Hey Rye Breads, Toast here. It is no secret that I love Rogue-Likes. Heck I may even love them more than my own children. Luckily for me, the Switch has no shortage of these brutally difficult nuggets of happiness. Less luckily however, is the disparity in quality. For every Downwell, there are at least 20 titles so awful, they are not fit for human consumption. This is where City of Brass comes barrelling in.
City of Brass has a lot of stuff going for it on paper. A first person, swashbuckling Rogue-Like themed after the Arabian Nights. Genies, traps and undead sorcery emanating from the gold filled, sand covered metropolis. With whip and sword in hand, it promises and adventure the likes of which you never seen. Again, that is on paper.
Similar to how the vast wealth in the titular city draws in fools and travellers alike, City of Brass promises the world, but inevitably leaves you wanting more once it has disposed of your rotting, withered corpse. Cracks in its elaborate sales pitch unfortunately begin to show within mere seconds of the game loading up. Let’s just say, for now of course, that when a pre-rendered cutscene is juttering, you’re going to be in for a bumpy ride.
Once you start a New Game, those initial cracks start to look a whole lot deeper. The game is one step above chugging at a mere stroll through the sandy catacombs, before spiralling into several steps below once any sort of action begins. Enemy on screen? Chug. Enemy attacking? Chug. Too many objects. Chug. Heck, thinking about breaking anything? You get the point.
This wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if the game looked anywhere close to appealing. Unfortunately the game just looks ugly, both docked and handheld. Textures are poor, animations are choppy, enemies occasionally pop into existance and for a game set in a desert, the lighting is far from ideal.
Driving all this negativity home is the clunky controls. Because the game chugs along, your character generally feels sluggish. Everything from moving, to jumping, to attacking feels a little bit off. Aiming your various armaments comes across jerky and landing hits reliably sometimes feels like a crapshoot. All of this is compounded by how floaty your character moves and how weightless their attacks are. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a mess.
Thankfully the game does manage to pick itself out of the sand and show that it’s not quite so easily defeated. Despite everything I have just said, the core gameplay loop is very satisfying, albeit in a way that leans more on its Rogue-Like roots, rather than anything thats particularly unique to City of Brass.
You’re goal is to traverse the city, making your way to its fabled centre and the riches it promises. As you go along on your merry, Aladin-esque way, you’ll pilage loot, fight monsters and most crucially – die a horrendous and often sudden death. A Rogue-Like through and through.
What makes the combat in City of Brass unique is it’s dual wielding. At all times you brandish an Indiana Jones style whip, as well as some sort of mainhand weapon, often a sword. Your sword naturally does the majority of the hacking and slashing, and as I eluded too, that isn’t all that exciting. The whip however is a genuinely interesting addition. In combat you can thwack heads, legs and weapons to stun, trip and disarm. You can also grab and drag enemies and items, in addition to using it to swing around the map. If the controls felt better, the whip could have made this game. There is nothing quite as satisfying as dragging an enemy into a spike trap and watching it explode into a pile of bones. In its current state however it merely saves it from being unplayable.
In traditional Rogue-Like fashion, randomly generated loot and procedural generation create the games replayability. Loot in City of Brass mostly come from genies scattered across the labyrinthian streets. You purchase these by plundering everything not nailed down. The boost they give you in combat can range from a lengthier whip, to a sword wreathed in lightning. For a game of this type, the selection of tools to be found are a bit lacking in terms of size, but are at least passable.
Speaking of genies, they vary in purpose and therefore usefulness. Some may allow you to gamble your fortune, others might allow you to bank your items for a future run. They might just try to murder you with hellfire as well to be honest, they are quite unpredictable. Arguably the most important genie is the healing genie, as they are one of the only ways to regenerate lost health.
The lack of reliable healing is unfortunately a not too subtle segway into another gripe. Difficulty. City of Brass is truly unforgiving. You have a very small health pool and enemies can burn through your reserves very quickly. Sprinkle in traps which deal massive damage, if not outright killing you makes death quick and frequent. This would not have been such a frustrating aspect had the controls been tight, and the game smoother than a mountain.
As a way of adding a modular difficulty, City of Brass has a ‘Boons and Burdens‘ system. This lets you alter various aspects of the game to make it significantly easier, or harder, should you wish. This does lock you out of the leaderboards, but it does let you more comfortably navigate the games formidable challenges.
It is difficult to adequately express why I am still playing this game. Whilst it is true the game is so far beyond ‘rough and ready’ that it could almost be likened to drinking glass, what it does right, just about manages to redeem it. City of Brass very comfortably manages to nail a middle of the road Rogue-Like experience. Whether you want to check it out is based entirely on much weight you put in theme. Hate sand? Probably not for you, Lord Vader.
Are you going to pick up City of Brass? Which Rogue-likes tickle your fancy? Let me know down below.
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