Tribute Games has done some impressive things with their retro/indie hybrids. Wizorb, for example mixed classic 8-bit retro RPG mechanics, and visuals with classic brick breaking combat to make the perfect retro tribute. The end result was that the game not only caught the attention of me, but also a number of other gaming journalists who were into the indie scene when that game had launched. It was even accepted among the gaming community on an equally impressive scale. Seeing the previous success, and impressive nature of 'Wizorb' I was very curious to find out what Tribute Games' latest creation, "Curses 'N Chaos" was all about. I had not seen the trailers prior to requesting it for review, but I did see the screenshots, and accompanying art which all looked awesome to me. When I finally got into the game I was pleasantly surprised, and hooked from the start as I found yet another hybrid retro experience done up with all the glory of an innovative indie. This game turned out to be a mixture of Metroidvania platforming, RPG elements, and wave based combat similar to what you'd find in a shmup (shoot 'em up). It may seem odd, but it's the type of game that takes skill to master, and delivers on so many levels in demanding that mastery.
In "Curses 'N Chaos" we find an unlikely duo of heroes who are fighting against monsters of varying sorts in a kingdom that is cursed by darkness. This kingdom is ruled by the evil Wizard King, and is a monster haven that's almost void of human life, because of it's unnatural inhabitants. Through the nicely animated 8-bit intro sequence that comes complete with story dialogue we are clued into these facts, and learn through continued text the fate of the hero, and heroine who have put themselves in harm's way for the sake of humanity within said kingdom. Lea, and her secret "Mach Punch" technique, and Leo with his mysterious past had joined forces thinking that they could overcome the odds stacked against them. In their foolish endeavor though they were ultimately cursed by the Wizard King himself, and relentlessly chased by Death as a result. To reclaim their humanity, and end their curse the two heroes must once again join forces in order to gather the ingredients required to make the 'Elixir of Life'. Thankfully a rogue alchemist named, 'Allison', and her trusty owl sidekick 'Owly' are going to assist them in creating the cure. It'll be up to you (Lea/Leo) to survive the hordes of ghouls, ghosts, and beasts that inhabit the various landscapes, and secure the ingredients you'll need to turn back to normal.
After watching the intro sequence play out in full you'll be taken to a basic menu system that houses a list of options pertaining to "Curses 'N Chaos". You'll find that "Fight" leads the listing followed by "Shop", "Equip", "Mix", and "Talk". The "Fight" menu option will take you into the character select screen, and further into the stage selection menu where you'll begin your adventure as either Lea, or Leo. While you can opt to go solo the game does have an embedded multiplayer option on the character select screen which will give you two online matchmaking options. You can either play solo, invite a friend from your friends list to play as the other character alongside you, or attempt to do an online search for some random gamer that might be searching for a multiplayer game themselves. Unfortunately there is no local multiplayer option shown, but I imagine you can play some local co-op by having two controllers connected.
Once you pick your hero, or heroine, and select the stage you wish to beat you will be thrust into the gameplay without so much as a tutorial explaining what it is you are supposed to be doing. That's right. This game is completely void of explanation beyond the plot material that is given. Thankfully your old pal Dante has figured it all out, so that you don't have to! Yay! When the game begins your character will appear on the single stationary environment screen along with a few slow moving enemies that are trudging forth in your direction with weapons in hand. Using the Dpad to move from right to left you can approach these menacing creatures, and follow up with an attack using the "SQUARE" button. The more enemies you kill the more that will appear until a wave is complete, or until the 60 second timer runs out at which point Death will appear to reap your soul in one fell swoop. Enemies come in both the flying type, and ground based type, and each have their own attack patterns that you must learn in order to complete the waves before running out of health, and lives. As with any Metroidvania platformer the attacks will vary in accordance to the directional buttons you are pressing along with the "SQUARE" button. Simply pressing "SQUARE" will cause Lea, or Leo to throw a forward facing punch while doing the same with the upward directional button held will cause them to punch upward. As Lea, or Leo you can also jump using "X", and attack after jumping causing a jump kick which is more effective against certain types of enemy creatures. Along with the standard jump you can also double jump to reach higher flying enemies, or to leap over the taller ground dwelling creatures.
Aside from those basic attacks Lea, and Leo can also pick up dropped items that can either refill lost hearts/health, or that can be used to attack incoming enemies like projectiles. To use, or throw an item you simply have to press 'TRIANGLE' once you run into said item, and pick it up. Whatever the item is it will be displayed under your character's avatar, and alongside your life gauges until you pick up another item in which case the previously held item will drop. Should you desire you can also press "CIRCLE" to summon Owly to pick up your currently held item, so that you can pick up another item for use. Owly can also be called back using "CIRCLE" after which he'll drop the item he was made to hold on the stage for you to pick up, and use. If it's a health refill, or boost it will instantly be consumed. If on the other hand the item in question is a projectile it'll act according to the type of projectile that it is. Bombs will explode, volleys of arrows will rain from the sky, and catapults will clear a line of ground dwelling creatures from left to the right, and visa versa. There's plenty of usable items to discover in-game as well as some to mix via the "Mix" menu.
