Brut@l Review — ASCII Goodness
Back in the eighties, Rogue hit the scene with its ASCII graphics, creating the roguelike genre of games. These letters and numbers from the ASCII programming language created procedurally generated dungeons made up of these letters for players to make their way through, leaving a lot to the players imagination to turn these letters and numbers into heroes and villains. As computer and gaming hardware evolved, so did the roguelike genre, becoming more and more detailed, but still retaining its Rouge roots. After all of this evolution in the genre, Stormcloud Games has decided to pay its respect to Rogue and other ASCII dungeon crawlers with Brut@l by bringing that graphical style into 3D while still retaining the things that made people love games like Rouge in the first place.
While it isn’t very deep or innovative outside of its awesome artstyle, Brut@l is still a very well made roguelike that doesn’t want you to ASCII much (I am sorry for that bad pun) as you delve into this addicting roguelike. Brut@l pays homage to the great games of yesteryear, and shows what modern game design can do while emulating what older games did just right.
Brut@l’s ASCII graphical style is distinct and looks very crisp. The rudimentary construction levels leave much to the player’s imagination, but are still nice to look at and analyze at the same time. Everything in the game’s environments are distinguishable from each other, despite being built from the same set of letters. These graphics are very charming, and stand out from any other games in the same genre.
Like many of the original roguelikes, Brut@l’s gameplay is very simple. Players must navigate through 25 floors of a dungeon, breaking objects and killing enemies to get XP while finding keys to unlock a door so they can ultimately find the passageway to the next floor. It is pretty standard dungeon-crawling/roguelike game fare, but it is executed quite well for the most part.
With each new game, the dungeon the player dives into is randomized. There are different layouts, objects, and enemies placed on each floor. The main goal is to progress through 25 floors in order to beat the “Guardian of the Dungeon”, although only the most resilient players will ever reach him. The player has only one life, though, and must manage that along with a food meter in order to fend off enemies and stay alive. When the player dies, they lose all of their items, and the dungeon’s layout is reset, giving you a whole new experience to push through.
This is pretty standard for roguelike game, and works just as well here as it does in other titles. It is very empowering as one makes their way through the dungeon, strengthening themselves with stronger weapons and armor and taking on each unique challenge throughout the floors, and it is all the more devastating when you accidentally let your guard down or jump the wrong way off an edge, effectively shutting down your current run. Platforming can be quite stiff sometimes in Brut@l due to the camera’s position and the movements, although not bad, do not respond fast enough to make precise platforming fun.
Players start by choosing one of four classes. The Ranger is the most normal one, with decent health, attack, and defense. The Amazon is a stronger attacker with her fierce kicks, and the Mage can fire a ranged blast of magic at targets, making that class the most friendly to beginners or those trying to play the game very safely. The Warrior is a little slower in his attacks, but is very strong.
Even though the classes do have slight differences, they blend together more than they should for a game of this type. The Warrior, Ranger, and Amazon are near interchangeable when it comes to their basic three-hit attack pattern, with only very small things such as health, power, and minor special abilities setting them apart. Having more diversity between these classes would have given Brut@l more depth, and would also add even more replayability to the game.
Luckily, the base gameplay is quite fun, even if it is simple. Players start out with only their fists, a shield, and a torch to fight off their enemies. They can also pull off a special move, which starts as a ground pound and changes later as players unlock things in their skill tree as they level up. There is a basic three hit attack combo that all characters can do with either their fist or a weapon. While some could consider this basic system too simple, this streamlined gameplay allows players to focus on looking for the best time to attack or dodge from the enemy without thinking about a complicated fighting system.
Players can also throw their shield to destroy objects and hurt enemies. One can also block with their shield. This normally does not negate damages, only dampening the amount that enemy attacks do. If players get the exact timing of the shot right though, they can do a Timed Block that negates all damage. While blocking, players can move the control stick in any direction or press forward and the jump button to dodge. This catches enemies off guard, and lets the player counter for easier damage.
Players can also craft weapons and brew potions by finding the blueprint (called a codex here) and the corresponding ASCII program letters to construct it. There are different types of weapons, including swords, bows, and giant hammers. The letters used to create these don’t seem to change on subsequent dungeon attempts, so it gives the game some constant between forays into this ASCII dungeon. It is also possible to enchant weapons to give them extra powers, such as fire that sets enemies ablaze, water which can freeze enemies; nature, which can poison enemies; and energy, which has the chance of turning the enemy into something easier or tougher to fight randomly.
The only problem that arises with this system is that the letters are seemingly randomized and hard to come by. Having set situations for spawning letters would have made the crafting system easier, as players would know what they would have to do to get the weapon they want, instead of trudging through the levels hoping that they can find what they need and don’t have to stick with their fists for very long.
Brewing potions works the same as crafting weapons, except players need a empty potion bottle, which can be found by smashing objects in the world. When crafting a potion, players also need to use some blue-hued objects found scattered in the environments after they break things. These crafted potions could make you immune to all damage, or start sucking away your health, killing you and ending your run. This is a cool risk and reward system, and with the potions being marked after the first use, one won’t make the mistake of drinking the same bad potion twice in that run, instead opting to use it on enemies.
Brut@l also features a pretty detailed Stage Creator that allows players to make their own dungeon floors and share them online for other players to traverse through. Players can choose from a variety of floor tiles, objects/props, and enemies to create the most simple or complex of dungeons. For the game’s simple style, there is quite a bit of detail here, and it is pretty easy to navigate the menus and create a level that can be a fun romp, or a controller-throwing nightmare.
Brut@l also includes another feature that is dying out of major gaming releases lately, couch co-op. Co-op is very fun, with players making their way through dungeons together to take on their enemies and not die alone. While having a friend does make the game easier, it is actually just great that you can share this cool homage to gaming history with a friend and get them hooked as well.
When it comes to gameplay, Brut@l may not be very innovative to the rougelike genre at its core; it’s actually pretty standard as those kind of games go. This game has its artstyle and inspiration to thank for adding tons of charm to what would have been a pretty by-the-numbers entry into the genre. If you love roguelikes, or have fond memories of the old ASCII games, you will absolutely enjoy Brut@l. Even if it lacks the depth of some of its competitors, it makes it up in spades in old-school retro charm, and will hook you for hours.