Cardaclysm is another card battler, but that’s not a problem. In a year seemingly blessed by hit-after-hit of Indie roguelikes, this one is no exception. It’s playable—absurdly playable, actually, but only for a couple of hours. Cardaclysm is deceptively addicting, and oozing with charm, but ultimately bogged down by a dearth of content that leaves it feeling repetitive.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward. You battle enemies, gather cards, and escape each level, briefly returning to the solace of a tavern filled with merchants and quest-givers. Though that can sound fairly workman-like, Cardaclysm feels anything but. Unlike most deckbuilders and roguelikes, the game actually allows you to entirely set the pace. If you don’t feel like fighting the boss; you simply don’t.
In fact, Cardaclysm‘s boss fighting system is one of the most ingenious points in the game. It’s a unique spin on an aspect of deckbuilders that I never would have thought possible. After you’ve defeated all the enemies in a level, the boss spawns from the entrance portal and begins to stalk you. If you feel you’re ready to try to beat it, you turn and face the boss. If not, jump through the portal and into the tavern for a break. Although being chased by a giant sword-wielding skeleton would fill any player with anxiety, it actually performs in the complete opposite manner. It allows you to fully prepare before attempting to progress, something that games like Slay the Spire and the like don’t grant a player.
I hate to say it, but Cardaclysm‘s negatives are neatly tied into some of the more successful aspects of the game. The enemy design is perfect. Nearly every encounter elicits a Dungeons & Dragons sort of feel—something enjoyably familiar yet not derivative. The tried-and-true centaur makes an appearance. A poisonous scorpion crawls out of the desert. Even an enemy that looks vaguely like the piranha plants from Super Mario Bros manages to hit the mark. At the risk of sounding like a petulant child, when the enemies begin to repeat an hour into the game, it’s even more disappointing because given the impressive variety already in the game.
There are about three biomes that the game procedurally generates. Sure, no two levels are truly identical, but for all intents and purposes, they are. Eventually, facing the same enemies, and gathering the same cards gets old. To make matters worse, like most deckbuilders, the game gets progressively easier. If you were to draw out the difficulty, it would appear parabolic. There is a certain level of challenge in the middle of the game, as the enemies outpace your cards and boosts, but eventually, you’ll crush them every time.
Here’s the issue. In an effort to aid the player and instill a bit of variety, the development team has accidentally made things a bit too comfortable. Since you’re progressively always getting stronger, and at a relatively quick rate, it’s never a question of if you’ll beat the game, but when. Yes, this is fairly standard in the genre, but it’s nonetheless disappointing. There’s no question that Cardaclysm is at its best when it’s at its most difficult.
I hate to focus solely on the gameplay, but deckbuilders live and die by their mechanics. Cardaclysm is undoubtedly beautiful. The animation and the graphics are a win. It’s part of what makes the enemies so enjoyable. Also, the soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful. There are definite comparisons to be made with ENDER LILIES. The composition is largely dominated by a single, lonely voice, and echoey tones that lend a sort of isolating feeling.
Cardaclysm is a classic example of a game that falls just short of its potential—and its frustrating. The creativity is all there. It’s polished far better than most Indie games of its sort. I encountered almost no bugs at all. It’s just a shallow amount of content that ultimately hamstrings an otherwise flawless game.