Along with those non-disclosed instructions there are several other important things you'll want to pay attention to when battling the 10 waves of baddies, and the final boss within each stage. The most important thing to note is that Lea, and Leo both have five hearts of health per life, and that they are only given 3 lives to live during a stage playthrough. Of course you'll be able to refill hearts with meat, apples, or potions that you pick up or even through equipped purchases from the "Shop" that you make using the coins that enemies drop. Things can get pretty intense with the screen filling waves of varying enemy types though, and such situations will demand your attention in a prioritized manner lest you lose health, or a life in a heartbeat. Past the lives, and health hearts you'll also want to mind the timer that counts down during each wave starting from the 60 second mark. If the timer reaches zero, and there are still enemies on the stage you will be greeted by Death which will try to steal your lives with a series of scythe swipes. One hit from Death will cost you a life, but you can still defeat the remaining enemies, and make him vanish back from whence he came.
Other than Death, and the necessity that is life you'll find that score, and combos also count in this cursed realm. By killing enemies you will score points accordingly. By killing a series of them without getting hit you'll also build up a chain combo which will multiply the points you earn, and in turn afford you that high score you so long for. While I did want to keep this next mechanic a secret since it seems to be a secret itself you'll find that Lea, and Leo have their own unique dance moves that will give you extra points just for busting a groove. Lea will twerk (Yes, I said "twerk"), and Leo will swing his hips in a naughty circular motion like a manly pervert. In order to pull these hidden point boosts off you simply need to press "DOWN" on the DPad when you aren't in danger of being attacked. The cool thing is that when you score higher chains these dance moves will increase in point value giving you a significant boost in score. You can thank me later for that tip!
When it comes to "SHOP", and "MIX" offerings you'll find that the two menu listings go hand in hand. By buying stuff from the shop using the coins that you pick up from defeated creatures you can take the items, and "EQUIP" them (Lea, Leo & Owly), or you can "MIX" them in the menu listing of the same name. Mixing a pair of items can either create a greater item, or turn the two pricey items into a useless purple pile of unicorn crap. As you mix items, and experiment you will discover new things than can then be bought from the shop, and used in-game to make the initially hard playthroughs just a wee bit easier. I should also note that you'll find a "Grimoire" listing in one of these two menus that will show a few pages filled with alchemist tree diagrams that house all you've discovered in the way of items, and ingredients. Ultimately to beat the game you'll have to beat the boss at the end of each stage's 10 waves in order to secure all of the necessary ingredients required to return the two heroes back to their former glory. It will be no easy task either.
Lastly, in the "TALK" menu listing you'll find the idle banter, or inspirational text given by the NPC character Allison. It is meant to keep you going, and to keep you on the track of completing that goal of yours. Other than the inspirational words contained within, Allison's "Talks" do little else in explaining what it is that you need to do. Thankfully I laid it all out for you in the paragraphs above. Before I move onto the verdict though I should also mention that Lea, and Leo can run. By holding down "R1" Lea, and Leo will dash from side to side in a quicker fashion than their standard movement. This will help you to avoid some attacks as well as pick up any coins or items that may be out of reach at either end of the stage screen.
The Verdict ...
Tribute Games' "Curses 'N Chaos" is a simple yet challenging game that will require mastery to beat. Learning enemy attack patterns, and movements will mean the difference between life, and death. While I think the game is wholly impressive once you understand what's going on I do feel this game could have used a "CONTROLS" section to show what buttons do what, or an in-game tutorial level in order to help the gamer better understand what is going on. At the same time though I see the lack of these options as a proper obstacle to overcome so that you can be deemed a pro at the game. I was able to figure out all that I told you on my own, and didn't need to reference any online guides to understand what needed to be done. Some may not be so lucky though, or in tune with such gaming mechanics. Aside from the game being an expert blend of genres without much explanation it also looks amazing for the retro era appearance it was inspired by. The character, and enemy sprites are definitely on the cute side of things. Seeing Lea twerk, and Leo do his pelvic swing in all their pixelated glory is a priceless thing. Even the chip tune music that makes up the soundtrack is delightful in that it has that retro vibe. For those of you with both a PS4, and PS Vita I do believe this is a cross-buy game as well meaning that you can play it on your HDTV through your PS4, or on the go on your PS Vita. That in itself is a deal sealer for me seeing as i own both Playstation consoles. With all the Pro's, and Con's weighed I'm gonna have to say this is a "Must Buy!!!", especially since I already laid everything out in detail for you. It is very much worth the asking price, and the fact you can PS4 Share your in-game feats makes it all the more worthwhile! Do not, for the love of all things sacred miss out on this modern-day classic tribute!!!