by Jordan Helsley
reviewed on PC
Rock 'n' Roll Demons
When hard rock demons invade our world, it's up to one quartet to fend them off, once and for all. No matter your ensemble, they're going to sling spells to send their foes back to hell. Better still, they each have a role to play, so they perform as one when they take the stage. It's an odd setup for a deck-building roguelite, to be sure, but Power Chord doesn't shy away from its ludicrous premise, preferring to dive right in. Right up front, you're greeted by a striking art style that falls somewhere between Heavy Metal and Mutant League Football as our narrator recounts the age-old battle between Legions of Demon and The Knights of The Thunderfist. Sadly, the Thunderfist are down to one member, and the Demon are back to finish the job.
Getting The Band Back Together
Your band comprises four members, because no band is complete without a singer, guitarist, bassist, and drummer. Each role acts in a relatively loose class, which quickly identifies which skills they're best at. You're given one of each to start (with more waiting to be unlocked) as you progress across the map, leaving a pile of dead demons in your wake. If you've played a battle-based roguelite before, you're probably well acquainted with what this map looks like: choose one of a handful of starting paths, follow branches to more fights, mini-bosses, random events, loot, health, and shops, until the strands ultimately converge on the boss. It is a tried-and-true strategy layer that has lost no effectiveness here.
As you progress down the line, you're presented with new cards to your deck, gear for your members, and, of course, money to buy those same things in shops. During my initial runs, I watched my deck balloon significantly as I found myself addicted to experiencing every new card I found. That's part of your strategy: collect a large number for maximum possibility, or keep the deck lean and clean so you're more likely to draw what you'll use. There's a fine line. Layering items on top of this system was a smart choice. Of course, I want my healer to heal themselves whenever they apply a buff, and my tank could use the opportunity to dole out extra armour. You can give these items to anyone, allowing you to get creative with every aspect of your battles.
Battle of The Bands
Like your first big concert, taking the stage is disorienting at first. The UI provides a glut of information, and while it's all helpful, I wouldn't have minded some of it being hidden behind a click or two. From buffs and debuffs, to attack order and upcoming damage, balanced with energy and the cards in your hand, there's a lot to consider before committing to your moves. It takes some getting used to, but there's a level of satisfaction when it all comes together. And when the action kicks in, the graceful back and forth of the two bands overshadows the clutter.
Power Chord feels defensively minded. I was more often using the opponents' upcoming moves to inform my own than I was planning my own combos. Focusing on mitigating damage, stunning opponents before they attack, and controlling where a given enemy attacks proved more useful than planning who to take out first right off the bat. It's a shame, because there's a significant number of enemy roles to consider. I just never found doing so to be beneficial.
Bumps In The Rhythm
Regrettably for a music-based game, the soundtrack was forgettable. It could have been the visual overload, or the strategy layers sucking me in, but I expected to have the music stuck in my head after such long play sessions. That never happened, but it also never became grating enough to make me cut a run short or prevent me from jumping back in. You'll likely be hearing it a lot, though. Whether you're trying to beat the game or simply looking to complete challenges, there's plenty of replayability here. This became problematic for me for two reasons: most of your standard battles quickly become easy, and the bosses can spike the difficulty significantly. It took me several runs dedicated entirely to planning for a particular boss before I even got close to a winning strategy, and it really came out of nowhere. In a game where most of your attacks deal single-digit damage, the first time you run into a demon with 200+ health can be a literal and figurative mood killer.
A Solid Cover Band
Nothing in Power Chord is a revelation. It executes familiar formulas, but it does so extremely well. Even now, considering post-release plans are already being discussed, there's a ton of content to make grinding out a victory worthwhile. You're going to lose, probably a lot, but it wouldn't be fun otherwise. It is enjoyable mastering the systems here. Building a deck that gels perfectly with your playstyle is satisfying. And, of course, sending these demons back to hell with the power of rock (and a little magic) serves as the ultimate reward in this tactical experience.
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Highly adaptable to different play styles, deep strategy, very replayable
Forgettable music, cluttered in-battle UI, severe difficulty spikes can feel unfair.