If I’m being honest, I missed the whole Rogue thing when it first came around. In my defence, I didn’t own a PC until long after the days of ASCII art and vicious lichens. I was eventually introduced to NetHack, a game long descended from the original dungeon crawl but with more depth and some funky literary allusions, and I quickly fell in love with the concept. Now, I have never been able to steer my plucky @ symbol to victory, but I try again every few years. So, when Rogue-likes came back into vogue, it got old for me fairly quickly. With that in mind, I was a little surprised by the big goofy smile Kingsway put on my face.
Kingsway is a retro style Rogue-light RPG published by Adult Swim’s consistently surprising games branch. Adult Swim has put their name on a number of high-quality indie games in the past few years, and Kingsway is no different. It is important to note that the retro style is reminiscent of the act of playing an older RPG, rather than the original Rogue.
So, upon starting up a game the player is presented with a very simple computer desktop and a few curious desktop icons. These display all sorts of important information, like the world map or your character’s vital statistics. There’s even an email client to alert you to new quests as they become available—no job boards required. The quests themselves have some amusing flavour text and typically just require you to collect so many items from so many monsters.
Now, I said that Kingsway was a Rogue-light rather than the traditional form of the game. Between playthroughs, you can spend gems earned through levelling. It’s always nice to visit the shop after another character dies and buy a fancy new mouse cursor, an item available on future playthroughs, or even keyboard shortcuts. It cuts down on the crushing feeling that a run was useless to be able to affect future runs, even if it is just with a cool skeleton hand mouse pointer. It’s a good investment.
It’s important to note that Kingsway can be played in relative, meditative silence. That is until you find the music icon, which brings up your playlist of tunes—and these tunes are pretty sick. The music itself is top notch, and the added bonus of being able to play your favourite track whenever you like. However, this approach to a soundtrack segments everything in a weird way, so the music may not have anything at all to do with the action on screen. Fighting a boss to happy travelling music can be funny, but it does get old after a while.
The actual meat of Kingsway lies in choosing a point on the map and watching your little hooded figure walk there, dealing with any battles along the way. Occasionally the player may be presented with small “choose your own adventure”-style challenges. During battles you’ll be issuing simple orders while tracking the movement of the window containing the actual battle noticing any additional windows for enemy attacks or additional monsters eager to fight. Some monsters can do weird things to your screen like closing random windows, or otherwise messing with the player.
There’s really very little story here to speak of. There are cryptic drawings of mysterious monoliths and dark caves filled with mad cults. Your ultimate goal is the King’s castle, and to get there you’ll need to deal with some bosses and the beacons they guard. The bosses are tough, and grinding is a necessity if you ever want to make any progress in this game. The difficulty feels sudden and can be daunting to those unprepared.
Honestly, that difficulty is my biggest complaint here. The game does some novel things with the battle mechanics and it certainly isn’t afraid to dabble in some silly fun. The fact that Wingdings is an unlockable font should be enough to tell you how seriously Kingsway takes itself.