Review: Midboss27 Jun 2017 0
Released 25 May 2017
Every now and then you come across a game that appears charming in its attempt to claw back days gone by. One that hopes to invigorate the hearts of older gamers by giving them a difficult title that looks and feels like something from the mid-90s era of PC ‘lootathons’. Midboss is a turn-based dungeon crawler following some of those very same guidelines.
With Midboss we're looking at an experience that's best described as 'yet another rogue-like'. And while it certainly features some of the key elements that make up this divisive sub-genre of modern day video game culture, it struggles to understand what made them appealing in the first place. As the skinny Imp 'Boss', you're nudged by your little floating friend 'Mid' to get revenge on the ghouls that bully you to no end. Once they've vacated your empty room, Mid suggests you attack the nearby rat and possess its body - the main component of the game.
The idea here is advance through the tiered dungeon by finding the staircase on each floor - a staple 'Mystery Dungeon' trope. Each floor is heavily guarded by numerous different enemies that can all be possessed so long as you preemptively spend your mana casting your possess spell on a target enemy before delivering the decisive blow. From there, you're free to play and fight as that creature and its skillset before 'deposessing' it should you come across something more interesting, powerful or when you've decide it's taken too much of a beating; gifting a set percentage of the resources back to your Imp form for when you're in dire need of some HP regen.
Stat increases are present yet mind-numbingly jarring at best. Rather than stick to general naming conventions when the traditional formula is in place, Midboss goes for a look that's reminiscent of Bloodborne - where you'll have to eyeball dozens of stats to notice which changes with each point you slot into its four questionably named main attributes. On top of that, each enemy you possess naturally employs their own stat-weights of which you're able to compare as you make the switch. It's a lot to keep track of, but I found myself constantly having to hover over stats to be reminded of how they affect our powers. While I can imagine it add some increased depth to the whole experience, it's a system that deviates away from the game's fairly simple vibe.
Other than that, you're looking at your usually armour and weaponry to keep you besting tiny creatures before something else decides to flatten you at a moment’s notice - and trust me, it'll happen. But again, with stats being a chore to work with, it's difficult to understand the overall bonus of a piece of gear outside of its + and - attribute comparisons. And with so many destructible crates, chests and bookshelves scattered across each floor, Midboss manages to turn a traditional lootathon into something more boring than an outsider would hastily assume the genre to be.
With a separate EXP bar for yourself and whichever creature you annex, the general idea is to possess as many different enemies as possible and fighting as them to 'master' their hidden skills. At this point, their bonuses become stat multiplications for your standard Imp form. It tries to keep things flowing by rapidly executing 'turns' on the fly, but due to the nature of the floor's enemies taking their turn with each step, the game starts to stutter with each hop very quickly.
Anyone who's played a rogue-like before will generally know of their appeal. They're generally monstrously difficult and repetitive, but you feel a genuine sense of accomplishment as you own up to your mistakes, learn from them and do better with each subsequent run. Midboss fails to manage the expectations of a rogue-like fanatic by having them fight off dozens of puny rats and bats before crushing them with ghasts and ghouls that look little more menacing than the vermin sharing the same environment.
Within the second floor you'll come across a zombie no bigger than your own Imp form that will move once for each of your two squares. So, taking its relatively small size into account, it wouldn't be unexpected of you to attempt a good ol' bout of fisticuffs only to have it bodyslam you into oblivion at its first opportunity. Grand. And it's not the only one ready to end a run in an unfair snap of its fingers.
For a game that can essentially be played with the mouse or keyboard alone, Midboss trips over itself in the UI department, too. Menus can be opened and closed through a hotkey, but even their giant icons struggle to suggest Midboss lies within. The stat screen feels overly bloated and the inventory system pops open a clone of itself when you attempt to use a scroll to 'identify' potential high-grade items - creating a situation where you're struggling to make sense of where one starts and another begins.
On top of that, you're expected to scan for the selected item once again in the main inventory screen once the deed has been done. Mix that in with the need to revisit the Character screen to reorganize your equipped forms with each new find and you'll find yourself stopping and starting your adventure far more often than you'd like. Using potions is essentially a roulette gamble that can finish you off, while executing repeated spellbooks means hopping into the menu for each shot, too. There's no quick-inventory for those who'd rather assign things to hotkeys for easy access.
After a few unfavorable deaths, I began to notice a couple of flaws in my plan. My 'strategy' was potentially ended by the game's evidently unfinished state. Despite neither Steam nor the developers letting you know that this is essentially an Early Access game - that's exactly what it is. Upon picking up a fairly impressive looking rare tome for my accessory slot, I noticed a key phrase at the end of its handy 'AoE Potion' sub-skill "Not Yet Implemented". And judging from the comments of other players, this wasn't the only item to have a handy bonus effect be missing from the game's code.
Would I have glanced by the omission had it never been mentioned? Absolutely. I’d have known no different. But the fact that the developers would essentially let players know that the game is incomplete 'after' they pay their way in isn't something I can imagine anyone would be happy with.
Midboss , as a whole, isn't a recommendable purchase in its current state; but that doesn't mean it never will be. With a modest £11 asking price, I can only suggest the developers tone things down a bit. Uproot the UI, reduce the scope of the destructible environment and calm down with the death sentence mobs so early into the run.
This isn't a strategy game at heart, but it's a title that accidentally discourages exploration and experimentation - two elements that can lead to some interesting light tactical decision making. And that's honestly a real shame. While rogue-likes and dungeons romps are repetitive activities by way of tradition, they're ultimately rewarding to those brazen enough to learn from their mistakes. Midboss doesn't even compel you to push for more than a few hours. The risks far outweigh the reward.