I have never been very interested in roguelikes. The random dungeons always seemed like a gimmick to artificially increase replay value and the permanent death aspect was a total turn-off. Then I was given Cardinal Quest and learned what I have been missing out on. I never thought a turn-based game could be so exciting and intense. The game has a lot of charm and its length and randomization make it the perfect pick up and play game.
Now It Is Your Time…
When you start you are told that a minotaur, Asterion, descended upon the town of Hallemot and killed most of the people. He made the rest his slaves. You were a child and fled when the attack occurred but now, years later, you are ready to attack Asterion’s lair and rid the world of his presence. That is all the story you are given until the end of the game. During actual gameplay, there is no dialogue aside from some flavour text whenever you pick up and item telling you whether it is better or worse than what you have equipped in the slot it fits in. The ending of the game is a little bit anti-climactic: as soon as I cleared the last floor of enemies, I expected Asterion to show up but was instead greeted by a wall of text similar to the prologue’s saying that he decided to run away instead of facing me. I guess I should be thankful though; one more fight would probably have killed me.
We Need To Go Deeper!
Cardinal Quest is a dungeon crawler following the tried and true formula: kill monsters, pick up your loot, move to the next floor, rinse and repeat. There are plenty of items and spells to collect, plenty of monsters to kill and plenty of dungeon to explore. The game is turn-based. Every time you perform an action (aside from drinking potions), the monsters all get to take one too. When you increase your speed stat, you can take more moves in the time it takes monsters to make one. I kept finding money through the dungeon and wondering what it could be for. When I finished, I still had yet to find a use for it. The developer is determined to keep adding content to the game though so it could be for a shop feature in the future.
Combat is performed either by casting spells at your enemies or by walking into them to perform melee attacks. Your enemies are not stupid but they are by no means brilliant. They at least know where you are and to follow you but they are not capable of much better than that. I had a few get stuck on walls when I turned the corner but I also had some that managed to cast spells at me through the walls. The floors took radical leaps in difficulty sometimes. One floor I was able to kill most of the enemies in one hit and the next floor, they could to the same back to me. In many games this would not be a problem but with permanent death, it is a bit frustrating to come so far then be killed without warning by an unpredictable attack. On the other hand, permanent death does add quite a bit of depth to the game. It raises the level of excitement quite a bit and puts things into perspective. You never want to get to one of the deepest floors of the dungeon then die due to a simple mistake. It motivates you to think out a plan before moving to the next room.
Every time you start a new game, the one choice you are given is what class to play. You have the choice of a fighter, a thief or a wizard. They all start with unique stat bonuses and one class-specific spell. The spells can all be found by the other classes in the dungeon though which makes the classes feel a little bit less unique. There is no difference in what kind of armor the classes can wear: warriors can wear light armor and wizards can wear mail, it just depends on what the stats on it are. Items are equipped automatically on pick-up if they beat your currently equipped items stats-wise.
Step Into The Dark
The game uses a 2D old school tile based art style. You move around the dungeon and as you move towards the parts you have not discovered they are gradually uncovered from the map. The game looks great and uses the classic style extremely well. The enemies all look great and item art does as well. There is not much variety between floors of the dungeon because, let’s be honest, a dungeon is a dungeon, but to keep it fresh, the colour of the dungeon walls changes every two floors. There isn’t a huge variety of monsters but it is enough to keep one interested: there are 3 or 4 different kinds of monsters per floor and they are often used again on later floors. The music and sounds all contribute to the 8-bit aesthetic feel of the game as well and definitely help provide some nostalgic feelings.
Is It Worth Your Money?
Cardinal Quest is a short adventure, but every time you play it is like an entirely new game. The difference in play style between classes makes each one worth trying and the randomly generated dungeons make sure you cannot memorize the location of each staircase and head straight to it. As I said earlier, it is the perfect pick up and play game. It does not take very long to start, you can play either until you die or until you get to the end and either way it is fun and you learn from your mistakes. The game is $4.45 USD and if you want to try it, there is a demo available on Kongregate.
Cardinal Quest Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 8 hours
- Widescreen Support – No
- 5.1 Audio – No
- Bugs – Enemies attacking through walls and one spell granted me infinite speed instead of 3 defense
- DRM – None
- Control Scheme – Mouse or keyboard
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Indievania, Official Site
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