Review: The Weaponographist

Doug McGrave angered the wrong witch! Now he’s loot-less, level-less and powerless, and if he wants to get back to normal, he’ll have to clear a demon infested town.

Genre(s): Arcade

Developer: Puuba Games

Publisher: Mastertronic

Release Date: April 2015

Played: Main Story + Hardcore Depths

Platforms: PC

Purchase At: Steam

Good:

  • Interesting premise.

  • Fun and addictive gameplay.

  • Charming visual style.

Bad:

  • Damage Combo drain doesn’t reset.

  • Really short.

  • Weak plot.

Review

The Weaponographist is an arcade game, one I saw during Rezzed 2015 and which I probably played more than any other game in the event. If you ever played Smash TV, you know how Weaponographist plays like, but for those of you who never have (aka my people) here’s the rundown. You battle your way through a series of rooms with four doors—up, down, left and right—and you need to kill all enemies before one of those opens, then you move to another room and start killing again until you reach the level’s boss fight.

On my keyboard, the game controlled very easily, with WASD used to move Doug and the arrow keys for attacking in one of four directions. Constant movement and precise directional attacks are extremely important in this type of arcade game.

The environments might change a bit, but the layout is always the same: 4 doors and tons of enemies!

The environments might change a bit, but the layout is always the same: 4 doors and tons of enemies!

Puuba Games added its own bizarre twists to the formula and they all revolve around Doug McGrave’s curse. Because of it every weapon he holds will inevitably fail, every coin he picks up turns to dust and every experience point he gains will fade away.

This means that weapon durability drains away with every attack and you’ll need to pick up new weapons to continue fighting. You’ll start every stage without weapons, just your fists, and the first enemy in the room will always drop a weapon, but from there the drop chances are completely random and you’ll have to use the weapons available strategically, making sure to move not only to avoid attacks and get close to the next enemy but also stay within short distance of a weapon. It takes some getting used to but soon enough I had mental routes on how to kill enemies and pick up the next item.

You'll buy a lot of stuff in town.

You’ll buy a lot of stuff in town.

There are to categories of weaponry: main weapons and spells. The former have varying degrees of power and durability and it’s what you’ll be using most of the time. The latter on the other hand are much rarer, are incredibly powerful but will often last for one or maybe two attacks. There are both melee and range main weapons, with Melee ones losing durability with each successful hit and ranged weapons losing durability with each shot fired, no matter if it hit or not. It’s a fair system and one you get used to quite quickly.

The weapons themselves are an eclectic set and in some cases anachronistic. You’ll find swords, spears, bows and maces along with yo-yos, chainsaws and Tommy Guns. And that’s without considering the “body part” weapons, like the Boomerang Satyr horns or the rocket launcher Unicorn horns. I love the Unicorn Rocket Launchers and the flail, the sword and the Tommy Gun! Those were my go-to weapons. Sadly, your favourite weapons won’t always be available.

Unicorn Rockets!!!

Unicorn Rockets!!!

Doug’s curse prevents him from keeping his levels but that doesn’t mean you don’t level up, just that these aren’t permanent. Instead leveling is the basis for the game’s combo system, the more you kill the higher the combo and the more powerful you are, but the bar is constantly draining. At certain combo levels your base level will increase, so that if you ever lose the combo, you still have base to fall back on to build a new one. These base levels also drain but unlike the combo which goes away completely, they drain one level at a time.

During my playthrough my greatest frustration was that once you lost the combo, building a new one became right near impossible. At the start of each depth—what the Weaponographist calls the levels—the combo bar drains slowly but as you take damage the speed at which it drains increases. And for some reason this doesn’t reset when the combo falls off, making new combo levels last barely a few seconds and leaving you constantly losing base levels until you’re back at level 1.

As you kill enemies they drop their weapons...or body parts.

As you kill enemies they drop their weapons…or body parts.

You might think the game would get impossible with these mechanics, but that’s the final twist Puuba added and which they call Rogue-Light. You will most likely die a few times in the Weaponographist–it’s a pretty hard game and the bosses even more so–but when you do you’ll just pop back in Town with a pocket-full of goop. Since Doug can’t carry any money, the townspeople agree to take the goop monster drop when they die as proof of his monster slaying. You can use it to upgrade the damage you do with each main weapon or spell, partially lift the curse to make weapon durability last longer, increase your health or make the combo drain slower. You can even pay the Coffer Wrangler to have his pets set loose in each depth, to give you recovery and buff items when you crack them open. My only complaint with this system is that upgrades are gated and you need to clear a specific depth before the next one unlocks.

The Weaponographist isn’t al long game with only five depths. Each of these increases enemy health and damage and is longer than the previous one, but overall they don’t take long to complete. Once you clear the game though, the Hardcore mode opens up, which puts all depths at the highest possible difficulty level for you to speedrun for a shot at the leaderboards. At the time I played the boards were dominated by Puuba developers, but maybe we can take them off their fancy thrones!

You can slowly break parts of the curse with goop!

You can slowly break parts of the curse with goop!

Enemies are at the game’s core, to keep things varied and entertaining, and while the Weaponographist boasts a significant number of them, I did feel by the end that there could’ve been a bit more enemy variety. This might be because some enemies appear in every depth and other are gated, meaning they only start showing up as soon as you reach a certain depth. I don’t know which would’ve worked best, gating more of them or having them all available from the start.

But enemy variety doesn’t detract from the experience and it’s highly addictive. Even as I played, died repeatedly and quit, I found myself launching the game again within minutes. With the relative shortness of depths and checkpoints placed at certain points in them, this is a game that works really well for short bursts of fun as well as long play sessions.

The music is a bit of a mixed bag. Some depth background music is good but overall they’re just simple tunes droning in the background. A tracklist of two or three songs for each depth might’ve gone a long way, perhaps add some complexity to the tunes and make them more memorable.

Once you clear the game, you can do it all over again in harcore

Once you clear the game, you can do it all over again in harcore

The visuals are very charming. Doug’s chin could bust open a rock and every other character is larger than life, from the goop salesman to the female blacksmith and the coffer wrangler. Even Doug’s Quasimodo-ish assistant looks great. Environment design is really simple but it’s to be expected in this type of game as every room is essentially the same, with only a few different and breakable features. Monster design is phenomenal. The enemies are never scary or intimidating but just quirky and fun. There are Mafioso-type demons with Tommy Guns, the chainsaw ones have a Jason Vorhees mask on, the archers are dark elves with tight and revealing clothes, etc. What makes them unique and fun is the abundance of these little details.

Plot is my biggest gripe with the game. It’s weak. The premise is interesting enough and as you progress you expect there to be a big revelation at the end, but the final twist is just bland, especially after how amazing the last boss fight is. You want to be worthwhile and the payoff simply isn’t good enough. In addition to that there is almost no characterisation. Doug doesn’t grow or change, the townpeople are just vendors with almost no personality and the witch that cursed Doug barely shows up.

We need to take them out of those spots ASAP!

We need to take them out of those spots ASAP!

Conclusion

I had a blast with The Weaponographist and I still play it, trying to improve my times on the leaderboards. It has its flaws and shortcomings but the core gameplay is extremely addictive.

TMA SCORE:

4/5 – Exceptional

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