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“Don’t Judge a Book of Demons By Its Cover”
I’ve always been a fan of dungeon crawling games but nothing really comes close to the nostalgic wonders that is the original Diablo. It’s a game that defined an entire genre of diverse titles. Book of Demons takes the core dungeon crawler experience and asks the question: “What if you played this with cards?”
Gameplay-wise, Book of Demons, is not entirely card based. You still go down into a dungeon, navigate your way through real-time monster fights, manage your health and mana just like many of its genre brethren. However, all of your skills and items are based on cards you find through your trek down deeper to hell. Cards consist of three categories: Spells, Items, and armor. Spells and items work as you would expect with abilities to damage your enemy using mana or refillable health potions. But the armor items cost a portion of your mana that becomes unusable. It adds a level of strategy so that you can’t just equip all the cool armor perks but have to choose what is more important — that awesome spell that clusters enemies together or having a shield that can block incoming arrows. You also have a limited amount of slots available to play active cards so there is a constant shuffling to prioritize for the monsters you are facing and how your health or mana fluctuate during battle. Unlike other card games, there is no exhausting of cards and you can have them active for as long as you want. I enjoyed this style of gameplay but it sometimes can feel less meaningful that they are cards rather than just classified as spells and items.
The game plays into being an obvious Diablo clone at times, showing a true homage to the first installment of the series, such as Deckard Cain’s very iconic catchphrase getting a small tweak.These small parody moments in the game always made me smile, regardless of how shocking that they actually used them and had me searching to find more small easter eggs throughout. The similarities were cute and create an amusing and nostalgic feeling, however, this game really shines when it takes directions away from all that. There are numerous actions within the game other than just your spells to add layers of complexity. Monsters with spells that require you to rush towards them to interrupt them or having to attack certain shield icons on monsters to break their defenses to damage them adds an extra layer of chaotic fun to the game. The game even has certain elements that play into the cards that I was not expecting, like when getting attacked by an enemy with a charge move, they will stun you and you need to collect the stars in front of your face to snap back to reality. Additionally, your cards will sometimes be knocked around and you will need to pull them back in proper order before being able to use them again. There’s even a boss who steals all your cards and scatters them throughout the map. Put all these together and it adds to an adventure that is not just pointing and clicking on an enemy anymore.
Visually, the game took an interesting direction by having similar characteristics to a pop-up book. You are a 2D character bouncing around in an isometric world of origami-esque monsters. The cartoony art direction adds to the appeal, with the unique paper style giving you a feeling of being inside of a kid’s imagination — bringing me back to the days of drawing figures in a notebook and letting my thoughts run wild.
I was instantly intrigued by this realm of possibilities but worried that the childish look might result in simplified gameplay. At first, it seemed quite rudimentary, your character goes through corridors and you attack by clicking on an enemy. However, as you continue through, the difficulty has a way of quickly ramping up once you get to locations that swarm you with enemies and new challenges. Some enemies start getting shields or immunities to add to the combat style you have to build. Creatures also start using more powerful spells that can apply poison, stun, or cold which causes you to attack slower or become completely frozen. Enemies also begin showing up with different heart types requiring you to use different items or spells to do sufficient damage. As I explored further, it became clear that this was a much more serious dungeon crawler than meets the eyes.
If this is not challenging enough, there’s also a roguelike mode which randomizes the cards dropped and adds permadeath to the game rather than just losing a portion of your gold. After a while of playing, I feel like this mode caters to those more experienced in dungeon crawlers. There can be times on the normal mode that become hectic, especially when overwhelmed by enemies, but throughout my entire run, I had never even died once. I think the game could benefit from a harder difficulty rather than going from normal to rogue-like. Perhaps adding extra debuffs or more enemies per stage could make it more hectic.
One of my favorite features of this game would definitely be the way map lengths are generated. In order to progress to the next boss, you always have to climb down a number of floors. However, each time you play, you progress in iterations. You get to choose how long you have to play the game based on a size, and the map will then be generated for you to go in and explore. Once finished with the floors that were comprised of the generated map, you can either create a new one or simply close it up and start again later. I loved this! As an adult who might not always have endless amounts of time on my hands to play, it gave an easy pick-up and play aspect that I used multiple times when I only had about 20 minutes to fight some baddies. A small concern with it, unfortunately, is that the estimated times to complete a dungeon were off. I understand that it is a rough guess, but the time could often be close to double in cases where I tried to complete everything on the entire floor. Especially since the map does not show you things that you overlooked until a large percentage of items are all interacted with (fighting enemies, opening barrels, etc.).
As you progress and beat the final boss, you then unlock the free play mode where you can continue fighting stronger monsters and find improved card sets. However, if you miss beating up those major bosses, there are also keys that allow you to go back and fight harder versions of them. Going through and grinding was enjoyable for a bit but I think the main source of fun came from the exploration towards the initial bosses. After that, I didn’t have as much motivation to continue without the main storyline pulling me through. That being said, my playthrough of one character took quite some time and with three classes in the game, there’s a good amount of content here. Each class has their own unique set of spells and armor which will help with replayability if you don’t mind the story being identical. I also feel like the grind could have been easier to cope with if there was a way to play with friends. Adding multiplayer would most likely take a bit of work to balance things like the difficulty or view to see additional characters but without it, I felt little reason to continue.
Book of Demons was a game that I did not expect to like as much as I did. The Thing Trunk team put a lot of love into this and it shows. The card concept was a unique twist that sometimes felt a little strange but still added some fun quirks. Going in I wasn’t sure that it would hold my attention at all but it was something that stuck with me for quite some time and I think is a good pick up for fans of the genre.