Release Date: 22/12/2018
Price as of Article: $9.99, £8.99
Game code provided by BEHEMUTT
A dungeon crawling, action RPG with roguelite elements and twin stick controls with similarities to Enter the Gungeon and The Binding of Isaac sounds great and its certainly an ambitious project from the small indie developer Behemutt. Unfortunately, right now there is a major issue on the Switch port that I experienced twice that is game breaking, hopefully, the developer does get this fixed but at this moment in time, I need to tell you up front not to buy this game. The issue I experienced is that the game crashes midway through a dungeon, on reopening the game my save data was lost with no way to recover it meaning you would need to start from the beginning of the game.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the game.
I love the concept, humans are weak in this bleak world and monsters use energy known as mana to dominate the land, raiding and pillaging small human villages. One day enough is enough and you set about taking the fight to the enemy, you aim to gather humans and band together in a stronghold and delve deep into the monsters homeland in order to crush them and set humanity free.
The story takes a back seat, as you get further you unlock a further two playable characters and see a small amount of story as you progress but its clear that the real focus of this game is in its gameplay.
On your quest to defeat the many foes of humanity you take on the role of a bow-wielding hunter called Ellis who shoots arrows using the Right Stick – moving it in a direction points a reticle and fires your arrow in its direction, the Left Stick is used to move around and like any good twin-stick shooter its difficult until you get the hang of it and get stronger.
The game uses a top-down view and you progress through floors, wiping out all enemies before delving deeper. These floors are randomised in layout and mob spawning so you will face a slightly different challenge on each run. The game has been compared to Dark Souls due to its difficulty and use of a camp to upgrade your character and for me, the similarity ends there. There are two currencies in the game – runes which are imbued with the power of mana and can be exchanged back at your base for permanent upgrades – new skills, weakening mobs and food which provides passive bonuses. This is the games primary resource and its also used to gather more followers to your camp who in turn open up these places in which you can get upgrades.
As you progress through a dungeon you will come to a “Peculiar Room” – in these rooms you will send back any runes to your settlement – when you inevitably die you lose all runes so sending them back via the “Peculiar Room” is the main way to slowly gather resources and get stronger.
The other main resource is gold coins, these are exchanged for upgrades that last for your current run though you sometimes get the chance to unlock a new skill permanently for gold – allowing you to spend runes to learn the skill.
The games unlockables, discoverable items, and upgrades are what keeps you entertained, you will find that you are a bit too weak at first to get very far and its the promise of getting runes and upgrading your character permanently is what will keep you going back – when you throw in the randomness and temporary upgrades its an addictive mix.
Sadly as well as the current major bug issue, load times are particularly slow – each time you go down a floor I felt like I had time to make a cup of tea and for a game where you die a lot and start back at camp – that’s annoying.
One of the things I thought was very creative in the game is how certain mobs work together to take you down, for example a little bow-wielding foe might jump on the back of a wolfs back and start shooting you whilst its on the move – it’s a nice touch and though there are a few small bugs these were not bad enough to take away from the overall enjoyment.
If you manage to get past the first boss and get further you unlock two more characters with their own skills and playstyles including a sword and shield wielding warrior and a heavy bow user that cannot shoot whilst on the move but does more damage. There is certainly a fair bit of content in this game though I found the number of unique mobs and locations to be quite lacking.
The music in game fits very well, you have these orchestral scores that feel right at home in the bleak landscape and give you a sense of danger at all times. There are not a huge number of tracks but they do not grate over time and the sound effects are equally satisfying.
Visually Mana Spark uses very blocky pixelated art, the quality is not bad but it isn’t the best out there – with so many pixelated games it’s hard to stand out and this doesn’t. The backgrounds are well drawn but repeat often and the lack of mob variety means you are not often seeing new sprites, the effects and spells, on the other hand, look great! Firing off multiple arrows and launching bombs look and feel really good.
At $9.99 in the US and £8.99 in the UK the game is priced quite fairly given its scope, of course, the porting issues and slow loading times make it hard to justify right now.
game breaking bug
slow load times
not fully polished visually