MidBoss: Mostly Mid, Not At All Boss.

Before I begin this review, I’d like to briefly mention a game that I picked up in 2005 that is not related to this review of MidBoss in any way at all.

Fate by Wild Tangent is a roguelike adventure game wherein you control a character from an oblique overhead view as they navigate their way through a series of procedurally generated dungeons, beating up monsters and taking their stuff.

You manage three bars – health, stamina and mana – and gain procedurally generated loot: Some have hidden powers that must be revealed using items or vendor services, some are cursed with debuffs and need to be cleansed and some have such a baffling array of unrelated bonuses you have to wonder what strategy they could possibly aid.

You descend level by level through one samey dungeon after another, defeating waves of samey enemies and occasionally stopping to shuffle your bloated inventory.

There’s also a town you go back to for upgrades and quests and a pet you can level alongside yourself and if you die, you can still recover the items left over by your previous self when you start a new game+.

Overall, Fate was a fairly unremarkable game with minimal enjoyability, as the incredibly grindy nature of gameplay and infinite levels (I cheated and still couldn’t find an ending) gave zero satisfaction for all the time and effort you were expected to put in.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about MidBoss.

MidBoss by Kitsune Games is a roguelike adventure game involving the usual isometric overhead view, procedurally generated dungeons, beating up monsters, taking their stuff.  Three bars, loot, powers, cursed, unrelated bonuses, samey dungeons, enemies, bloated inventory.

There is NO town to go back to for gear, healing, quests and upgrades. Instead, there’s a vendor whose position on the map is also random and only buys/sells/cleanses/identifies items. I’m given to believe based on screencaps that there are other dudes around as well, but the point is that there’s no hub to return to when you’ve had enough, and no safety deposit box to leave your stuff in, so when you die, you lose EVERYTHING except one item you can keep for another run – but only once.

Okay, I’m being overly harsh: MidBoss was originally the result of a 72-hour game jam and it’s a functional turn-based isometric dungeon crawler. That being said, it’s disappointing to see Kitsune Games not make the most of what they already had before going live, because what they currently have definitely isn’t worth the $15 they’re asking for.

That’s equal to or higher than the asking price for Rogue Legacy, FTL: Faster Than Light and Crypt of the Necrodancer, three games which deliver on the roguelike soft-permadeath premise with much more elegant execution, feeling genuinely satisfying to succeed at and are well worth picking up.

Like so many other games, it comes down to philosophy: What part of the game forms the core of the player’s experience?

  •   Rogue Legacy is about platforming and combat, with the gradual accrual of wealth that can be used to purchase buffs, making each subsequent run less punishing. It’s entirely possible (though hellishly difficult) to complete on the first go and completionists can opt to forgo any upgrades for the sake of the extra challenge.
  • FTL: Faster Than Light is about a series of hybrid real-time/turn-based space-combat/crew-management scenarios interspersed with high-stakes gambles for survival, culminating in the takedown of an almighty juggernaut.
  • Crypt of the Necrodancer is about using what little you can find to defend yourself against a range of unique enemies requiring unique strategies to survive your waltz/shuffle/tango with death while the incredible beats of Danny Baranowsky thump in your ears.
  • Fate is about killing monsters, picking up loot, and going back to the town to upgrade so you can kill monsters with a slightly different array of numbers and abilities.
  • MidBoss is about killing monsters, picking up loot and occasionally possessing defeated enemies so you can kill monsters with a slightly different array of numbers and abilities.

Let me tell you what happened during my most recent run:

  1. I skipped the weak intro dialogue. Schoolyard bully banter doesn’t float my boat.
  2. I made my way around a bunch of unremarkable rooms, killing monsters, picking up loot and selling/equipping it
  3. I inhabited a rat, then a bat, then a flaming sword, then a worm, then a zombie.
  4. Found a door I couldn’t open. The texture was glitching, so it was either a bug or a fourth-wall breaking reference to the game being a computer program.  I never found out more than that.
  5. I got 3-shot by a skeleton on the third floor, despite picking up every piece of loot and gaining every grain of experience possible before that point.

There’s basically no strategy to combat – you just hit each other until someone falls over and abilities just let you hit harder – and the turn-based system means that it’s basically impossible to outrun anything because most characters have a movement speed of one. Even if you can escape, you don’t heal by resting and there’s no hub to retreat to, making healing entirely reliant on potions and abilities.

While the idea of a possession-based game is novel, it’s not capitalised upon. The monsters I encountered (rat, flaming sword, zombie, larva and three flavours of bat) all operated more or less the same except for some very boilerplate abilities. Given that you can only possess dead enemies, it means that possession takes a backseat to boring and unremarkable combat, which is a shame because a game where survival hinges on switching bodies mid-combat before bluffing your new “allies” has the potential to be really cool.

There’s also an incredibly unhealthy obsession with numbers and metanumbers. The fact that your actual stats are determined by four metastats in conjunction with your form multipliers and your weapon bonuses leads to more math than I care to employ in a game that isn’t a management sim.

It’s unfortunate that the game reminds me so much of Fate, because while the creators may very well have something decent waiting for me deeper in the dungeon, everything I’ve seen so far has convinced me that it’s not worth the effort.  The game has come a long way since its inception in 2012, but while the mechanical and graphical updates are certainly welcome, there’s an ironic lack of spirit behind the experience of play.

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