Never miss a trick…
I’ve never been a massive fan of turn-based action games. There was always something about the combat tennis way of fighting, as you and your mortal enemy take it in turns to whomp each other that bugged me. It almost felt Pythonesque the way your character would just stand there like the Black Knight and take a ludicrously oblong-shaped sword to the face.
My first experience of this was not as you might think a Final Fantasy game, but another TBJRPG from Hironobu Sakaguchi, Blue Dragon. Honestly, I immediately hated the combat and at the time found it to be slow and torturous. I’ve always been more of what I consider an “active” combatant, preferring to prance, roll, duck and dodge around my opponent like an overly confident court jester.
The game that started to change my mind on this was weirdly Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, where I started to appreciate the tactics and strategy required for winning a confrontation. That and the fact that Luigi is a stone-cold badass sniper!
In Crown Trick you play as Elle, a young girl with a mysterious past and possibly the only person who can save the world from a nightmarish doom. You’re aided in your quest by a sentient Crown who is easily the sassiest piece of headwear since the Super Mario Odyssey hat turned our favourite plumber into a big slab of ham.
Like Dishonored’s favourite black-eyed boy The Outsider, your sarcastic crown chum awards you with the ability to Blink, a vital move in your arsenal of skills and weapons as it lets you teleport to other tiles in the dungeon without causing enemies to move or act.
Described as “Synchronous Turn-Based Strategy” the combat is and unlike any other turn-based game I’ve played. The game will only move when you move, which means that any enemies will patiently stand still until you move, giving you ample opportunity to survey the battleground and plan your attack. This freedom of movement also means that you can charge about, blissfully unaware until an enemy rocks up and smacks you.
Crown Trick at its core is an adventure RPG roguelike, a genre I bloody love, and after Going Under one of Team17’s other recent roguelike offerings, I was fairly certain that this would be right up my avenue. And it is.
First of all the animation and design is beautiful.
It has a Klasky Csupo, early years Cartoon Network, style that I absolutely love. The weapon/skill/item strategy will be familiar to anyone who has played Dead Cells, and as with any other roguelike, the environments are procedurally-generated as you crawl from dungeon to dungeon. While this often means the maps and monsters will differ from game to game, you will generally always experience a level boss, treasures rooms and interactive events.
These events can take the form of fruit machines where you can win weapons or items, cursed relics which will give you a boon in exchange for a negative effect, and mysterious blue crystal obelisks where you take part in a multiple-choice game which will either reward or hinder you. You’ll also encounter elite monsters roaming the dungeon who on defeat will become one of your “Familiars”. You can then choose from your collection of Familiars to access a range of high-level skills. From the brilliantly named Swashcuckler’s Backstep Strike, which lets you fling a boomerang at your foes while jumping backwards out of range. Or my personal favourite the Demon Lord’s Arrival skill where you can teleport to a target location, stun them and then deal fire damage to surrounding targets like a big spicy belch.
Weapons range from melee items such as swords, axes, daggers and gauntlets or ranged weapons such as rifles and pistols. You’ll also find a plethora of items which can buff you or cause damage to enemies along with Relics which improve your stats and chances.
Progression is done through earning Soul Shards which you collect from chests and defeating bosses. These can be used to purchase upgrades from other characters that you will meet and rescue on your journey including the Alchemist Barbara, who can upgrade your health elixirs, Blacksmith Brock who can help with weapon enhancements, and Grandma Amanda who can increase your capacity for items along with other perks. There’s also the mysterious Banker Stein who will provide you with a few insurance perks so that you don’t lose all your wealth on death.
Unlike other roguelikes, death isn’t necessarily what becomes you.
In actuality you simply awaken from the Nightmare Realm into the safety of the Hall of Reincarnation. Here you will lose all your items and skills, and potentially all the gold you have hoarded unless you have the necessary perks to retain a small chunk of your wealth, but you will manage to hold on to your Soul Shards. That is until you decide to re-enter the dungeon where you will then lose a number of these Shards, again based on your chosen upgrades.
This mechanic can feel especially cruel when you require around 300 Shards to buy an upgrade and you’ve only managed to collect 250, but guess what you can only hold on to 40 of those when going back into the fray so say farewell to your 210 beautiful Soul Shards.
Your success on a dungeon run is often heavily dependent on what weapons, skills and items you find. So it can sometimes feel like your playthrough is more determined by luck than skill. It’s also a bit of a slog at times to earn the Soul Shards for the upgrades you need which will make it more likely for you to find better quality weapons and items, or inch up your defence and attack stats.
The grind is real and it doesn’t actually bother me, it’s what I’ve come to expect from a lot of my favourite Roguelikes and Crown Trick is fast becoming another. This has a lot to do with its charm, humour and knowing nods to other games and popular culture. You may well stumble across a familiar-looking gauntlet with a selection of stones to increase your power. There are also some enemies which pay homage to a couple of Bioshock favourites.
If I was being picky, and just to find some fault with the game, my only bugbears are that the loading screens on the Switch are a little on the long side, and the game does sometimes freeze and stutter when there’s a lot of action going on.
All things considered, Crown Trick may very well be NExT Studios’ crowning glory.
A beautifully designed and imagined roguelike game, which has fully converted me to the ways of turn-based combat. Don’t be too fooled by its cartoonish appearance and humour though as Crown Trick is just as challenging if not more so than a few of its other contemporaries. The combat is what makes this game different as you can’t just run and gun or slash your way through mobs, you do need to plan your attacks or as Inigo Montoya once said: “Prepare to Die”.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Nintendo
Release Date: 16/10/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: RPG, Strategy
Developer: NExT Studios
Download link: US eShop / UK eShop