Roguelikes, as a rule, fail to capture my attention for one simple reason: lack of progression.
Dying after a successful run, only to be tossed right back to the start without so much as a minuscule persistent upgrade, is a surefire way for me to turn off the game in a huff, likely to never turn it on again. There’s one easy solution to that problem though: include a solid progression system. Thankfully, Toy Odyssey: The Lost and Found, a roguelike-cum-Metroidvania-cum-tower defense-lite knows exactly how to keep you playing. And playing and playing and playing.
Toy Odyssey puts you in the tiny toy shoes of Brand, an action figure on a mission to save his human owner from a terrible dark presence that seems to have taken over his house. At night – as everybody well knows, the time when toys come to life – Brand must venture through the procedurally-generated house, fighting through waves of “Lost Toys” (they’re the ones that have gone bad) in order to restore order to the chaos that’s ensuing every evening. On your travels, you’ll collect currency and a whole host of various pieces of junk that can be used to craft and upgrade items (more on that later). There’s a story too, with main missions to complete on your journey – and some minor side-quests that’ll grant you rewards. When you die (which is completely inevitable), it’s not game over; it’s simply the end of the night, and you’ll return to the safety of the base with your loot intact.
Usually, the terms “procedurally generated” and “roguelike” fill me with dread. Games falling into those categories are dime-a-dozen these days, and rarely are they well-made; instead being a poor excuse for a very small asset pool being reused time and time again. Whilst Toy Odyssey eventually may feel a little repetitive, the house you’re left to explore every night is massive, and even though it feels familiar every time you visit, the layouts, enemies and tasks at hand change enough that replayability does genuinely feel unlimited.
It helps that Toy Odyssey is simply a joy to play. You can tell that so much love and care has gone into this from the production team at Hikergames. Locations are well-designed and even though it looks familiar and homely, the brilliant (albeit slightly repetitive) soundtrack constantly sets the tone, leaving an eerie and unsettling feeling to accompany you on your journey. Best of all are the enemy and character designs; Brand’s appearance changes every time you upgrade his armour, going from toy soldier to wizard to literal knight in shining armour. His pals you meet along the way are all unique too, from a misunderstood dark wizard who doesn’t like being made to play the bad guy, to a gruff and surly blacksmith who has better things to do with his time than talk to an action hero. The enemies themselves come in all shapes and sizes, from giant spiders to RC trucks and freaky clowns to Crocodile Dentist (really). The types of enemies do eventually get repetitive, but thanks to their well-designed, quirky and bright models it’s unlikely you’ll get fed up of seeing them.
The true thrill of Toy Odyssey comes in the form of the comprehensive upgrade and progression system at hand. During every playthrough, you collect cogs, the main form of currency in the game. There’s a lot you can spend your cogs on, so careful balance is key. You can directly upgrade Brand’s armour, adding extra health new skills to his arsenal (such as double-jumps and mid-air hovers), or, providing you also have the required materials, you can craft new weapons. You can have two weapons equipped at any one time; a primary and a secondary. The primary is always a melee weapon which can be something light and fast like a dagger, or slow and heavy – but powerful – like a hammer. The secondary weapon is a ranged weapon, be it a magic spell, shuriken or pistol. As you play through the game you’ll randomly find blueprints which allow you to craft new weapons. Keeping on top of Brand’s upgrades and more powerful weapons is the key to being successful, as enemies constantly get more difficult as you progress through the story.
The one area of the game that threw me off somewhat was the inclusion of some light tower defence elements. As Brand goes off to explore every night the usually safe base becomes a target, and you could return home at the end of a scavenge mission to find that you’ve been raided. Precious materials – or worse, your friends – can be taken, and there’s not much you can do about it besides head out and find them again. There are various defences you can build to try and hold off any incoming threats, but everything you build is on a real-world timer and requires a hefty amount of (often quite rare) materials, so any kind of real progress is very slow – especially if you concentrate your funds in upgrading Brand. It seems a pointless addition to an already feature-rich game. If you enjoy tower defence, then you may get a kick out of this addition, but for me, it dampened the experience somewhat and just added one too many things that I needed to focus on.
Unfortunately, there’s a few technical issues that mar Toy Odyssey somewhat. I’ve experienced a few bugs, and stuttering/framerate drops are a common occurrence. There’s nothing that’s completely put me off playing though, and I’m pleased to see that developers Hikergames are committed to improving the experience as much as possible, with a large patch to fix some of the issues already rolled out since launch.
Minor glitches and unwanted tower defence elements aside, Toy Odyssey turned out to be an incredibly pleasant surprise. This is procedural generation done right, with sprawling environments, pleasant visuals and a colourful cast of characters to bolster the experience. The RPG elements, quests and deliberate progression mean that time playing Toy Odyssey is never wasted; there’s always a goal to work towards, and it’s one that keeps you coming back time and time again. It’s a title that’s had me saying “just one more go” when it’s already way past bedtime – and that’s the sign of a truly enjoyable game.