Friday, October 30, 2020

Crown Trick (NSW, PC) Review

As we approach the end of the month and inch ever closer to Halloween, SuperPhillip Central picks up the pace with its October reviews. So, how about a game that is set in a world of nightmares? Nothing screams "Halloween" more than that! Let's check out the Team17-published, NEXT Studios-developed Crown Trick for Nintendo Switch and PC.

This trick is definitely a treat.

The rogue-like and its more forgiving rogue-lite cousin are two genres that are quite popular with indie game developers. The genre encourages you to master its mechanics, learn from your mistakes, and even bash your head against the proverbial wall until you finally overcome a particularly devious floor or boss. Crown Trick from developer NEXT Studios is one such rogue-lite that brings with it a tremendous initial challenge that gets easier (but not by that much) as you make progress, earning new abilities and permanent upgrades during and between runs. The game ends up being a difficult but engaging title worthy of a play.

A beautifully animated sequence opens up our story, featuring our heroine Elle.

Crown Trick is a turn-based rogue-lite that has you navigating procedurally generated labyrinths in search of each floor's boss, as well as attempting to uncover helpful temporary gear to make your run a more successful one. Each time you make an action--whether moving a space in the dungeon, using an item, or unleashing an attack--your opponents also do the same. In this sense, the game is not unlike a Mystery Dungeon game, though in Crown Trick's case, when you enter a room with enemies, you're locked inside until all foes are defeated. This results in having your back against the wall, needing to rout all enemies with nowhere to really hide. Yes, you must take the fight to your foes if you wish to move on.

Combat works well and is quite engaging in Crown Trick. As stated, when you move or make an action, enemies get their turn to do the same. The odds are definitely not on your side when you're surrounded by foes, but there are some advantages you have that the enemy doesn't. You have plenty of tools to utilize in the dungeon and in battle: from relics that bestow abilities for that particular run and items that grant temporary boosts or deal damage to a wide range of enemies, to permanent stat upgrades, gold, and shards to spend when you return to the main hub. 

Swords, axes, wands, and even guns are but some of the multitude of weaponry in Crown Trick.

You're also helped by having two of the game's cleverest mechanics on your side: Break and Brink. Each enemy has a shield icon over their heads, which when they're attacked, the number next to the shield decreases. When it hits zero, the enemy enters a temporary broken state for several turns, allowing you to attack them for more damage while they sit dazed out of their mind, completely vulnerable. 

Meanwhile, Brink is closely related to Break. Whereas Break is used for offense, Brink is used to get the heck out of danger when necessary. Not only can you transport away to a nearby grid space, but you still get an extra turn to either move or attack. This is terrific for when an enemy is charging up a powerful attack (denoted by a red square with a number on it--the number indicating how many turns until the enemy's attack is unleashed), and you can't simply move to an adjacent square to get away. That said, you only get a limited number of Brinks to use. In order to gain more, you need to initiate Breaks on enemies. Each Break results in an earned Brink. This results in the player needing to both play safe while also occasionally being aggressive in battle. It's a fine line, and starting off in the game, it was one that I certainly failed to walk. However, with practice, there were boss encounters that I had in the past utterly failed at that eventually I could clear without taking damage due to mastering the involved gameplay systems.

And, that's really what the rogue-like and rogue-like genres are all about. You're supposed to fail, and fail again, but each time you pick new information, new wisdom, and in the case of rogue-lites, new abilities and bonuses to help you better survive in your next run. Crown Trick does this excellently. 

No doubt you'll encounter Crown Trick's sub-bosses during your journey through the dungeon, known as Familiars. These are stronger enemies that your typical already-formidable foes, and when you defeat them, they lend you their power. You can equip up to two Familiars at a time, each possessing two magic abilities that cost MP to use. From The Trickster's electric-based magic that can unleash a ball of electricity that bounces between foes like a game of ping pong, to the Mandragora's ability to use its thorns to keep an enemy locked in place, Familiars are another tool to succeeding in the otherwise insurmountable odds of surviving life in the dungeon.

Starting off each dungeon run in the multi-tiered floor of Crown Trick's dungeon, you get a choice between two random weapons. Weapons come in all shapes and sizes, offering different attack strength, magic strength, area of attack, as well as various buffs and bonuses depending on the rarity of the weapon. Too many times, however (or at least more times than I would have liked), I would be greeted with two weapons of poor utility, resulting in a run that was doomed before it even fully started. 

The dungeon of Crown Trick is home to all sorts of deadly creatures and monsters alike, but it's also the place where various points of interest take residence as well. There's random shops, random treasures containing helpful loot like weapons, relics and gold, random rooms with "choose your own adventure"-style choices that can positively or negatively affect your run, and even random rooms featuring gacha-machines, where gold spent earns you a random weapon with the better weapons relying on pure, unadulterated luck to win. 

When death does come, and it most definitely will, as is customary for the rogue-like and rogue-lite genres, your character awaken from their nightmare and back in their room. It's here that you can return to the dungeon for another run, but there's also various NPCs that you can discover in said dungeons that offer their services in the hub. From a banker that keeps part of your gold intact when you perish, to an alchemist who provides potion services to give you an extra safety net in dungeons, great for replenishing health when death approaches, these NPCs are paramount to your overall wellbeing in Crown Trick's dungeon of nightmares. By collecting shards during your dungeon runs, you spend them at each NPC's shop to get permanent boost and bonuses. 

Treasure chests like this one bestow all sorts of wonderful goodies.

Crown Trick features multiple "acts" or "chapters" of sorts, so if you survive all four floors of the initial dungeon run and battle and beat all of the bosses that stand in your way, you'll move onto the next act. Each act introduces new challenges into the mix, such as "curses" that change the way you have to play. While this encourages experimenting with what weapons, relics, and items you opt to use, it also falls into the trap of my weapon dilemma. That's to say that one unlucky roll of the RNG dice can result in a negative effect to your run that essentially also dooms it to failure (or at least a forecast of you being very unlikely to survive that run), which can also seem unfair. I get it--rogue-likes/lites are like that, but it still dampens the fun a bit and feels like wasted time.

On the presentation side of the game, Crown Trick features gorgeous animated characters and detailed environments, adding up to a sublime package... visually. Technically, at least on the Nintendo Switch version, I encountered numerous stutters and stops in undocked mode, most notably when many characters were on screen at once or when plenty of special effects like explosions or fires were happening. Furthermore, there were many times where trying to pick up items with the Y button (for things like scrolls, for instance) resulted in nothing happening. Highly frustrating and quite wonky to finally pick those darned things up. 

Not only can things get pretty busy on screen, but slowdown can also occur at times in Crown Trick.

When it's all said and done, Crown Trick is a mostly well made and well executed rogue-lite that allows for plenty of opportunities for planning and strategy with its turn-based movement and combat. Our heroine Elle's ability to Break enemies' defenses and Blink around rooms to evade attacks and better position herself in battle are smart, worthwhile mechanics. Add in pleasant and stylish visuals (though not without performance problems on the Switch version), and you have a rogue-like that's easy to recommend but absolutely hard in both how difficult the game is, and how hard it can be to put it down.

[SPC Says: B-]

A Nintendo Switch code was provided to SPC by the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

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