The last half-decade has seen an abundance of Rogue-like titles. Built upon the concepts of procedurally-generated environments, permadeath, and the lure of new loot, the template has been applied to multitude of genres, frequently resulting in engaging experiences. But as the ubiquity of these mechanics grow, so does the possibility of fatigue if innovation isn’t introduced.
Demonstrating a multitude of smart design decisions, City of Brass is a Rogue-like where a multitude of enjoyable aspects converge. Largely, that’s not entirely surprising given that several members of the development team who worked on the first two BioShock games- which dexterously intertwined elements from multiple genres. Originally released for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, the title has been ported to the Switch with only minor sacrifices.
Watch Me Whip
A mainstay of the Castlevania series, the trusty whip habitually struggles in three-dimensional settings. All too often, it’s hard to control- and even when the whip’s implementation is well-heeled, the weapon frequently has limited functionality. Thankfully, that’s not the case with City of Brass’ lash. With a small reticle signaling where the weapon can strike, it’s exceedingly easy to target the different parts of a foe’s body. Striking their face will blind them, flogging hands will disarm them- you can even trip them up by lashing at their feet. Since the game’s default character carries a sword with a short reach, you’ll definitely want to stun enemies, especially when they gather in groups.
But the whip is more than mere offensive device. Point it at a nearby object and it will instantly retrieve an item. You’ll find that immensely helpful since Brass’ landscaped are littered with traps. Occasionally, you spy a circular fastener above, and aiming at it can wrap around the hook, instantly catapulting around the map. Additionally, you can pull enemies onto traps, which is a eternally enjoyable way to kill.
The Pleasure of Treasure
Anyone who’s been burdened with having to pick up coins in a dungeon crawler knows that gathering currency can be a thankless chore. Agreeably, Brass challenges that notion, making the accumulation of wealth an enjoyable activity. While you’ll discover the occasional chest that requires a button prompt to collect its bounty, more often you’ll earn coin by gather highlighted artifacts that dot the environment. Smartly, they’re not haphazardly thrown about. Some are hidden inside containers that need to be broken open, while others are displayed on stands and tables. For a procedurally-generated title, City of Brass’ ability to generate secret areas outshines almost off of its peers. In execution, making you scan each area for valuable objects conveys the feeling of thievery remarkably well.
Fittingly, there’s motivation for all the treasure chasing. Scattered through each stage are genies that will sell you an assortment of perks. Initially, the strategically ambiguous names for many of the assistive abilities aren’t quite clear. But after purchasing them once, a succinct explanation is added to the in-game index, joining the catalog of monsters you’ll come across. Further experimentation is encouraged by the disbursement of potions around each stage. Drinking one of these adds a short-term variability that helps keep repeat play fresh because each tonic might offer a bonus, or just be poison that forces you to continue with only a morsel of health.
Multiplicity in the City
Adeptly, these aren’t the only variations to be found in City of Brass. The sheer number of ways you can eliminate enemies certainly evokes the type of play that made BioShock to compelling. Considering stages summon deadly dervishes after an hourglass timer has expired, occasionally you’ll be tempted to avoid foes entirely. Here, deeper stealth mechanics (cloaking would have been a great addition) would have elevated the experience. As it stands, if you don’t venture too close to enemies, the won’t peruse. Often, this lets you circumvent conflict.
But when the way forward is patrolled by wandering creature, you’ll be forced to fight. Whip and sword combos are always effective, but so is tipping over a flaming vessel or tossing an explosive pot at adversaries. Antagonists are delightfully dumb and getting them to chase you over a trap is always a possibility as well. Pleasingly, Brass has multiple playable characters, each with their own loadout and style, ensuring longevity.
Further deviation can be found in Brass’ Blessing & Burdens system. Here, you can toggle a multitude of modifiers to make the game easier or harder. With the ability to influence elements like the amount of health your characters will have, the number of enemies, and even alter the time limit, there’s a lot of flexibility to be found. The only consequence is that adjusting the difficulty will prohibit players from landing a spot on the leaderboards.
Since City of Brass is an action-driven game, it’s gratifying to see that Uppercut Games favored framerate over graphical fidelity. As such, in handheld mode, you can expect thirty frame-per-second output, with the rare drop when the action peaks. In order to achieve this a few sacrifices had to be made. So, while a few elements have lower poly counts and shadows has been scaled back, largely the Switch port does an admirable job of depicting the action.