- Developer: MegaCrit
- Publisher: Humble Bundle
- Release Date: 06/06/2019
- Price: £19.99 / $24.99
- Rating: PEGI 12 / Teen – Blood, Violence
- Review Code provided by Humble Bundle
Prepare to be Slain:
Slay the Spire has a special place in my heart, I’ve played it a lot, and I truly mean A LOT, it has passed the original Binding of Isaac for second place in my Steam library for time played. Slay the Spire was released as an early access game on Steam in November of 2017, and after watching a couple videos on YouTube I decided to buy in and give it a shot. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The game has grown and developed between early access and the official launch in January of 2019, MegaCrit had almost weekly updates with new content, balancing, new graphics, and other quality of life improvements. I asked MegaCrit a long time ago if they had plans to release the game on other platforms and ever since their “yes” answer I have been eagerly awaiting the Nintendo Switch release, the one thing keeping me from playing more Slay the Spire was having it tied to my computer.
Slay the Spire is a deck-building rogue like game where you can play as 1 of 3 characters: The Ironclad is a warrior type character who’s deck focuses on building up strength or creating an impenetrable wall of defense, the Silent is a rogue type character who uses cards centered around poison and small damage but high-combo attacks, the final character is a robot called the Defect who uses orbs to attack with different elements and to power his other abilities. When you start the game only the Ironclad will be unlocked but the other two characters quickly become available so there isn’t a long grind to be able to use them.
There’s not much of a story line to worry about the core of the game is fight your way to the top of the Spire, figure out it’s secret(s) learn what worked or didn’t work and try again. There’s a few recurring characters you will see in the game, but other than fairly minor events there’s no backstory or development to them.
So how does one slay a spire?
As deck-building game the core of the game revolves around the cards. Each character starts off with a starter deck, this will be the same every run and is mostly comprised of basic attacks and basic defends with a couple character specific cards thrown in. Cards are broken into 4 types; attacks, skills, powers, and curses. Attacks can range from the basic strikes, area of effect attacks that hit every enemy, or attacks that weaken or poison enemies. Skills are much more varied these are your defensive cards, cards that heal, cards that add other cards to your hand or deck, and cards that debuff enemies or buff yourself. Powers are interesting because once the card is played the affect is persistent for the entire battle. Powers can have a 1-time effect like adding strength or dexterity, or they can have recurring affects like drawing extra cards, or doing damage every turn. The final card type, curses are as expected bad, usually you will get a curse in return for performing a certain act to gain a reward or as the result of a relic (more on these in a minute)
The other item you can collect during the run are relics, relics are passive items that like powers can have a single affect like making enemies start a fight weak or can be triggered by certain actions like gaining block after playing a certain number of cards. Some relics have very little impact on the game, and other relics will completely redefine your run and will change which cards you select.
The biggest draw for any Roguelike game is the replayability factor, the game has to do something to draw you in and make it interesting to play the game over and over and over. How does Slay the Spire do this? First you have the characters, as previously mentioned two of the characters need to be unlocked, and within those characters each has 5 different unlocks and each level unlocks either 3 new cards or 3 new relics that are permanently added to the game. To unlock these items you need to earn points, your point total is calculated based on your actions in the run such as floors cleared, bossed and elites killed, etc. There’s also bonus points to be earned for special conditions like having a certain number of curses in your deck or killing a boss without taking damage.
Ok….so how about the slaying?
The main room type will either be regular monsters or elite monsters. The combat loop is very simple and easy to pick up, all the cards have an energy cost usually 0, 1, 2, or 3 (a few cards have higher but have ways to reduce it). In the beginning of the game you start with 3 energy per turn so you can play any combination of cards until your energy is gone. There are relics and cards that will give you more energy, the most valuable ones come from the bosses and permanently increase your energy for every turn, but these typically have a negative cost associated with them.
Enemies themselves have a few standard attacks and you can see what the enemy’s next action will be so you can plan if you need to defend against an attack or protect yourself from an incoming debuff. The combinations of enemies are static so you will never have a combination of enemies that is just too powerful to overcome, each encounter is curated to be balanced, some will be challenging yes, but you will never be faced with an unbeatable combination due to bad randomness. Elites are also curated by floor, there are 3 different elite monsters per floor, the value from elites is that you will get a relic and a better chance at a rare card as a reward for beating them.
