Time and time again, the zeitgeist of modern gaming has proved that you don’t need a massive budget or sprawling development team to create a great game, you just need vision and dedication. Rocketcat Games is a good example of the new direction video games have taken, as this small troupe manages to deliver inventive, fun titles on an indie budget. They’ve returned to their iOS roots with Wayward Souls, an action-RPG that combines the randomization and difficulty of Roguelike games with SNES-era graphics and action.
Wayward Souls tasks players with plumbing the depths of a perilous dungeon to unravel its many mysteries and gather whatever meager loot they can. Initially you have three classes to choose from- a warrior, a mage and a rogue. Each character offers a distinct playstyle, with unique upgrades and special attacks to match. The warrior can defend against attacks with his shield, the mage can attack from afar and the rogue’s agility lets her run circles around her foes. Each character has his or her own story, too. These small vignettes trim away the thematic fat found in many dungeon crawlers and cut to the heart of each character’s motivation, keeping things feeling personal. You’ll want to make further progress not just for the bragging rights, but to find out what happens (or happened) to your hero.
The real action of Wayward Souls takes place in a top-down action-RPG format. You’ll slaughter foes, snag treasure, and encounter traps, shrines, and a few bosses. The dungeon layout is randomly generated each time you die (which will happen frequently), but your progress doesn’t get annihilated with each death— there are waypoints you can unlock by making it a certain distance in the dungeon, and the money you earn counts towards pervasive upgrades for each character. Each character’s upgrades are unique to them, so, if you’re planning on going the distance you’ll probably want to find the character whose playstyle you prefer and stick to them. In addition to the three starter characters, three more characters are available to be unlocked through play (no in-app purchases here!), helping add to the replay value.
There are a decent number of different enemies to fight, shrines to encounter and magic items to master, so expect each playthrough to feel fresh… for a while. However, if you’re familiar with similar games like Spelunky or Rogue Legacy, there’s just not the same amount of variance, which means there’s less of that magical feeling of discovery to be found. Rocketcat Games has dedicated themselves to continually expanding Wayward Souls, promising more content in the future. With this in mind, Rocketcat Games has also taken an unusual model to Wayward Souls’ pricing— the price is going to get hiked up with each big batch of content, encouraging gamers to be early adopters rather than waiting for a price drop.
An action-RPG lives and dies on its controls, and, unfortunately for Wayward Souls, this is its biggest stumble. The touch controls function with mediocrity; anyone familiar with console gaming will find themselves cursing their screens and wishing they had a controller. You’ll often activate a special ability when you don’t mean to, or activate the wrong ability at the wrong time. Also, once you’re past the character selection screen you can’t really see what each ability does, and given that each ability has limited uses it’s frustrating to waste them through ignorance or clumsy controls.
The moody atmosphere, melancholy music and interesting enemy types will help make up for the action feeling a bit sloppy, but when things are getting more difficult in the later portions of the dungeon you may wish Wayward Souls was on PC rather than iOS. Still, there is a lot to enjoy, here, with a Wayward Souls’ compelling, yet minimalist story, atmospheric gameplay, and massive replayability. It isn’t perfect, but for anyone who likes action-RPGs or a worthy challenge, Wayward Souls is a solid choice.
This review is based on a purchased download of Wayward Souls for iOS.