It is said that no one has ever managed to escape the harsh Ziggurat trial with all limbs intact. The power and skill of the noble wizards of Greyhorn are revered across the kingdom, and their puzzling labyrinth is used as a rite of passage for neophyte sorcerers that sees only the most powerful ascend to their rank. It’s certainly no Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and puts even the Triwizard Tournament’s perils to shame.
It is kill or be killed in this labyrinthine challenge from Milkstone Studios, where fantastical creatures lie in wait behind every door. Mutated blobs, sword-flinging skeletons, lumbering archers, and killer carrots will all look to end your ascension in this perplexing, multi-levelled dungeon.
There is an unnerving thrill as you emerge from the first portal, doors closed on all sides and the player left to determine their own path of exploration. The rooms that you enter are procedurally generated, filled with traps, platforming puzzles, and monstrous hordes that must be eliminated before you can make your escape. Modifiers are often applied to these enemy encounters, whether that be to quadruple damage dealt, enlargen enemies, or temporarily increase experience earned.
That Ziggurat is riddled with surprise at every turn soon becomes its greatest strength, with your ultimate goal on each floor being to discover the Portal Key. This unlocks access to the next floor, but each portal is guarded by a menacing boss character that players will have to take down. Bosses can easily be seen as a weaker aspect in the game, simply challenging players with sturdier enemies with more complex attack patterns that can be defeated by strafing around them in circles.
As you progress further in your trial, the rate of reward will increase. Experience earned will level your character, with the player presented with item cards that can boost all manner of parameters but primarily centre on health, mana, and spell power. That even reckless spell-flinging can strengthen your character is a plus, allowing you to be more daring in approach while casting an occasional glance at your health.
A wand may be your primary weapon of attack, but rooms can reward players with spell tomes, staffs, bombs, and flintlock pistols that can grant an edge in combat. The initial selection is limited, but Ziggurat proves itself worth of those that persevere. 11 characters are eventually unlocked that each have their own strengths and weaknesses, while your attempts to reach the game’s conclusion will add a string of new items cards to your deck even if you meet an early demise. Categorised as being rogue-lite, it is important for you to know that Milkstone Studios has succeeded in implementing such a reward loop. That means that you never feel like your time is wasted, even if an unexpected death will still leave you undeniably frustrated.
That isn’t to say that Ziggurat succeeds on all fronts. While the worn aesthetic suitably matches the fantasy setting, the unpredictability that surrounds procedural generation results in numerous instances where the game suffers frame rate drops. This particularly occurs when a larger room is generated, populated with more enemies whose spell-based attacks place a strain on the game’s performance. The Wii U version isn’t alone in facing such woes as they have been reported on other platforms, which is a shame as the game becomes far less enchanting in such moments.
Those that can shrug off disappointing performance issues will uncover a richly rewarding experience in Ziggurat. Delving into the realms of magic makes for a refreshing experience in an industry dominated by lock-and-load gunplay, and the somewhat punishing challenge is an enjoyable one to overcome.