RNG does play a factor in some of the fights however, one elite fight on the third floor alternates between being intangible (every attack only does 1 damage) and not, so with bad card draw the fight can be incredibly difficult if you draw your attacks on the turns where you can’t damage him. A more general instance is having bad luck and drawing a lot of defensive cards when an enemy is not attacking. It unusual for this to have a major impact on the outcome, but a few bad rolls can put you in a precarious position.
Aside from the regular standard runs Slay the Spire offers a wide range of additional play modes to keep the game fresh and to keep you playing. There are two separate unlocks that you can achieve by completing a normal run once with each character, the first win (beating the third floor boss) will unlock a corresponding key, when you unlock all three keys it’s rumored that there might be a secret fourth floor to challenge the Spire’s secrets (don’t want to spoil anything specific). Also when you complete a run you unlock ascension levels for that character. Each ascension level from 1 to 20 makes the run more and more difficult, the challenges stack on top of each other so the difficulty ramps up very quickly. The reward for beating an Ascension level is simply unlocking the next harder level and you get bonus points based on the level.
In addition to these modes there is a Daily Slay the Spire run where you can compete against everyone else using the same seeded run. The beauty of this is that with so many choices between your path and card selection it takes real skill and strategy to try and maximize your score. The daily runs definitely rewards you for earning those bonus points like taking no damage versus elites or bosses. Each daily challenge will have 3 modifiers to make the run more interesting as well. If you want to try out some of these modifiers for yourself in the game’s custom mode where you can select any (or all) of the game’s modifiers. Some modifiers make it very tough, like having 1 HP, and some make it very easy like getting a relic from every fight. On the custom screen you can also enter a game seed to try out the same run that a friend played through.
The graphical style of Slay the Spire is fairly simplistic, and it’s honestly great. The game isn’t bogged down with animations and unnecessary graphical fluff. The backgrounds are simple and convey the feeling that you’re exploring a ruined tower that’s riddled with monsters and other denizens. There are a few cards that have some flashy graphics and I personally feel like it’s balanced perfectly. If the character is doing a basic strike, then a simple slash across the enemy is enough, I do not want a 3-d animated cartoon of the Ironclad jumping across the screen every single attack, it is very cool when you use a rare card or large attack and you get that great positive feedback.
Similarly to the graphics, the simplistic music written by Clark Aboud fits the game perfectly and creates the ominous ambiance that is fitting for exploration of a monster filled tower. You can always tell that the music is there, but it’s never in your face and it doesn’t take away or distract from the game. Each attack has its own sound effects as well and like the music the effects add to the game and ambiance, different melee attacks have different sounding clunks and slashes, magic attacks have great sounding thunder or ice sounds, slime makes a nice goopy sound, and other different attacks are well represented. Contest code: Immolate
The Good, the bad, and the Ugly
Sadly, Slay the Spire is not without a few bugs and glitches. The most noticeable and most unpredictable was the game just simply crashing out to the Switch home screen with no message other than the standard “An error has occurred” message. The good thing about this is that when I reloaded the game my progress was not lost at all, the game does autosave after every room, and also the game never got “locked” by the error. After restarting the game, the error never happened immediately afterwards, so it doesn’t seem like the crash was related to any specific card, room, or event. It happened annoyingly frequently as well, about once per run which is about one crash every 30-45 minutes. The other glitch that I noticed was far less intrusive, happened before major enemy attacks, usually on floor bosses. The game’s animations would freeze for 5-8 seconds when the attack starts up and then continues as normal after the freeze. The worst offender was the first-floor boss, Hexaghost right when it charges up its fires on the second turn. I did report the bugs to Humble Bundle so hopefully these will be addressed when the game launches or shortly afterwards.
- High replayability, custom runs, increased difficulty, daily runs – will result in a great dollar/hour value.
- Graphics and music are simple and add to the game’s atmosphere.
- Variability in deck construction, relics and spire layout means that no runs will be exactly the same.
- Game crashes and glitches take away from the flow of the game.
- Static enemy groups can get repetitive.
- RNG can completely end your run – one bad encounter, drawing the wrong cards on the wrong turn, etc.
- The continual loop of dying, unlocking something, and playing again will turn some people off.
I would put this game in the “must own” category with a few caveats; if you enjoy rogue likes or deck building games then I cannot recommend the game enough. If you aren’t a fan of the repetition and unlocking that is a core theme in the roguelike genre then Slay the Spire probably isn’t for you. The few bugs and glitches are by no means a reason to avoid the game, but it did take away from the score.
Final score: 4.5/5