There’s something special about Slay the Spire where even my fiftieth playthrough feels just as fresh, tense and exciting as the very first. Sure I might recognize the eerie worlds I’m exploring or the nasty enemies trying so desperately to cut my journey short but it’s the evolving combat and unpredictable twists and turns that mean no two attempts at taking on the towering spire will ever be the same.
Slay the Spire is a turn-based card game with a roguelike twist. Every attempted run will see you slowly building your deck of cards with fresh additions as you climb up a randomly generated spire filled with enemies, treasures and unpredictable situations aplenty. Split into three separate maps, you’ll gradually battle your way through each, navigating their branching paths whilst every stop along the way taking part in some sort of location-based activity. All of this culminates in a tough boss battle that will truly put your card battling skills to the test. Like most roguelikes, if at any point you should lose all your health then its game over and back to the beginning for you.
Every stop on the map (for the most part) poses a potential threat, most of them challenging, some thought-provoking and a few that may offer some much-needed assistance. You’ll come across merchants selling cards and other helpful items, events that can both hurt and help based on the decisions you make and resting spots where you can opt for either an often needed boost in health or a new card for your deck. The splitting paths often lead to moments where you’ll question which route to take. Do you head left and take on a few minion encounters to reach a merchant who might sell you some rare cards or play it safe and take on a few RPG-style events hopefully avoiding combat altogether?
The real meat of the game though is in the monster battles, the action unfolding through turn-based card attacks. Every turn you’ll draw five cards from your customized deck (by default unless other perks come into play) each of which can perform an action be it an offensive, defensive or a skill-based one. Playing these cards will use up energy points – of which you start off with three per turn – forcing you to really think about what best to play especially since different cards have different energy values. Do you spend more using fewer attacks that will also inflict a negative status like poison or do you spread your energy out on smaller more focused strikes that deal more damage up front?
Fortunately, the game telegraphs what the enemies will do on their next turn throughout battle making it less a game about guessing what might be the best move for you and more about adapting using the information given. So for example, if you see none of the enemies plan to attack during their next turn then that might be a good time to focus purely on sheer force rather than defending. In fact, the game does a great job of displaying its large amounts of information on both you and your opponents without it ever feeling overwhelming.
The action itself is surprisingly fast-paced despite there being a fair amount to keep track of. Every battle proves particularly tense throughout too, knowing that any damage you take will carry over with you on the rest of your journey. It makes any chance to recover that health a true treasure and a real sigh of relief. Every run is filled with moments of triumph – where one battle can see you dominate the enemy – as well as plenty of despair as you watch your health trickle away to a particularly troublesome foe. Sure the unpredictable nature of the game may prove a little frustrating for some especially since your efforts amount to little more than the knowledge gained during your attempt, however, Slay the Spire wouldn’t feel half as satisfying as it does if the consequences were only minor.
What really stood out when playing Slay the Spire is not only how much the game would continue to surprise but also how often I would change up my own strategy. Early playthroughs, for example, I focused on accumulating as many cards for my deck as possible thinking this was the best way to gain power. It wasn’t until reaching some of the game’s more heavily armored enemies that I started to realize this wasn’t necessarily the case and changed my approach to only picking up cards that involved poison – perfect for accumulating massive damage that ignores any armour the enemy may have.
In fact the options you have at your disposal keep the combat feeling fresh and interesting. Outside the three character types that you can select – Ironclad, Silent and Defect, each of whom have their own selection of cards to master – you’ll also have the chance to pick up aforementioned relics that will often aid you in a range of subtle and immediately noticeable ways. The cast of enemies too is big enough while the cards themselves offer a whole host of ways to take on the enemy. Combine all this with the fact the spire itself is randomly generated and you have the perfect recipe for a game you could – and I already have – sink hours upon hours into.
The game feels tailor-made for Switch with the traditional control scheme proving a slick and effective way of playing. Within minutes I was able to flick between cards, attack enemies and generally fly through battles at pace. Of course, it’s the touch controls that are the real winner here making the entire process even more fluid for the player.
If there’s one area where the game does stumble a little, it’s in the visual design. Simplistic in its approach some of the game’s enemies come off a little uninspired. While far from terrible it’s a mediocre blemish in an otherwise fantastically polished game.
Slay the Spire is one of those rare gems that I simply cannot put down. I’ve battled way too many monsters to count, I’ve unlocked every unlockable card there is, I’ve discovered all kinds of relics and even toppled the spire numerous times with each character. Yet I still find myself drawn back for one more crack at the mysterious spire eager to see what arrangement the game has in store for me this time. Tense, unpredictable and hugely rewarding Slay the Spire is one of the eShop’s best and a perfect fit for the Switch device.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Humble Bundle