by Ewan Wilson
reviewed on PC
Small independent developers often do well when focussing resources around just a select few mechanics, the strengths of which can overcome any kind of repetition. Both Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac lit up the indie scene with brilliant and focussed design. The Weaponographist positions itself somewhat uncomfortably amongst these modern indie classics and older twin-stick shooters. A top-down 2D dungeon crawler like Binding, it’s difficult to identify what The Weaponographist does better than the games which have so clearly influenced it.
The action is instantaneous. A village hub where you can buy persistent upgrades acts as your launch pad, but before long you will be hacking and slashing your way through a massive sequence of rectangular arenas. The Weaponographist’s unique mechanic is (in Roguelike fashion) a curse. You begin your dungeon crawl bare-fisted. The enemies which you pummel to death will drop weapons to utilise. Your curse is that these weapons rapidly decay in your hands and will eventually break. Every sword and bow you snatch will deplete through use, forcing you to adapt on the fly. The curse weakens as you rack up kill combos, but as you are constantly engaged with foes the system rarely becomes an issue. You either keep killing or lose your combo and become weaker for it.
It doesn’t take long for the cartoon violence to become an automated response: grab the nearest weapon and use it until it needs replaced. Weapons can be upgraded at the village between crawls, and you are bound to have favourites, but variety doesn’t translate into uniqueness. I found weapons like the Tommy Gun (naturally), spear and circus whip massively effective early on, but their effectiveness came simply through the pummelling of the attack button rather than any tactical intricacy. Each weapon is associated with an enemy type. The Tommy Gun comes from wandering gangsters in pin-striped suits, the spears from impish demons, and the whip from a lion lion tamer. It’s an odd assortment of characters. None are original or compellingly designed, but worse is the fact there really is no discernible visual theme or style on display here. The Binding of Isaac’s icky kid-monstrosity aesthetic was divisive, but it was conscious and memorable and tied everything together.
The arena rooms are noticeably sparse, with next to no obstacles. As opposed to stripped back and pure, the combat simply feels poorly thought out. Each enemy has a quirk, but the solution is always the same: use the open space to keep your distance and hit them until they die. The game is, as an example, rarely as thrilling as the purer Geometry Wars. In addition, very little distinguishes the game’s seven levels of depth. Whilst Spelunky offers a beautiful trajectory where dark mines transform into treacherous ice caves, in The Weaponographist one empty room simply leads on to another. The strict momentum of moving from one gated room to the next without being able to explore makes it feel more like a series of never-ending “challenge” rooms as opposed to a dungeon delve.
A checkpoint system is included so that you have three shots to carry on from where you died. After you die you can also use “Goop” that you have collected to upgrade things like weapons, spells and abilities (increased health, slower decaying weapons etc). It counteracts the grind of the encounters somewhat and makes the game much more forgiving than any “Roguelike” or even the cleverly compensating Rogue Legacy.
The knock out
The Weaponographist has the small advantage of being light, mindless and easy to pick up. It would be tempting to recommend the game for those impatient or uninterested in more intricate Roguelike mechanics, but it is exuberantly padded and becomes increasingly difficult in the later stages. You will get more mileage out of struggling through the first areas of Spelunky or Binding. Similarly, if you want simplicity there are superior shooters like Nuclear Throne or Geometry Wars. Whilst other games have the advantage of carefully considered mechanics which thrill and enlighten over time, The Weaponographist’s curse is it’s an experience ultimately as disposable as its weapons.
Simple to pick-up and control, lots of weapons.
Unique weapon decay mechanic not strong enough, bit of a repetitive slog, indistinct visually and thematically, definitely not a ‘Roguelike’, better games in class.