bust through this door, hoping to find a stairway down? Maybe you should throw the potion at the beast, hoping to blind or poison it? Or hope that amulet you are carrying isn’t a Cursed Amulet of Strangulation.

A Clock that Counts Down to Death

A clock is needed to push the player onward.

In the original Rogue, the developers found that players would just stick around the first few areas until they were powerful enough to one-shot the boss. So, they forced the player to eat food to survive. The best way to get food was to kill monsters and eat their corpses, but monsters quickly ran out once the floor was cleared. In order to survive, you had to push forward into the depths of the dungeon, where stronger monsters lay.

A Variety of Approaches

Multiple ways to deal with a certain problem is also necessary.

With the monster example above, there are many other ways to survive:

  • Run the monster into a pit so it can’t chase you
  • Try throwing food at the monster so it becomes friendly/tamed
  • Get your pet to fight it while you run like a hero
  • Try to get a specific item required to beat the game
  • You could just go and kill whoever is guarding it
  • Or, you could transform into a Nymph (who can steal items on contact), take the item, then zap your wand of teleportation at them/yourself and make a clean getaway
  • A locked door? You could find a key, kick the thing open, or decide to make your own door, Superman style

And, well, there isn’t much of the above to be enjoyed in games like Binding of Isaac.

Yes, there is random rooms and permadeath, but that doesn’t mean much when the rooms all feel the same. Just big cubes with monsters/goodies in them. Each room is it’s own instance, it’s own little pocket dimension where the outside world ceases to exist.

There is no real clock system, the only thing goading you forward is running out of stuff to do. With no monsters, you can’t really progress in any way.

But the biggest problem I find with these sorts of games is the simplicity of it all. The solution is always “a big thing that will try to eat/dismember me”, and the solution is always “shoot it while dodging.”

There is no creatively crafting a solution to seal the big bad monster in a room and heading for the hills. You can’t tame, befriend, de-hate, negotiate, barter, trade, or even utilize the monsters in any way. And they don’t really pose a threat aside from health damage.

You won’t find a monster in Binding of Isaac rummaging through your stash 10 levels up and taking your blessed wand of wishing. You won’t find a rust monster completely destroying your favourite gear. You won’t find a shopkeeper that just so happens to accidentally walk into the path of a ricocheting crossbow bolt then send the entire Keystone Kops on your head.

Basically, I am annoyed that Minecraft of all games is more like Rogue than most “Roguelikes” nowadays.

Now, to talk about Ziggurat itself. Honestly, if you’ve played any “version” of Binding of Isaac, you will know what it’s all about:

  • Run around in instanced little rooms
  • Fight monsters
  • Get swag
  • Fight boss
  • Rinse and repeat

It does a few things differently, like look incredibly beautiful and have multiple “types” of mana. Other than that it’s just… more of the same.

The differences are pretty small, but it’s a good change of pace, like getting hash browns instead of french fries with a meal.

Final Verdict: Meh, I’ll play it because I like an action game with colourful monsters and spells, NOT because it’s a roguelike.

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