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Allu In The Demon's Cave - Gomie vs. 2015 
 PostTue Jan 26, 2016 7:06 am
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I like this textbox. It should be easier to find.
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The forcefields... they could at least be different colors or something.
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That's good advice... it should be given to me whether or I want it or not!
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These guys kicked my ass.. but at least the enemy designs are cool!
This is a review of Allu in the Demon's Cave.

According to the author, Allu in the Demon's Cave is a nowhere-near-finished rogue-like experiment and those are all good words to describe this game. I'm not going to hate too hard on the game because it's an experiment, and a not-finished one at that, but make no mistake: it isn't very playable.

The premise is pretty simple. You're trapped in the Demon's Cave. There's four force fields holding you in, each the product of a demon in a dungeon within the cave. Kill the demon and you destroy his force field. Once you've beaten all four demons, you'll have to face a fifth menace to truly escape.. the description says he isn't implemented yet but I didn't get anywhere near that far.

This is where the roguelike system starts to come into play. The top floor is where there's a shop, the four force fields, and is where you have the ability to save your game. It's kind of a big map for what it is, and when you come back up to it you don't appear at the steps, but instead further to the south which is a little annoying.

Once you go downstairs, a neat thing happens: The map rearranges itself.. just like in a lot of roguelikes. Part of the gimmick here is that the entrances to the dungeons don't move and might be inaccessible on a given trip through the level. I'm not sure what this is meant to add to the experience, as you can just exit and re-enter the level to force a new, hopefully more convenient layout. Each time it rearranges there's a weird little black screen, which makes that hypothetical hopping in and out even more awkward.

There's little tent looking doohickies, which I assumed would be like an inn.. but you jut walk through them and they don't do anything. That and the dungeon entrances being inside the walls originally made me think the game was broken.. apparently it's only half broken?

The dungeons themselves are where the game lost me. I experienced two of the four and they did not seem to be randomly generated. The first one, a maze of teleporting flowers, killed me in just a few steps with harm tiles I didn't realize were harm tiles. On my second attempt, I tried using the flowers to dodge the harm tiles to some success.. until I ended in an area with no escape. The only flower I could access simply teleported me to itself and the only other means of exit was across 5 or 6 harmtiles.

Five or six harmtiles don't sound like much, but in this game they do about 30 damage apiece. My HP at the time was 82. So three of them would've been instantly fatal. Pretty strict, and easy to die without even knowing what happened. Plus in the ten or so levels I'd gained, I'do nly gained about 10 HP.

Now admittedly there's a healing spell and that might've made things better. But it only heals about 12 HP per casting, with only enough MP to cast it about 5 times. That's ridiculously underpowered. As I've explained in previous years, for a healing spell to be mathematically viable it has to heal you for more damage than you're likely to take in the turn you cast it AND the turn after that. It has to put you ahead, otherwise your best move is to keep attacking and hope the enemy dies first.

I will cede that maybe I wasn't ready for the first dungeon at level 10, but nothing could prepare me for the second one.. The Dungeon of Gradual Stops, or something like that.

There were these little hovering tiles that looked like they should impede your progress, milling about aimlessly. Except the real impediment was INVISIBLE NPCS milling about aimlessly.. Sometimes I couldn't even get off the door I'd just come through and sometimes I could march freely up and down from it but couldn't go left or right to get further in. I have NO IDEA what the hell was going on here, and a random encounter ended my exploration of the area.

This is the big downside of the random between dungeons stuff: It's hard to pick up where you left off and with the random equipment chests throughout, when you get back there the situation may be totally different than the first time.

Most real roguelikes avoid the "Hard to pick up where you left" issue by having perma-death. They draw entertainment from the "Anything can kill you!" aspect and by the time you win the game you'll have a list a mile long of mistakes to never make again and items you'd sell your first-born to see again. Any given playthrough is disposable, unlikely to win and to be enjoyed while it lasts.

The random terrain and monsters give you a sense of "Uh oh, I've seen this before!" or "Oooh, what an exciting new place!" and you have the joy of discovering new tactics and techniques.

The random terrain in this game is repetitive, a basic stone floor and wall. The dungeons have their own tiles which makes them feel new and exciting but their difficulty may yet be a little too steep... and I dunno what you're meant to do in the Gradual Stops dungeon.. trudge through the whole way?

Battles are slow and jump from "The enemy doesn't even fight back!" to "You're gonna die in 4 turns" fairly quickly. I played the SECOND version of the game, which apparently "makes the enemies weaker, gives less EXP and weakens player stat boosts". Maybe he forgot to weaken some of the enemies, though I didn't play the first version to compare..

At any rate, it's an interesting experiment. It hasn't borne playable fruit yet, but it's a good start. The map generation works, but they could get rid of that little pause it feels weird. Battles could stand tweaking, but maybe there's some strategy to it that the creator knows that's escaping me.

It occurs to me that maybe there's a Megaman kind of progression to the dungeons... beat this dungeon to make this other one easier and so forth.. but that'd be really obnoxious in a game where you can't always get to the dungeon you want. So I'm goingg to assume that isn't the case.

Oh, and if you're the author, here's a few things you can do to make it feel more like a game and less like an experiment:

Start the game with the blue orb talking and giving you the choice between offense and defense. Or with the pamphlet giving you the backstory. Your game's intro should always assume that the player has forgotten everything they read about it... because usually they already have.

Secondly, it's kind of a crock to give you the choice between offense and defense so early anyway. I haven't even fought a battle yet. I don't know which one is going to be more useful and so it's a pig-in-a-poke kind of situation. RPGs are all about preparation and making the right choices. You gotta make sure they're educated choices!

Thirdly, it's a bullshit choice anyway! You can only equip one of the items at a time, so why not just give the player both, tell them they've received both, and then let them choose which one they want to start with. The choice element should be in the equipping, not in the receiving.

The "Break down the forcefields" idea is really cool. I liked it in Super Metroid and I like it here. Maybe make the walls blocking you in a little showier, though? That statue in Super Metroid was dope.

Flip flop your up or your downstairs. I know there's a little black triangle to indicate the downward ones, but it can be hard to tell the difference at a glance, especially on such a dark floor.

I'd carefully consider whether or not harmtiles should be allowed to kill the player. I can't think of many RPGs that go this route. The traditional method is to reduce HP to 1, so that any random battle could be devastating. If there's no random battles in that dungeon and the whole thing is meant to be some kind of puzzle, forget I said anything.

I wandered into a weird tutorial kind of place on the first floor... that oughta be on the shop floor with the other game intro elements. It wasn't tied to a tent or anything, just a random spot on the floor so it felt weird and broken. If you're trying for a surreal angle, it's really hard to do that without feeling weird and broken. Try sound effects or sparkles or something to let the player know that what's happening is meant to happen.

If you watch Allu's face animate, you can see shading in his idle frame that disappears in his moving frames. It's a little distracting, but the main time I noticied it was on the shop equipment menu.

Good going so far, don't be discouraged!
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