There’s something to be said for how a game can feel fresh and new by just slapping on a unique setting and aesthetics. The Ni no Kuni titles go a long way on their presentation alone, for instance, though they’re pretty interesting adventures in and of themselves. Some games need the help a little more than others – City of Brass, for instance, is a somewhat messy dungeon-crawler from the scattered developers of BioShock that still manages to draw the eye with its unique Arabian Nights setting.
City of Brass is yet another take on the ever-popular “roguelite” subgenre: run through a randomly-generated dungeon, collecting what you can and putting it to the best possible use in order to get as far as possible. Here, the concept is twisted somewhat with a focus on environmental combat and situational awareness. It’s much more unusual than it might sounds, and City of Brass lives and dies by how much you enjoy this twist.
To be a bit more clear, your character’s got a sword and a whip and neither of these tend to be the best ways of dealing with enemies. The sword is slow and awkward, possibly one of the least satisfying melee weapons in recent gaming history, and it’s mostly good for slicing up enemies that are otherwise occupied. You’ll occupy them with the whip; a lash will knock them back, a lash to the head will stun them, and most importantly a lash to a nearby trap will set off that trap and hopefully just take the foe out right then and there. Likewise, you’ve got a push ability that’s just great for getting baddies into the right spot for a trap kill.
That’s the key, really: City of Brass has plenty of nasty foes, but they’re not going to be what kills you. The endless array of traps that absolutely saturate every single room of every single level is what’s going to kill you, especially given how in typical genre style healing is rare and each hit is extremely costly. We’re talking spike pits, turrets, explosives, fire…the works. You’re going to learn how to use all of this to your advantage (or at least not get hit by a spike trap every time you enter a new room) or you’re going to die. It’s strange compared to most other entries in the genre, to say the least, and it’s probably not going to appeal to everyone.
As you collect more items you can change up your tactics somewhat. There’s treasure to collect and shops to peruse; each life includes several Wishes that can be spent on enhancing the contents of shops, though this also tends to make them a bit more pricey. Still, as usual if you die all of this is gone, so cunning swashbuckling is the default gameplay style and what you’ll have to excel at to progress.
The Arabian Nights aesthetic is a little less divisive than the bizarre gameplay, at least, since City of Brass looks and sounds fantastic. As with any procedurally-generated game, there will come a point when everything just kind of blends together, but at least the mush that it blends into is nice and shiny. Just as a side note: you’ll want to play this one on PC, as the added whipping precision from a mouse felt vital to success.
City of Brass probably isn’t going to be the next YouTube darling, which is the ultimate goal for this sort of game – that ship’s largely sailed by now and the trap-centric gameplay doesn’t lend itself quite so well to facecam bravado and screaming. Still, fans of the “roguelite” could probably do worse than this one. Certainly it’s very nice-looking and merits checking out from that perspective alone; just make sure you bring all your patience along for the ride.