I grew up on ASCII dungeon crawls like Rogue, Hack, Ragnarok, ADOM, and more. While I still enjoy modern rogue-likes like Risk of Rain, Dungeons of Dreadmor, and Rogue Legacy, my excitement upon seeing [email protected] was palpable. Stormcloud Games has managed to take old-school ASCII adventure and turned it into something modern and fresh. I jumped at the opportunity to review the game, and it’s become my latest addiction.
[email protected] is an isometric dungeon crawler with randomly generated dungeons. Players run, jump, and hack their way through the levels to find the stairs down to the next level until they die. Death is permanent, meaning you start fresh with a new character at the start of the dungeon every time you die.
Not all is hopeless, however. Along the way, you’ll find food (even adventures get hungry!), blueprints for weapons, armor, potions, divine shrines, and more. There’s also letters hidden in each level of the dungeon that can be used to forge and enchant weapons from blueprints you have. Sometimes you get lucky and can beef up pretty quick. Sometimes you get screwed and end up punching and kicking your way through several levels of the dungeon, hoping to survive long enough to craft even a pitiful weapon.
There are 4 four characters to choose from at the start of the game, each with their own perks and weaknesses. There’s the Ranger, Amazon, Warrior, and Wizard. The first three come equipped with a shield, while the Wizard starts the game with a ranged magic attack. Choosing one comes down to the style of play you prefer. I’m a Ranger guy, myself. Nothing like being able to pick off enemies at a distance (once you can find arrows and craft a bow!)
There’s even a co-op mode where you and a friend can tackle a dungeon together. Nothing like smashing your way through boxes and baddies with your loved ones.
The art direction of [email protected] is both unique and familiar. Pretty much the entire game is made of ASCII text brought into the 3rd dimension. It’s pretty hard to explain, which is why I’ve placed a video of the game in action below. Everything is super crisp, flows smoothly, and oozes with old rogue-like charm. Weapons are literally crafted from letters you obtain throughout play. The map, when pulled up, looks just like rogue-like games of old, complete with dots, brackets, tildes, and more.
Everything is striking, dark, and minimal.
I really don’t know the last time I had more fun with a rogue-like game. At its core, [email protected] is a bit less complicated to play than old ASCII-based dungeon crawls, but it still manages to capture the feeling of excitement, exploration, and dread that the genre is known for. I find myself firing it up constantly for short bouts of adventure before cursing my luck when I finally have a good set of armor, weapons, etc… then fall down a hole and blow the whole adventure to hell.
On top of how simple-to-control-yet-insanely-hard-to-play you’ve come to know and love about rogue-likes, the added ability to play cooperatively puts [email protected] over the top. Now instead of just screaming at your monitor like a raving lunatic, you can do it with those you love most. You can also blame them for all your failure.
A Steam copy of [email protected] was provided free for review by Stormcloud Games.