‘Time to kick some ASCII.’
’80s and ’90s rogue-likes have been a massive influence on a wide variety of games and genres. Do you remember Rogue? The one where the world was built entirely using a bunch of ASCII letters and symbols? It was games like that which provided a solid foundation for many of today’s titles, spanning from Rogue Legacy to The Binding of Isaac to Dungeons of Dredmor. Brut@l maintains some key mechanics in modern dungeon crawlers, but goes back to gaming’s roots in terms of visual style, back when ASCII was still the ‘big thing’.
Brut@l, in simple form, is a class-based dungeon crawler with bright neon aesthetic, in which you shoot, throw, hack and slash your way through procedurally-generated rooms of enemies and objects. Whilst doing this, you’ll also be enchanting weapons, attempting not to die by piranhas or long falls and giving all of your money as an offering to the ‘gods’, only to disgrace them and be smote. What lovely gods.
As you can see, the game’s resemblance to original titles like Rogue and NetHack is uncanny; even though it’s in 3D, it’s very obvious where Brut@l’s developers got their inspiration from. In full-screen and when everything is moving around it’s pretty intense and contrasty, and unique to a degree. It’s rather nostalgic looking at the floor as it’s made up of the traditional ASCII white dots, lines and pluses.
This fella doesn’t want to die.
Most of the game consists of whacking baddies with your weapon and throwing your @-shaped shield, as well as smashing pots, benches, pillars and explosive barrels. Combat is brutal in Brut@l, mainly when you’re smashing enemies to neon pieces, but also too easy and dumbed-down; hitting and throwing is pretty much all you do in a fight. Your character locks onto individual enemies, taking any precision out of the brawl, and will sometimes start your guy hitting objects instead of bad guys. There isn’t much strategy in fights, besides deciding whether I should throw my shield at a group of enemies if there are too many, or possibly deciding whether to lure the lot of them to an explosive barrel and blowing them all up at once.
That being said, there is a large range of enemies that could confront you as you walk through the archway into an undiscovered room, such as knights, orcs, werewolves, zombies that need to be burned to die, nymphs that can steal your weapons, ‘xploders’ which charge at you and blow themselves up, and so on.
Kill it with fire!
The controls feel fairly drifty, almost as if my character doesn’t weigh anything. This has caused me to fall off narrow stairs several times in an attempt to reach a chest at the top, and in combination with bridges, is the cause of 90% of my deaths.
Where the game strives best is in its creative crafting/enchanting system. As you go along, you’ll find white letters floating about on the floor or in crates, and when you pick them up they’ll be added to your letter collection, to be used along with a recipe book when you would like to build a weapon. To actually make the item, you need all of the letters that the recipe book says, then when you decide to craft it a nifty visual sequence pops up, building your weapon out of the letters.
Enchanting goes a very similar way, except this requires coloured letters that you can find which can be used in the enchanting menu. If you have a sword and its main letter is M, then you’ll need to find a coloured ‘M’ before you can have that ‘M’ placed on your weapon. The different enchanted weapons can also open gates and doors of the same colour, allowing you to reap the glorious rewards that lay behind.
My sweet new scepter.
There is also a potion brewing system, where you can combine some ingredients to make an unknown — or known — potion, which may give you major buffs or painful debuffs. One of the potions puts you in a ferocious rage for a few seconds, while another turns you invisible, while another makes you gain health when you’re taking hits and lose health for dealing them. It’s actually quite fun trying out different potions, figuring out what the different combinations end up creating.
The game features experience and levelling up, letting you unlock skills in your skill tree, which provide you with bonuses such as extra damage, new special attacks, the ability to enchant weapons with magic, instant surprise kills, automatically knowing what every potion does, etc. which is a nice addition to the game and a good element that many titles possess.
By breaking stuff and killing enemies gold will be bestowed upon ye, which ye can use at altars to offer to the ‘gods’. If they find your offering worthy, they’ll grant you an extra life, but if not, they’ll send a fierce lightning bolt down onto the altar, leaving you without money and without an extra life. This seems like a random chance, as I’ve given the lowest amount of money possible and received an extra life, but also given the highest amount of money and been smited. That’s the only use for money that I’ve met in the game so far (but might not be the only use at all).
The gods aren’t happy.
Local/split screen co-op is one of Brut@l’s quirks; playing with friends is great fun, and smashing pots and wrecking enemies with them is even better. My experience with co-op play has been short but enjoyable — except for when my friend picks everything up and eats it all just for the sake of it, but don’t mind him; he’s a special kind of stupid.
Due to its rogue-like tag, you’d expect that you can die and never respawn — and you’d be correct! Yep, if you die, there’s no coming back, unless you’ve received extra lives by the grace of the Brut@l gods. As well as your health bar which you would expect, there is also a hunger bar that gradually goes down over time, so you’d better eat your food!
While the game has a lot going for it and its potential is nearly limitless, I can’t help but feel that it’s a bit shallow, and there’s no massive difference between this and other dungeon crawlers besides its visual style, which seems to be its main selling point.
You cheeky bugger!
In any case, Brut@l is a good play and I’ve had a good time playing it. It’s very newbie-friendly (in that if you die it’s pretty easy to get back to where you were up to), so if you’re new to the rogue-like/dungeon crawler scene and would like to give it a go, then this game is a good start.
👍 Brut@l IS worth the US$15 it is available for.
This review is for the PC version of the game — any other devices may play differently.