Review: MicRogue13 May 2015 0
You'd be hard-pressed to name more than a couple iconic shields. Yes yes, Captain America's counts, though it doesn't even have a name like "Freedom" or "Banner" or "The Philadelphia Escutcheon." What else do you have to put up against the likes of Sting, Excalibur, Needle, Glamdring, the Vorpal Sword, the Sword of Chaos, the Master Sword, the Sword in the Stone, and so on?
Jason Pickering's MicRogue has, for what it's worth, one of the most laughable fictional shields you could imagine. No name for the thing, but plenty of character, and that character is mostly wimpy. The game's a bare-bones roguelike (a micro rogue, you see, or a micro rouge as my inevitable typo will say a few paragraphs in) which emphasizes movement, positioning, and timing over the accumulation of XP and levels, and one where only three blows to the hero's gilded shield (or one blow to his exposed flanks) spells "game over." And yet it says much about MicRogue's dubious challenge that this wet-cardboard buckler often seems like too generous an armament for the game's plucky hero.
As you guide your unnamed, headband-sporting protagonist through Microgue's ten levels, Grateful Dead Knight will need to smartly dispatch foes (by moving onto their spaces) and, in turn, avoid or absorb their attempts to dispatch him (which, again, happens whenever an enemy could move onto our hero's space). If the knight is facing an enemy when their attack lands, and he has at least one shield token left, he'll live to strike back--otherwise you're starting over from floor one. Of course you can also avoid foes entirely if possible, and book it for the staircase which marks each level's end.
Microgue is at its most Rogue-y when you first start, playing blind and learning with each move you make. The game doesn't have anything in the way of unidentified (and invariably cursed) armor or deep cockatoo meta (though roguelike law stipulates that a cockatoo enemy make an appearance here)--rather, the only thing to learn in Microgue is what each enemy does. Though mobs' roles are never spelled out explicitly, it soon becomes clear that, for example, the early-game jellies halve your movement range from two spaces to one for a single turn after you kill them. The floating fire spirits explode after you dispatch them, with the resulting blast killing any other nearby monsters. Then you have mobs that move in different patterns: one diagonally, negating the advantage corners provide (you can often just pass your turn and wait for enemies to walk into killing range), another teleporting several spaces and forcing you to retreat.
The main problem with how Microgue lays its handful of threats out before you is that the discrete elements of the game's fantasy army rarely seem like they're working together. There is one enemy that can shield its fellow monsters temporarily, but for the overwhelming majority of the time you're not darting your way around a squad of Gygaxian horrors so much as you're dueling a series of stiffly moving battlebots covered in felt D&D garb by their MIT overlords.
Chalk it up to the game's regularly wide-open floors, some tepid enemy AI, and possibly some less-than-ideal starting spawns for mobs. That jelly all the way across the room doesn't add much to a fight even when it's close to some pals--alone, it's basically useless. And here's an example on the AI front: one mob, a giant brown floating eye, can swap places with your hero at range if it has clear line-of-sight and sits in the same row as you. You could imagine scenarios where this bastard teleports you smack into the middle of some ninjas, effectively ending a run. However, the creature is just as likely to teleport you forward, closer to a level's exit and in an area devoid of hostiles. Stay in the same row and he'll just teleport you back, for no good reason at all other than to annoy. "I'm the teleporting eye, brother. This is what I do. This... this is all I know how to do..."
MicRogue is obviously going for accessibility over intricacy here, and that's fine. Let me make it clear right here that the game is perfect if you just want to pick it up, play for a few runs, then put it down again, returning only when you have a few minutes to kill and you remember it's still installed on your iThingy. That's fine, and that's a fine thing to shoot for, and MicRogue more than deserves just that sort of lifecycle.
But... you can't throw "rogue" in your title, and mean that "rogue", the Big-R "rogue," without certain comparisons being drawn. And you especially can't do that when there are other examples of the puzzle-roguelike--The Nightmare Cooperative and, Zeus help me for not having mentioned it already, Hoplite--out there, examples that have done so much more with equally simple conceits. MicRogue is a game where, even if you fail seven times in a row, chances are you'll have failed each time on the eighth or ninth stages. Even when you're losing it doesn't feel like you've lost much at all.
MicRogue was played on a 3rd generation iPad for this review.