By: Jeff Cater
Remember those old ASCII games that were on early PCs and probably TI Graphing Calculators, like NetHack or Rogue? If not, don’t sweat it! The devs over at Storm Cloud Games have created Brut@l, a bloody hack n’ slash homage to the days of yore.
Brut@l represents a modern take on what the actual exploration and combat of those old ASCII games would have been like up close, but it retains the old-school visual feel of those titles while also bringing forth vibrant and engaging effects.
Those damn jumps, man. Brut@l isn’t a platformer, but it does have plenty of jumping obstacles and let me tell you that you really need to nail those jumps within a pixels perfection or else you’re done with that playthrough. Shitty jumps aside (bound to X, you heathens), however, the controls are overall pretty tight.
Your chosen character runs around at a good pace, but by pressing more lightly on the left stick you can slow down a bit in order to better spot traps or pitfalls. Offensive and defensive controls are a touch difficult to get a grip on at first because the timing on the blocking and dodging system is pretty tough to master.
By blocking with L2, you can either mitigate some of the damage or roll out of the way (or sometimes between the legs of your foe) by pressing X and leaning the left stick while still holding L2. Ranged weapons and abilities also reward practice, such as the bow’s attack being able to be quickly fired by pressing R2, or aiming a shot via the right stick.
What I love the most about Brut@l is that it perfectly preserves that visual cleanliness of the ASCII days. By which I mean that once you get used to your chosen ASCII title and start to memorize what symbol means what and which ones are really important, Brut@l‘s artistic motif is a visual representation of reaching that level of familiarity with one of those old games — i.e. it feels like just the important bits are shown, there’s zero clutter amid a sea of lines and alphanumeric characters.
I hope that makes sense, kinda like when Neo can see the Matrix for the first time. Except here it’s a black and white world with dashes of neon colors denoting enemies and various interactive objects.
Anyway, the character animation sets are quite well done and varied due to a pretty hefty weapon list. Sometimes certain animations, specifically in combat, do feel a bit restrained like they’re not finishing all the way, but you’ll be too busy dodging a swinging axe or throwing your shield at a minotaur’s face to pick up on it unless you really look for it.
Grunts and groans are a bit much, but the combat sounds are crunchy and squishy so I think it was kind of intentional. Either way, the grunting gets out of hand after a while. The soundtrack simply doesn’t play often enough to cover it up, either, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Had someone walked by and not seen what I was playing, I might have been faced with some sort of intervention scenario after playing this game for a few hours.
Brut@l is a badass dungeon romp that has procedurally generated levels and perma-death. After you select your hero from the usual dungeon crew (Wizard, Rogue, Warrior, Amazon) you’re dropped into the world with nothing but your clothes and fists. Punching everything you find, you’ll start to gain pieces of armor or potion reagents. Weapons are a different story.
Hidden in the perilous, DOS-looking halls of Brut@l are the letters of the English alphabet. Picking these up allows you to assemble weapons from them after you find a recipe for it. For example, you’ll find a recipe for assembling an axe that lists the letters “G-T-K-L.”
If you have the required letters you can open up your inventory and assemble the weapon out of them, which is a cool twist on the crafting mechanic because it felt like I was decoding something rather than merely putting something together.
So you have your sweet axe now, and a helmet that is pretty cool because everything is more badass with horns. Now it’s time to keep mashing baddies and finding keys to progress to the next level of the dungeon, while also keeping an eye on your stamina and eating pizza and chicken tenders when needed. Sometimes there are significantly tougher bad guys in between you and the food, but as long as you master the combat system you’ll get those tendies!
You can also take a friend along the romp, but be prepared for rage-inducing retreats back to the start of the level when they screw up a jump — because they never die to an enemy… only… jumps. Disregarding jumps, Brut@l is a very fun co-op time and encourages players watching each other’s backs, and sometimes chests and heads when there are rats on them. ProTip: Smashing a torch into your friends face will get the rats off! (Editor’s Note: This also works IRL.)
Brut@l is just damn cool. There has been a need for a unique dungeon romp for a while now, and Brut@l should make any fan of hack n’ slash roguelikes very happy.