Scouring the Internets thouroughly can occasionally bring up an interesting gem – as is the case with “Dancing Goblins”, a (relatively) new open-source rougelike rhythm game by Maurício da Silva. Due to the profound influence the game had on me, I thought a review might give it some much-deserved publicity.
Unsurprisingly considering the previous works of the creator (including, among others, an 4-person co-op Chess game and an RTS based on a jigsaw-puzzle mechanic), this is quite an unusual game. You can learn more from the link above, but basically – you go through a dungeon facing increasingly difficult monsters and traps, armed only with the power of song. The rhythm game mechanic provides the spell casting for the game, with different styles of music (from French chansons to Guaraní folk songs, and anything in between) conforming to different schools of magic. This all connects quite well into a game which, although not yet having reached version 0.1 (but it should happen any minute now, especially now that the world didn’t end), definitely seems quite promising.
Art: Certainly one of the game’s strong points, with artists Quimérico and PixelFalaz really bringing the dungeons to life with photo-realistic views, likeable characters and stunning animations. The choice of going with purely ASCII art (after many debates about weather full Unicode was necessary) turned out to be a wonderful success, as was also the choice of font size 18pt over the much more common 16pt.
Gameplay: Certainly gets points for creativity, and in the first few hours of playing it feels quite solid as well, but will it pass the test of time and become a full game genre? Only time will tell. The interface is well-planned, with some clever use of the “j” key (and a surprising role for the “scroll lock” key, which I believe was put in more as a cheap marketing ploy). The basic mechanic attempts to create a simultaneous strategical and musical challenge, but I believe the music ends up getting most of the attention, as the best strategy is generally to look for the best guitars (or, failing that, a zither or shakuhachi) and blast all enemies with the most powerful songs you can learn. Which brings us to the next issue:
Balance: Definitely needs more work. Some magic schools (like Basque folk songs) are ridiculously overpowered, while others (such as 1940s-style aboriginal chanting) seem to serve little purpose but to artificially inflate the game’s (indeed impressive) spell list. Hopefully this will get some more attention before the next version.
Story: The game comes with a charming plot, albeit simplistic. You take the role of Belisarius the untaxable, who roams the dungeons in search of a purpose for his life. I haven’t reached the end yet and don’t want to spoil anything, but you can expect an enjoyable set of texts to glance at while building your spellbook / chordbook. There is a certain inconsistent quality in them though, I felt that some of the characters (like the hydraulophone-playing half-centaur sorceress) were slightly poorly written and in need of review.
Soundtrack: Unfortunately, the game still doesn’t have one. They hope to get around to it in version 0.8 or 0.9.
There is definitely potential in this game for bringing back the long-awaited genre of rougelike rhythm games (I think we haven’t seen one since “Beeps and Fireballs” in 1978). We need to keep an eye on it – if the next decade of development will go as well as the previous one, we can expect an excellent version 0.2 someday.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, none of the games or people described in this post actually exist. It’s just the result of me having spent a day with a mild fever, after a week of practicing my Spanish by reading Jorge Luis Borges. I hope we’ll get some good real games soon (maybe even from me).