Source of Madness

Lovecraftian horror has been the inspiration for a wide variety of art, its influence seen in every type of gaming from puzzles to walking simulators to action RPGs and shooters. At this point, the chaos of the unfamiliar has started to become familiar, many of his monsters are easy recognizable, so while this roguelike platformer based in cosmic horror may remind you of a few other games it does have a few stark elements of differentiation. In an attempt to stimulate the mind’s ability to adapt reactive memory, its gameplay and visual appeal all revolve around one thing, which may both be what frustrates and entices anyone giving this a try.

Source of Madness has a straightforward loop. You pick a randomized cultist, fight monsters for gear and gold you lose on death, as well as currencies you keep. Once killed you can upgrade two trees, one of which is new cultist types as well as unlock ring drops which cast various spells, the other gives more permanent bonuses like extra damage, more healing flasks or dash charges.

Gameplay involves fighting monsters, 2D platforming to avoid traps and find chests, and randomization of monsters, gear and terrain that resembles early Diablo with a similar equipment and inventory system. You have dual stick spell aiming, most spells either being spammable or chargable with varied damage, ranges, fall off and area. Further, there are numerous benefits beyond just stats that long cooldown items and gear give, such as shielding or summoning a turret. Combat is fairly simple at its most basic, you can attack with your gear and dash in any direction which is useful for evasion, exploration and moving through enemies that have you trapped.

The visual portion of the game is where it really stands out. With a haunting backdrop and ruined structures everywhere, though the monstrosities which threaten you are the most memorable aspect of the game. Like writhing masses of body parts, you never quite know what you are fighting as tentacles, claws and maws try to destroy you before you dissect them. This is where the game diverges in many ways, while limbs telegraph with a glow, attack patterns and the amount of danger you are in can be difficult to grasp, while safe parts of a foe’s body, your cultist and the portion that can kill you can rapidly blur together. As well, the first level is a fishing village, the second is tunnels, and so on- while random, much like Diablo you have a limited selection of random elements specific to each area… however, as this is a roguelike, it may become very repetitive seeing these areas constantly.

While some foes have predictable ways to safely handle them, others can crush you in seconds, and it can be hard to tell which enemies are which as one pile of flailing tendrils looks like another. The difficulty in telling what is going on and what you’re even looking at is what I think people will be frustrated with, or enamoured too and it really makes this the sort of game that will seem interesting for a while but not click with the average player.

Overall, this is a game with a distinct visual style that absolutely effects gameplay, it is simple to understand and has a loop that wastes little time. While it does telegraph what is happening it also can become so chaotic that it’s hard to tell what is going on anyway, and it can also be challenging to tell what is going on with the UI and inventory descriptions. If you are not a fan of looping through the same levels slowly gaining small bonuses, this is not a roguelike where you can expect to quickly become powerful enough to trivialize early content, and over several dozen runs I did not have a single broken build, making me feel like luck was a fairly mild factor compared to many other looter roguelikes. With a fairly soothing soundtrack, this is a strangely relaxing yet challenging artistically interesting but not frightening cthulhu inspired roguelike. It will not appeal to most I think, but it is a pretty good game regardless.

~~Alex Cumming~~

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