Tribute Games took the indie gaming scene by storm with its 2014 release Mercenary Kings. It’s arcade Metal Slug inspired flavors and addicting platform action pushed Tribute onto my ‘must watch list. Curses N Chaos is a straight up a NES era inspired brawler. It’s handling of power items and co-op play manage to keep things unique. So call a friend over, make sure you have two controllers, because it’s monster smashing time!
The story revolves around two main characters, Leo and Lea, heroes cursed by an evil Wizard King. The Evil Wizard King is shown in the game’s intro suffering from an unusual medical condition. He appears to have a non-stop laughing problem. Neurological issues aside, this fiend has put a hex on the Leo and Lea summons the Grim Reaper to relentlessly pursue them. The only thing that keeps this obsessive stalker away is killing monsters. Thanks to the advice and aid of an alchemist, the heroes set out to collect and mix items to concoct the Elixir of Life. This is the only thing that can truly save them.
What the ‘curse’ translates to in-game, is a timer that counts down each wave until the Grim Reaper shows up. Eliminate all enemies in the wave and he doesn’t reconfigure your organs with his sickle. If the timer runs out and you still have one or two enemies on screen, it’s still possible to dance around avoiding the Reaper. But that doesn’t mean you should rock out and start singing Blue Oyster Cult off-key; you do need to fear the reaper. You kill the last monster and the next wave will spawn like before. Unlike the damage you sustain from other enemies, denoted by the classic Castlevania ‘unf’ sound, the Reaper will take a complete life away if he gets you. You only start with three non-restorable lives, so staying unscathed is critical.
Your repertoire of attacks is extremely limited; just a punch or jump kick with little range. A more meaningful secondary attack option comes from loot drops. Ballistas, arrow bombardments, bombs, boomerangs, and bear traps just to name a few, can be used to unleash well, chaos. Unfortunately, you can only hold one item at a time, or pass one off to your Owl (not sure where this owl comes from in the story, but he’s handy). Hoarding up items is a key element to the game; as mixing them together with your alchemist could yield newer and better items.
The graphics are NES style, and nothing to do double jumps over. There is a considerable variety of enemies and bosses throughout the game. The game’s MIDI tracks are quite catchy and enjoyable. The game supports dual controllers, or even double keyboard input for co-op play which is a huge plus.
There are a handful of issues that plague Curse ‘N Chaos and detract from its attractive concepts. I tested Chaos on three different machines. One PC had issues going full screen, the other two played the game at a faster pace, yet still another had strange sizing issues for the monitor. I tried playing around with settings, and video card options but couldn’t come up with a consistent playing environment across all three. The game still worked on all three PCs, but with strange display quirks to battle through. Controls are not as smooth as I would prefer, especially when I’m tempted to recall how well Mercenary Kings handled.
With the sheer amount of enemies with multiple movement patterns and such a short melee range I was instinctively jerking in the opposite direction to punch whatever is creeping up behind me. One particular early enemy would drive me bananas; the dreaded giant frog. These frogs require one well placed jump kick or two punches. Once you are close they perform a full screen jump and land a space and a half behind you. With all the other enemies on you like sauce on a pizza, it is a simple anticipation move to turn around and punch the silly frog in the pie hole. Or the burrowing crab that pops out only when you stop moving, requiring a dodge move. Frustration comes from the mixture of enemies preventing dodge moves with attacks.
Single player difficulty is not balanced at all. You are expected to battle through 10 waves with no save, no level select, and no continue and random health drops. You are then expected to defeat bosses with whatever health or lives remain. This can be daunting and discouraging. Switch over to co-op however and things are much easier. Each player has his own health bar, same amount of lives. Now, you can manage two items at once, plus Mr. Owl still holds another item. Managing your half of the screen while your partner manages the other is far simpler than going at it solo. I know gamers who only see other humans and sunlight once a year, during solar eclipses, for strange attempts at mating rituals. For these folks, it will be a considerable challenge finding a companion to play Curses N’ Chaos with. To these unfortunate souls, I bid their sanity and thumbs farewell.
Imagine for a moment you had to walk seven blocks to pick up a bowling ball and bring it back, carrying it all the way back. Immediately turning around to walk another seven blocks, this time to pick up a cinder block and walk back the same distance. You put both items on the ground, wipe your sweat, and say “I’d like to turn these two items in, can I get a nuclear Grim Reaper killing hand grenade?“. The handlebar-mustached burly man facing you shakes his head ‘No’ and hands you a flaming bag of pink poop instead. This illustrates the repeated slaps to the face I received trying to discover new items in Chaos’s mix mode. The extensive battling required and item managing necessary to bring back a few items for pink poop is discouraging. Later on I discovered that you can quit levels at any time, bringing the items with you. This is not really explained anywhere. Since there are no mid-wave saves it becomes a calculated decision to leave at a certain point or not and repeat the whole process again. You can also buy items with the gold you gain in your battles, item costs are pretty high so it’s not easy to stockpile huge amounts for experimenting.
Sharp difficulty level, unforgiving mix mode, and minor issues aside this is a fun brawler that stands on its own two feet. Battling with a friend elevates this game over its issues and into the realm of a memorable NES-style classic. The games tunes are catchy, and its constant enemy variety will keep players both entertained and engaged. Despite the junk item let-down, I still found myself constantly trying out new possibilities, and with a friend to help carry another item this became easier. Any brawler fan or NES homage loving game fan should pick this title up. Tribute Games obviously has another quick action hit on their hands, just remember to order some wings, beer, and chips for the friend you need to help you defeat the Evil Wizard King.Steam