[email protected] is a clever homage to old-school ASCII dungeon crawler games, but its stiff difficulty, cheap deaths, and repetitive gameplay limit its appeal.
Perhaps as an answer to the success Microsoft achieved with its Summer of Arcade promotion, Sony started its own annual summer event, called PLAY. Over the years, a number of solid games have been highlighted by Sony’s PLAY promotion, which encourages players to purchase the games in bulk for a discount. From Headlander to Bound, most of this year’s offerings have been great, but unfortunately, the roguelike dungeon crawler [email protected] breaks the winning streak.
[email protected] is a throwback to old-school ASCII dungeon crawlers, which is most evident from its visual style. The game uses a black and white aesthetic, and functions like a 3D version of the old 2D ASCII games. Items, enemies, and the player character all appear to be made up of symbols on a keyboard, but while [email protected] looks like an ASCII title, it plays more like a modern dungeon crawler than anything else.
In [email protected], players hack and slash their way through randomly generated dungeons, with the ultimate goal of reaching the 26th floor. The dungeons are filled with environmental hazards, collectibles, and secrets, but since the game sticks to its strict ASCII-inspired graphics, everything in the game looks very similar, offering players little in the way of visual variety.
Gameplay consists almost entirely of walking around and button mashing, though [email protected] does allow for some more advanced techniques, such as throwing a shield and rolling out of the way of enemy attacks. For the most part, however, players can expect to spend most of their time with [email protected] mashing on the square button, which makes for a very repetitive, and oftentimes boring, game.
[email protected]‘s repetitive nature is a glaring issue throughout the entire experience. Even though players are able to choose from four different characters, they all largely function the same way, and they all share the same skill tree. This means that switching to a different character is not an effective way to break up the monotony, though playing as the wizard has some added perks that make him the most entertaining character to play as in the game.
The developers tried to make [email protected] less repetitive by adding a crafting system wherein players are able to create potions and weapons. Unfortunately, the crafting system isn’t deep enough to add any significant value to the experience, and feels a little tacked on. Speaking of tacked on, the game also uses a hunger meter, which rarely factors into the gameplay, and seems to be there just to make players waste food every so often.
The hunger meter plays almost no role in the game, so it’s easy to forget it’s even there. But while players will probably not die from starvation in [email protected], they will likely die from the game’s many bottomless pits. Since [email protected] uses permadeath, falling into one of these pits can be very frustrating, especially when it happens due to poor camera angles.
The game’s use of permadeath is not a bad idea in and of itself, but from one round to the next, players carry literally nothing over. All the work done to level up a character is erased. The items players collected, crafted, and enchanted are gone forever. Other modern permadeath games have managed to offset the potential frustration of losing so much progress by helping players still feel as though they’re advancing in other areas, but no such accommodations are to be found in [email protected].
Some of [email protected]‘s frustrations are alleviated a bit when playing the game in co-op, but co-op presents its own issues. For one, the game does not feature any online co-op, so gamers can only play with someone locally. It’s possible to utilize the PlayStation Share feature to circumvent this issue, but it seems like a game of this nature should have featured online co-op from the start, as opposed to making players find some roundabout way to do it.
Another issue with co-op is the fact that players can’t unlock trophies in co-op mode. While this may seem like nitpicking, it does somewhat discourage people from playing the game with friends, as they earn more rewards for playing solo instead. Playing in co-op also tends to exacerbate [email protected]l‘s struggles with the camera, so players need to be weary of that as well before inviting a friend over for some dungeon crawling.
Overall, [email protected] has an interesting look, and old-school gamers will probably appreciate its nods to one of gaming’s oldest genres. It functions on a basic level as a competent dungeon crawler, but its repetitive gameplay combined with its cheap deaths will make most gamers look for other options. The game just doesn’t reach the same heights as others in this year’s PlayStation PLAY program, so those looking for some quality new indie games on PS4 may want to look into Headlander or Bound instead.
[email protected] is available now for PS4. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.