If you’re going to play Clever Plays‘ excellent twin stick action/roguelike Leap of Fate, you’ll want to make sure your controller is either brand new or of recent vintage. The game requires such precise aiming and fast reaction times if you plan on succeeding and a too-well broken in controller can male an already challenging game even more so. Yours truly found that out within the first few minutes of play when my first character got wiped out because the left stick on my Dual Shock was a bit loose.
On one hand, my first hour or so was spent dying and retrying more than I wanted to even with what I thought were some decent skills gained from many previous retries. However, after borrowing a newer controller from a friend, the amount of deaths dropped dramatically (although I still got zapped by certain strong enemies or bosses and their cheap tactics). On the other hand, the game is actually set up so that you can gain from losing thanks to the randomly generated levels and mission types giving you decent goodies on occasion. Still, progression is what it’s all about at the end of the day and despite a few hiccups, what’s here can be pretty addictive.
Set in a cyberpunk version of New York City, the game packs in a mix of surreal character designs with sci-fi and mystic elements that blend quite well. Initially, you play as Aeon, a shadow mage before unlocking Big Mo, a cyborg technomancer, Mukai, a spirit channeler, and Rasimov, the rogue occultist. Each character has his or her own story, powers, and a skill tree that grows as you gain levels and power up your chosen avatar. You’ll still die a lot as a more powerful mage, but any skills you’ve unlocked remain upon each restart.
Gameplay is tight and challenging, but this is far from a simple run ‘n gun or Diablo-like ARPG. Using the Shadow Walk skill allows you to avoid enemy hits, but timing is crucial as well as minding your energy spent. Dispatching enemies quickly keeps you juiced up and able to stay out of trouble, but you’ll need to pay attention to your surroundings. Certain objects are destructible and yes, you’ll lose a chunk of health (or die outright) if you’re in the wrong place when something goes boom.
The randomly generated levels in each playthrough is a really intriguing bit of business. Missions are granted through a set of tarot-like cards that when selected, send your character into battle, give him or her random items or even allow powering up of skills. There’s also a branching path system in play that means you might breeze through a few easier maps only to choose between a hard fight against a bunch of powerful enemies and a harder boss battle. Ouch. Oh, here’s a hour or so of me being terrible at the game with that kinda busted PS4 controller – no need to watch the whole thing, as you’ll get the gist:
At first, dying seems like (and is) frustrating, particularly when you get on a good roll and have a string of victories to grin about. But all it takes is one pesky boss battle with strafing flying enemies teamed up with well-armored giant guards or something else that wipes you out to set you back to the beginning. Replaying areas with each character is a good idea, as you’ll want to learn and improve your skills as much as possible. Unfortunately, there’s no way to save progress at all until you die and the game offers you a continue choice that might surprise you (no spoilers here!).
Stylized visuals, graphic novel-like presentation in the cut scenes, the game’s isometric perspective and a solid soundtrack are pleasing overall. The mixing of surreal and sci-fi in the art direction is very well implemented throughout. That said, as a native New Yorker, I’ll let out a tiny gripe (tiny!) that you don’t see anything that resembles the city (skyscraper rooftops and random city streets to do battle don’t quite cut it). But I’ll give Clever Plays a thumbs up and a pass because their game is quite a thrill to play.
While there are only six stages (you won’t blaze through them unless you’re that good at this sort of game), no online or multiplayer options and a mere four characters, the very low price point ($9.99? I bought it as soon as I saw it on PSN), tons of replay value and always tough battles make it a must play in my book. I guess a Switch port could happen if the developer is up to it, but I’m not one to tell an indie dev what they need to work on. Whatever Clever Plays has up its sleeve next (hey, sequels can be cool), I’m going to absolutely take a look at with a smile.
Score: B+ (85%)