Space Gladiators: Escaping Tartarus
Developer and Publisher: Thomas Gervraud
Early Access Date: February 6th 2020
Platforms: PC | Price: $10
Indie games have been flourishing in this era of gaming and in particular the roguelike genre has been a favorite among developers. With the ease of creating games at an all time high, thousands of solo devs try their hand at creating comprehensive game systems and worlds. But not all solo developed games are created equally, and it's a high risk choice for a gamer to trust a single individual to finish a game. That being said, I'm happy to report that Space Gladiators is a game that already has a lot of content behind it and it's approaching the final stretch in delivering a solid addition to indie game libraries.
Space Gladiators (SG) functions as an arcade roguelike where there is little focus on story or lore in contrast to games like Hades or Children of Morta. SG doesn't offer an in game hub where you open up new NPCs or interact with a home base in between runs. During my Q&A with developer Thomas Gervraud he made it clear that his game is focusing on delivering more content within each run over frivolous story mechanics. When asked about the story behind the gameplay Thomas replied, "I see it more as a context that allow the game to happen more than a real story." Instead SG focuses on challenges and completion similar to games like Risk of Rain 2 or Binding of Isaac. Completing a challenge will open a new relic or character to be put into the mix for subsequent runs. The types of challenges include beating a boss with a certain character, clearing an amount of enemies, or not using abilities during a run, and dozens more.
State of early access...
As of writing this article, the amount of content in Space Gladiators feels like its in a near complete state. There are 6 playable characters with over 150 relics to apply during a run. These relics span all the established tropes of the genre where they buff/debuff your character, give you passive abilities, or add a pet as a companion. There are 3 biomes that are playable individually, at first, with a 4th level option to play all 3 levels in a single run. Across these 3 levels there are close to 20 enemies to battle unique to the biome you are in, each level ending with a boss fight.
While discussing the state of early access and how close to done Thomas feels with Space Gladiators, he indicated the game has much more content on the way. He specified that the next major update, "will introduce dozens of new enemies, mini-bosses and rooms." He also shared that there will be a revamp of the enemy AI, "to allow the new monsters to display more complex behavior". This is all really good news as the game already has tons of content with the game design feeling complete.
Wot I liked...
The combat is fluid and responsive, with each character having its own type of basic attack range and movement. Double jump and dashing is available for each character from the start without needing to be acquired. Each character is different with its own stats and leveling bonuses. The enemies and levels are fairly difficult, at least at first. The hand drawn levels and enemies are endearing. Most of roguelike game mechanics are present and the game feels complete for early access. The price for the game is on point at only $10.
Knowing that more enemies, mini-bosses, and further balancing is planned for the game gives me joy as it should enable more risk vs reward map paths, a roguelike staple. Path choices as you move across the map should become more diverse and enjoyable with this additional planned content. The more difficult rooms there are, the better as being too easy defeats the purpose of being a roguelike.
A rose any other name...
While Space Gladiator's gameplay mechanics feel like they capture and excel at many of the elements expected in roguelike games, it was difficult to shake the indie feel of the game. The hand drawn design, reminiscent of The Behemoth game Castle Crashers, can be off putting to certain audiences. The music and sound effects also leave something to be desired (the turkey enemy sound effect is burned into my memory). And the UI is fairly basic in design, serving as a means to an end. These elements didn't deter me from having fun in stomping on enemies with each unique character and building them up in various ways during a run, but they could stand to be improved upon.
I will also mention that there were a few items that felt very OP such as a wrench that gave your character an armor point for only 25 coins. Coins being fairly plentiful and health being the most important resource it was a no brainer to pick this item up in any given playthrough. Once the game is fully released it will be interesting to see what kind of final balancing changes will be applied to give the player the best experience possible with each playthrough.
Space Gladiators is definitely an indie game, but its got heart and great gameplay. If you can look past the indie nature of it all, my recommendation is that its safe to pick up. The current completeness is solid, the dev behind the game is actively working on more content, and the price is reasonable. It took about 6 hours for me to open up all the characters, and I have tons of challenges left to complete to open up the rest of the relics. I'll of course be reviewing the full game once it's out of early access so check back in about 6 months to see how Space Gladiators shaped up.
(Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher)