Life is pretty peaceful on the idyllic island of Clog, and you’re living well, working as a farmer, living off the land. But then, you’re lured through a mysterious portal by, of all things, a talking sheep! And that talking sheep turns out to be Sproggi, a mischievous forest spirit, and he’s taken you prisoner… What he wants from you is to live in the village he’s built for you, and save his forest from desolation and destruction by taming the wild creatures that live within it! Are you up to the task? This is the premise of Sproggiwood, a turn-based roguelike by Freehold Games, available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux for £10.99 (as of time of writing). You can also find it being sold through Freehold’s sales widget (powered by Humble) on their website.
I’d heard about the game a little while ago from a few Twitter friends, who told me I was missing out by not having it… and it looked great, so I wishlisted it! Then the other day, Nelson of the GamesMatter team announced that he had copies to give away in exchange for a review of the game on social media, so I jumped at the chance :)
Sproggiwood is bold, cute, colourful and jolly; a very appealing look, making for a great first impression. But don’t be fooled: beneath that cute exterior lies a game that’s hard as nails in Normal mode, and it’s no cakewalk in Easy mode, either… Incidentally, you can switch difficulty modes during a game, which is cool. On the map screen, you’ll earn a silver star for completing a dungeon in Easy mode, and a gold one when you manage it on Normal difficulty.
There are six different classes that you can play: Farmer, Archer, Warrior, Thief, Wizard, and Vampire, each of which having their own set of handy skills to hopefully make your time in the dungeons a little easier. But you only get one or two classes to start with, and the remainder have to be unlocked by completing those dungeons. That’s fair enough, though. The skills have two or three levels of power each; when you go up a level, you have one skill point to allocate, either to unlock a skill, or to upgrade one you’ve previously unlocked on your travels.
Using the skills costs stamina: from one to three points (represented by stars at the top-right corner of your screen). That stamina is regained by killing dungeon denizens, or by consuming stamina potions. Fortunately, your base attack doesn’t need stamina, so even if you’re completely out of juice, you won’t be up that proverbial creek without a paddle.
What’s a little odd is that every time you play a dungeon, you begin at level 1… and items that you find in the dungeons are taken from you, once you emerge victorious. However, each new item that’s found (whether you choose to take it or not) is added to the village shop, so that you can buy it. When you do that, you can keep the item permanently.
Speaking of the village, you can purchase upgrades to increase the rate of XP gathering, reduce the cost of items, and other good stuff like that, which is great for when you tackle the harder levels. Additionally, there are decorations you can buy, like paths, trees and buildings, to make Sproggiwood feel more like a home (far away) from home. Those decorations don’t add anything to the game in itself, but it does make the village a lot less barren and desolate.
So anyway, I dived into the game on Normal difficulty, and although I was taking a beating quite often, I did manage to beat the first few dungeons (there are ten in total, as far as I can tell), scoring myself some gold stars. The issue of starting all the time at level 1 wasn’t an issue, because it was quite easy to level up. Just as well, really, because the Archer can’t even use his bow until he hits level 2… But then, things started to get to be really frustrating, and I just couldn’t manage at all, so I decided to see how much easier it would be to jump to Easy difficulty. It did make a difference: the enemies don’t seem to hit you as hard, and I was able to progress through more dungeons, even though I was now only getting silver stars.
I only have the final dungeon left to go, and I did reach what I believe to be the final boss. But getting there was so dispiriting. There are a couple of things in particular which make matters particularly tough. First of all, there is a fish duo, bound by a glowing line. You can do damage to them, but as soon as they teleport to a new location, they heal back up to full health! Oh, and the buggers are always flying, too – so they’re not constrained by the gaps between rooms, which naturally block ground-based creatures.
Worse still are the portals which appear in later levels. Once they appear and open, they spawn “Bizarro” monsters every couple of turns or so, until you reach the door and close it, whereupon it disappears. If you’re not quick about it, then you can be quickly mobbed. What makes it harder is that an attack from one of these creatures can teleport you to a new location, so you’ve got to make your way back over there… and all the time, more and more creatures are pouring through that portal.
But I don’t mind tough enemies, really. That’s what roguelikes are all about, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Freehold’s other offering, Caves of Qud, and that thing is tough, too. It seems to me that the thing which really hobbles gameplay is the fact that, in Sproggiwood, you only have one slot available for consumables (e.g. potions). When you come across a new item, you can use it immediately without losing what you’ve already got in the consumables slot, keep it for later use (replacing the previous item, which is automatically sold for you), or selling it.
While that in itself is useful, it’s still a bear to be lumbered with just that one slot. There was a number of occasions when I really could have done with a haste potion or a freeze potion to take on those damned flying fish, but I’d been sacrificing them because I’d wanted to hold onto the health potion I had with me. I think that even extending the consumables to three slots would make a world of difference. But perhaps that would make it too easy for some people.
It would be very helpful if enemies’ health bars could be placed over their heads, rather than underneath them. As it stands, the bars are completely obscured by scenery directly in front of it – see the pic below to get the idea of what I mean.
In the village screen, there’s a peculiar incongruity when placing scenery: Placing pathways/grass is done with the mouse – but placing all other scenery requires you to use the movement keys and Space…
And the last thing I noticed is either a bug, or just me being really unobservant: When playing as the Archer and using the bow skill, it’ll stay on the bow skill until all enemies you can see have been defeated, and then it’ll switch back to the knife attack – that’s fair enough, and is rather handy. However, there are occasions when the switch back doesn’t occur, even though there don’t appear to be more enemies on-screen. But as I say, this might just be me being unobservant.
I feel bad for being so negative about Sproggiwood, especially considering the welter of good things people have had to say about it. But, to me at least, that inventory issue is quite the deal-breaker, and adds a layer of difficulty that I’m not sure the game needed. You might feel differently!
My thanks once again to the GamesMatter team for providing the whole GamesMatter framework, and to Freehold Games for providing them with the Sproggiwood keys.