When we first clapped eyes on Funcom and Mighty Kingdom's Conan Chop Chop, it was back on April 1. Oh, how we laughed. But then, a lot of us thought to ourselves: "yeah, but I'd play that." It seems that the folks at Funcom thought pretty much the same thing and that April Fools joke was subsequently confirmed to be a proper game.
And we've been playing it, and when things click, it can be pretty fun. Players are tasked with taking down Thoth Amon by defeating a series of dungeons, but naturally, that's easier said than done. Straight away it's tough as nails, as a lot of roguelikes are by design, which makes early progress a bit of a slog. Indeed, that was our earliest impression of the game, and as giant wasps shot us down with projectile stingers as we lolloped around the place, we realised that we'd have to be a bit more tactical.
There are a few things to take into account while you're playing, from the armour you're wearing to the lay of the land, and if you don't play with care, you'll be pushing up daisies in no time at all. And yes, during our time with the game, we pushed up a lot of daisies. Conan Chop Chop is hard. At least when played alone. It's certainly more accessible when playing in co-op, but if you're on your lonesome, the challenge hits where it hurts.
This is actually a fairly common problem with roguelikes and roguelites, and the very best examples find that sweet spot between challenge, gameplay innovation, and content. Conan Chop Chop hasn't quite found that middle ground yet, but that's something that will no doubt be rebalanced a little once the developers have more feedback.
One thing that we were slow to warm to was the movement of the character. It's actually more nuanced than our first impression led us to believe, with the player moving around slowly when carrying heavier gear, for example, or sliding around on the floor if they step in a puddle of blood. We also learned a dash move from one character in the starting village where each new life begins, but for some reason, we have to speak to him every new run to unlock the same ability. To make matters worse, the move didn't seem to work consistently for us and we'd be tapping RB and trying to dash and instead, we'd stand still and take damage, which was most frustrating in a game as punishing as this one (to be fair, that could have been the controller we used, but we haven't experienced issues with it before and it's quite new).
There are already a fair few effects to take into consideration, such as the aforementioned movement penalties and the different weapon types, but we're a long way off the kind of gameplay variance you'd find in something like The Binding of Isaac (perhaps that's not a fair example, TBOI has the best level of gameplay variance). You have four characters to choose from, each of which starts with a different weapon, and that can significantly increase the damage you deal on one hand but slow you down on the other. Upon death, you can unlock a new weapon or bonus to use in the next run, which you then start equipped with. There's an inventory management element, but it isn't explained very well.
The art-style is quirky, and we like the cartoony designs. Indeed, the eye-catching visuals are part of the charm that spoke to us in the first place, and we're certainly eager to see how they evolve over the course the adventure with new enemies and areas to be introduced. At the moment we're limited to the environments available at the start of the game, and when we ventured into certain biomes (the snow and desert levels specifically) we were immediately sent back to the previous screen. And so for the most part, we spent our time checking out the village where we get our gear and then tried to battle through the first area of the game, Darkwood Dungeon.
Overall we liked Conan Chop Chop, and as it moves through the early access process we're hoping to see more variety added to the game. Lots of bigger developers are now attempting to make a splash in the roguelike space, and there's stiff competition, however, with a setting as strong as Conan already in place, the hard part is done and there are already plenty of eyes on the game. Now there's just the small matter of pulling it all together and finding that point where challenge and fun intersect. It's already close and the game isn't even out yet, so with a bit of feedback and more time in the oven, we're expecting big things.
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