Curses ‘N Chaos Review

The events surrounding the release of Curses ‘N Chaos are a bit curious for me, but only because of the amount of hype that has been swirling around the game through the tail end of it’s development. That isn’t to say that Curses ‘N Chaos isn’t great. It’s just somewhat simple compared to the types of games that normally get this level of press. So let’s take a look at the game and see if we can pick apart what makes Curses ‘N Chaos worth our attention, shall we?

There’s no question that Curses ‘N Chaos stands out visually. In this time of renaissance for pixel art, it takes a lot to stand out in the field. But this game does. The backgrounds by Stéphane Boutin are incredible works of art, and the cut-scene animation in Curses ‘N Chaos would make a NES-era designer weep and bow in praise. I must mention, however, that though the art that’s available is top-notch, there isn’t a whole lot of it. The setting for each level is only one screen wide, so they definitely make ample use of each backdrop. And the character and monster sprites are all quite small, so the beauty is someone lost on them compared to the backgrounds and cut-scenes.

Let’s talk music and plot now. The music is predictably throw-back to match the visuals. And we’re not talking any kind of chip-tune fusion where there are dubstep drums and effects intertwined with the bleeps and bloops. This is 8-bit all the way, and it does the job nicely. And let’s just skip the plot talk, because it’s just window dressing here. It could just as well have been a guy yelling “Fight monsters!” and it would have worked almost as well. But I’m totally okay with there not being a story. It’s not what the game’s about.

Curses ‘N Chaos has a very arcade feel to it, even in menu. The game boots up and immediately launches into the simple backstory of the characters à la TMNT (the arcade game). From there the menu is no-frills—with quick sound effects, non-existent animations, incredibly small explanation on how things work, and very little you can do… at first. There is a shop you will be too poor to make use of, and a mysterious “Mix” option which we’ll talk about later. The most useful thing you can do in this early stage is “Fight”.

After choosing the one and only stage you have access to for now, you will begin a 10 wave battle against a changing cast of enemies. Though deceivingly simple in nature on their own, each type of enemy provides a satisfyingly different fighting approach, so as different monsters gradually get introduced into the mix, there will get to a point where you have to become very fluid and flexible in how and where you fight on the screen.

Fighting on its own is, again, simple but satisfying. Your main arsenal is your punch and your jump kick, but also of note is the fact that you can do a double jump (of course!) and a run punch. The run punch gets very little fanfare as its animation is almost identical, but it is twice as strong as a regular knuckle sandwich, if my observations are accurate (don’t question me, punk). The jump kick is also twice as strong as the standard punch, but it is more difficult to time correctly. So it’s slightly more of a risk since if you get knocked on your ass from a mid-air collision with an enemy, you’re going to lose a couple precious seconds on your wave time.

Let me explain this whole wave business a little further. If you didn’t already know, a wave is simply a set of enemies that you must dispatch. You are given an amount of time to complete each wave, and if the timer reaches zero, you’re going to have to deal with the reaper of death breathing over your shoulder, and that guy can be a real nuisance. If you make it through 10 waves you will fight the boss, and if successful there, another level will be unlocked for you to putz around in. But beyond the punches and kicks lies the most important yet bizarre part of the game—the items.

When you kill an enemy there is a chance you will either get coins or an item. These items are all as simple and varied as the enemies, and they are fun to get because you can only carry one at a time and thus are motivated to use them constantly. You’ll be blasting cannons, launching arrows, and all kind of other baddie-smashing goodness like that. But this extremely short-term use belies the true purpose of these items. You see, part of the story entails that you are fighting these monsters in order to obtain these items, from which you will use alchemy to obtain the things you need to break the curse that’s been placed on you. So what you end up realizing is that you need to hold on to some of these items and take them back at the menu screen so you can mix them together to get the things you need. I think.

And this leads to the one strange part about this game that I haven’t figured out yet. See, you can start a level, fight a few guys, wait until you get an item you need for crafting, and then just exit right out and keep the item. You can do this all you want, and as far as I can foresee, craft pretty much everything by level two. It’s hard to describe why this feels odd if you haven’t played the game, but basically it’s exactly counter to the other thing you’re doing in the game, which is fighting really long waves of enemies while trying your darnest not to die. The two tasks seem at odds, but considering I haven’t even beaten level three out of thirteen yet (did I mention the game’s tough?), and there are a couple mysterious scrolls in my bag that I don’t quite understand, I’m going to chalk this one up to my own ignorance and believe that everything will make sense after I make it a bit further into the game.

Oh, and that leads me to one last point: you can do both local and online co-op, so play with a friend. It’s not incredibly easier since you share a life reservoir, but it’s definitely more fun.

So what’s the deal with all the hype behind Curses ‘N Chaos? I think it’s simple: a mix of luck, the company’s history, and a good PR effort on their part—just like with any indie game that gets even a small fraction of the attention that mainstream titles get. But Curses ‘N Chaos is a tight and polished brawler that will bring out the fighting spirit in any arcade-loving gamer, so I can declare that it deserves the attention it’s getting. If you enjoy industry-leading pixel art, unforgiving arcade-style co-op action and a 10 dollar price tag, I can recommend Curses ‘N Chaos to you.

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