There aren’t many experiences in gaming more satisfying than completing an entire game without dying.
It’s no wonder, then, that the challenging and unforgiving roguelike genre has become so popular, and a multitude of games have been spawned to meet the demand. Caveblazers is the latest roguelike on the scene, recently coming out of early access to release fully on PC.
We’ll start by getting the obvious comparison out of the way. Caveblazers has clearly taken a lot of inspiration from the roguelike supergiant Spelunky. Both games take place in caves, and both follow the player as they descend the randomly-generated landscape looking for an exit in order to move on to the next area. As similar as these two games are on the surface, the core gameplay and feel of the two couldn’t be more different.
Caveblazers is set in a newly discovered cave that is said to contain “unimaginable power”. The player sets out to delve into the cave and find out what treasure and potential lies beneath the surface. There are a couple of NPCs that speak the odd line to the character, but that’s about as deep as a narrative ever gets – and it’s all that’s needed for this type of game.
One of the main focuses of Caveblazers that sets it apart from the likes of Spelunky is the combat, which is split up into three different forms: melee, ranged, and magic. Melee deals a lot of damage, but risks the player getting hit by enemies. Ranged damage is great for keeping enemies at bay, but the bow doesn’t deal much damage and can be troublesome to aim. One of the biggest frustrations with Caveblazers is that the bow can only be fired in eight directions. You’ve got to jump and orient yourself to be able to aim properly instead of being able to aim in a 360-degree radius. Magic damage requires you to find a magic item and charge it up, which they can then fire off with some interesting effects.
Although the bow can be frustrating to fire, the rest of the controls handle extremely well. The wall-jumping is quite satisfying, and is another element that sets Caveblazers apart from a lot of other platforming games. I rarely, if ever, felt like poor controls or confusing platforming was the cause of my death, which can be a huge cause of frustration in unforgiving roguelikes. There are also many fewer traps or platforming-related obstacles to get hurt from, making it easier focus on the high-octane combat.
The combat itself is high action and can quickly devolve into huge brawls with a a multitude of enemies. Caveblazers not only has a wide variety of enemies, but each has its own distinct and challenging combat styles. What is likely the most impressive feature in the entire game is the pathfinding system the enemies employ. In a game with so much randomness and challenging wall-jump platforming, the enemies seem to be able to chase the player as well as a human-controlled enemy could. This leads to some very stressful chase scenes between, let’s say, a group of orcs and a low-health player looking to reach the next area alive.
The action doesn’t stop there, as you’ll run into a boss every third level. There are a handful of bosses that you will randomly encounter throughout your run, and they can appear in any area. Although the bosses are a nice idea, and they do break up the cave exploring sections with a faster paced, higher stress battle, they do end up feeling a little underwhelming.
First of all, there is a wide range of difficulty with the boss fights, meaning if you happen to get unlucky you may encounter several of the more difficult bosses in a single run, cutting your dreams of a high score short. Secondly, there isn’t much variety in the boss rooms themselves. All the bosses take place in the same sized rectangular room, void of any character. A couple of the bosses spawn platforms in order to allow you to jump up and melee the boss, but otherwise it’s the same wide open room with a floating boss. And finally, many of the bosses feel as though they can be cheesed, wall-jumping and shooting them from afar with a bow. It’s very rare that a melee-focused character will have an easier time with a boss than a ranged focused character.
Another of Caveblazer‘s random elements that can be frustrating at times is the inability to focus your character on a particular fighting style. Throughout the game, you’ll unlock perks, giving you bonuses for that particular run. Perks include things like ranged weapons dealing more damage, melee attacks being more powerful, or starting the run with bombs. Unfortunately, even if you pick the melee perk in an attempt to do a run as a melee character, there’s no guarantee you will run into any upgrade swords or melee-focused bonuses. Nothing is more disappointing than starting with a melee perk, choosing the melee bonuses, slipping all the melee rings on your fingers, and then picking up a half dozen bows as you continue to slap enemies with your rusty old starting sword.
If you ever get bored of trying to reach the bottom of the cave the same old way, Caveblazers allows you to mix things up by giving you daily challenge runs to try out. These daily challenges let you go on a run with a specific set of perks and constraints to see if you are a true cave blazer or not. There are also static challenges, almost like achievements, which can be achieved on any run. Completing a challenge will grant you some kind of reward, usually a new perk or bonus for future runs.
There are some complaints with these challenges, however. For instance, you seemingly can’t select a challenge once you’ve completed it to see exactly what reward it gave you, so you just have to associate the symbol beside it to a new unlock. A fair few of the challenges are secret and hidden, so the player may just happen upon it during a run, but they can’t exactly try to beat it.
A couple minor notes before we end. Caveblazers is tagged as a rogue-lite game, but there is very little character improvement over the course of the game. If you’re the type of player who wants to get consistently better with each run, then this may not be the game for you. I also personally encountered a handful of crashes during my playtime, but none that lost any progress, usually just at the end of the runs. The developer seems to do a good job taking in feedback and updating the game pretty regularly, so we can hope for some cool updates in the future. There has even been promises of local-multiplayer, which could bring this game to a whole new level if implemented well.
Caveblazers manages to separate itself pretty well from Spelunky and some of its other competition. It’s a solid roguelike that always feels fair and gives players a real challenge to complete. The combat is fast-paced and exciting, and the controls are as tight as you could hope for, with the exception of the bow. If you’re a fan of roguelikes, then this game is definitely one to check out.