Cleaning the King’s Basement (Hammerwatch)

For those of you not in the know, Hammerwatch is a top down, 2D Gauntlet-esque RPG. That is, to say, a highly minimalised version of Gauntlet. From what I’ve seen you get a basic attack and a mana-costing attack, you eat the food you find to survive, pick up coins and occasionally come across a vendor who can upgrade your attack, defense, or combo maneuvers.

When I first bought the game some time ago I gave it a whirl, died, and went, “Oh, game over is really game over; there’s no alternate progression and the levels aren’t randomised, so I’ll have to do it again. Well, whatever, that was fun.”

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Toasty! Leagues of skeletons are no match for Reece’s mastery of fire!

I wish to go back in time and slap myself in my big dumb face. Randomised dungeon crawlers have spoiled us; they appeal to our short attention spans and throw algorithms at us, which we gleefully lap up as we explore the never-ending shifting maze. Games like Hammerwatch reign us back in and invite us to consider the beauty of manual architecture; secrets are hidden ingeniously, food scattered provisionally, enemy spawns have rhyme and rhythm to them, and treasure is presented on a silver pedestal as opposed to half glitching into a wall somewhere.

The fun really begins when you pull a friend by their ear and get them to join in with you. The sense of adventure and exploration is more than doubled when shared, and the “OH GOD SAVE ME” moments are to be relished. Whilst I’ve never played Gauntlet beyond dabbling in Dark Legacy as a child on the PS2, I’ve read elsewhere that Hammerwatch really brings back the feeling of couch co-op that the old Gauntlet games excelled so well at.

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Wasn’t this the pivotal scene in Batman Begins?

The linearity of the game is to be praised. For the longest time, I thought the game would end after defeating the maggot boss after three floors. I know three floors doesn’t sound like much, but there truly was a rich quantity of content offered and the game came equipped with an expansion and user created campaigns, so I assumed this was the case. I once jokingly referred to Hammerwatch as a game in which you were hired to clean the King’s basement, as the three types of enemies you come across in the first segment of the game are ballistic bats, hardy beetles, and the never ending tide of maggots that spit so much acid at you, the game quickly descends into a bullet hell of avoidance and triumphant spamming of attack when you find that sweet spot devoid of pain.

Well anyway, my friend and I defeated the maggot queen and were surprised when we were met with not a credits screen but a new basement, full of skeleton warriors and archers. “Hurray!” we cried. “These 14 extra lives will make this a cakewalk!”

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This was not the case.

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