It’s rare to find a unique game. I’ve been playing for thirty-plus years and most beg, steal and borrow from one another. However, Bone Marrow shocked me with its unusual and refreshing gameplay.
Developed by Huge Pixel and published by Ratalaika Games, this is an RPG inspired by board game mechanics. Using old-school aesthetics and a simple concept, you’ll fall for its addictive charms once you get your head around the action.
Bone Marrow lets you stumble your way to victory.
Bone Marrow has a unique concept, but its story is as clichéd as they come. Good vs evil, warriors, monsters and the battle for ultimate power. It’s tried and tested and won’t win any awards for originality, but this was forgiven as the gameplay unravels.
The action starts with you selecting your warrior and the level you wish to attempt. There are four and each unlocks as you defeat the main boss. You’ll scream as rogue-lite elements ensure that your progress is wiped upon death (which happens frequently). This is frustrating as you must start over from the beginning of the last unlocked stage. Fortunately, you quickly familiarise yourself with the downfalls and create plans to prevent future failings.
With a limited tutorial, Huge Pixel has left you stabbing around in the dark to work out the fundamentals. This was annoying as the concept is so unusual, but with a little trial and error, you soon understand what is being asked of you.
Keep on sliding and fighting.
Each world comprises a board made up of many squares. Your character appears as a figurine in the middle and you can slide in four directions. As you move, an object appears, and any items already on the board slide in the character’s direction. As identical items collide, they combine, changing their shape and value to make them more powerful. The objects available are food for health, swords for attack, and shields for defence.
The game runs on a night and day timer and each has set rules. At night time you cannot collect any objects and here you plan to improve the value of the surrounding items. As day time comes, you can collect the goods and battle your foe, who also appears alongside you. However, there is a deadly twist! As you slide and gather items, so do your opponents! You must plan many moves, otherwise, you’ll strengthen your foe and face defeat quickly.
Levelling up and understanding the stats.
Throughout every stage, you have a clear understanding of your enemies’ strengths and weaknesses. You see their attack, defence, and remaining health. If you have an attack value of fifty, and they have thirty defence and twenty health, you’ll defeat them with one blow. Understanding this basic concept is key to success and once you are comfortable with this mechanic, you’ll have a blast playing Bone Marrow.
Defeating each opponent earns you XP and as you level up, your health stat doubles in value. Maintaining high health is essential to progress, and players can’t be victorious if they concentrate solely on their attack and defence values. I was surprised by how much thought I had to put into such a simple title. Like a game of chess, the small details matter! Every little action influences the outcome and to get the best out of this, you’ll have to play slowly with much consideration.
Bone Marrow uses old-school aesthetics to maintain its simple approach.
Other than the initial confusion surrounding the gameplay, Bone Marrow lacks complexity. The approach is reflected in the simple old-school imagery that has been adopted. The earthy colour palette and 8-Bit graphics give this the look and feel of an Amiga title. The top-down perspective emphasises the board game influences and makes it easy to plan each move. It won’t win any beauty awards but it’s serviceable and matches the theme and genre well.
The audio also takes a low key stance. With sorrowful and daunting tones, it matches the dungeon environment and reflects the storyline of the well-trodden plot. The sound effects are unimaginative and could have been plucked from an early RPG. I wasn’t disappointed, but equally, I wasn’t inspired as the audio faded into the background.
Planning and moving are the name of the game.
When the core concept revolves around sliding in four directions, you know it’s going to be easy to play. Bone Marrow is understandably simple to control, and this is good, as its complexities lie within the tactical gameplay. I understand why Huge Pixel simplified the tutorial, but one to explain the tactical elements would have been welcome.
As you familiarise yourself with the finer points, you realise that the simple gameplay is addictive. No matter the amount of failure I experienced, I kept wanting to play! Once you master it, you can play casually. This makes it a fantastic title to play when short on time or between larger games.
Bone Marrow will sadly be overlooked by many.
Bone Marrow is a title that will sadly be overlooked by many. Its unusual concept and dated appearance will put many off, but it shouldn’t. The gameplay is unique and calls to lovers of board games and logical puzzles. Its simple tactics and requirement for strategical thinking were marvellous and ensured no game was the same. I enjoyed it and recommend you to buy it here! Can you plan for every eventuality and defeat the bosses? Combine objects, slide to attack, and stay one step ahead.