Video Game Investigations: MidBoss

Today I continue my ongoing investigation of the games that I played at MomoCON 2015 by taking a look at a new Roguelike RPG called MidBoss.  No, this isn’t a game about that guy from Disgaea, but it is about a monster who wants to be more than he is.

Pictured: Not the subject of our article.

Pictured: Not the subject of our article.

In MidBoss, you play as an imp who had decided that it’s finally his time to be the boss of his dungeon.  The problem is, he’s pretty basic.  Since the game as in beta when I played it the narrative is kind of vague, but then they always are in roguelikes.  Given that the imp is the biggest and most dangerous monster you’re likely to find on the first floor of the dungeon, I’m going to assume he’s the level boss, which justifies the game’s name.

Anyway, we’re not here for speculation, we’re here for investigation!  So let’s get to that!

Cursory Observation

The fundamental gameplay is cool.  Your imp grows stronger not just by leveling up, but by possessing other monsters and mastering their abilities.  I’ll talk about that in more detail, but between having played the demo at MomoCON and the Beta, I’ve seen that this leads to a wide range of effective strategies.  This game definitely doesn’t lack depth.

You can be any one of the creatures on this screen!

You can be any one of the creatures on this screen!

There’s not much to say about the graphics.  They’re solid and effective, with everything looking like what it is.  The monster designs are simple, as is the design of the main character.  The one thing I’d like to see improved graphically is a walking animation for the characters, because currently they just sort of hop around.  This is fine, though, because I don’t think anyone has ever played a roguelike for the graphics.

The mechanics are accessible.  This doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but in classic roguelikes such as Nethack I constantly had to pull up the list of commands.  If I could remember what button pulled up the list of commands, that is.  MidBoss is much simpler, and every menu screen and command is labeled by hotkey.  This means that new players can pick up the game just as easily as roguelike veterans.

Roguelike controls: because having a key that doesn't do anything is a waste!

Roguelike controls: because having a key that doesn’t do anything is a waste!

I do have ONE gripe about the controls.  The game has an isometric view, which is cool, but the default  WASD controls don’t actually move you along the dungeons grid.  Instead, they move you along the diagonals, and you have to use the diagonal keys to move along the dungeons actual grid.  This is easily fixable in the control menu, and even if you don’t change it you get used to it, but it really threw me during the demo.

The music is solid, providing good background noise for dungeon crawling.  The tunes are catchy and feel like they belong in a game from the SNES or Genesis era.

Deeper Inspection

Ok, let’s talk about that possession mechanic, because I think that’s really the game’s selling point.  Your character starts in their basic imp form, with two abilities: Possess, and Depossess.  When you possess a monster, they gain the “vessel” status and you take over their body at full health when you kill them.  When you depossess, you regain some mana and health and revert back to your normal imp form.  Every form has its own strengths and weaknesses that are further modified by your Meta Stats: Violence, cruelty, adamancy and relentlessness.  These meta stats are what increase as you level, and they affect your normal stats regardless of form.

Finally a way to increase my violence without using alcohol!

Finally a way to increase my violence without using alcohol!

When you change a form, you start to master the skills associated with that form much like you would a class in Final Fantasy Tactics.  As you master these powers, you can then equip different forms (and their powers) to your basic imp form, making it more powerful.

What this means is that there’s a lot of ways to grow and develop your imp’s strength, and a lot of different and very viable strategies available.  The demo at MomoCON had about five levels of the dungeon and a boss fight, and I watched and talked about several different ways people had elected to vanquish the boss.  I used the vampire bat form and magic, others used swarms of zombie minions or just brute force.  There doesn’t seem to be one specific, obvious best way to play, which is always a positive.

The gear options are pretty cool.  It’s standard RPG fare: various weapons and armor that boost your stats, but as you progress through the game the level on which the gear empowers you increases.  Early on it might just be a basic attack bonus, but at higher levels the items improve not just your normal stats but also your meta-stats, providing a broader range of bonuses.  While I get that isn’t really groundbreaking, it’s a cool touch that I think deserves mention.

The game also runs smooth, especially for a beta.  I’ve been playing it pretty regularly for a while now and the only bug I noticed is a weird interaction with poison.  See, if you die while possessing a monster, you will be forced back into your imp form.  If you lose your last hit point to poison in another form though, the game bugs out.  I’m sure this will be fixed when the game is released, but if you run into it, just depossess before the final hit.  Changing forms seems to cure poison anyway, so this is a purely beneficial strategy.

Conclusions

The game captures most of the things that I’ve always liked about roguelikes and does away with all of the stuff that has always kept me away from them.  The visuals and audio are solid and the mechanics are well-crafted and balanced.  While I originally thought that the imp possession thing would feel gimmicky, the developers really put in the effort to make sure it was an effective core to build their game around.

If you’re an experienced roguelike player, then this game is different enough to provide a new and interesting experience.  If you’re new to the genre, this is probably one of the most accessible games of its type I’ve come across.  Downloading the Beta is free and I recommend you check it out.

Grade: A-

Recommendations

Graphically, I’d like to see some walking/movement animations added eventually.  This is a small thing, especially in a roguelike, but I think it’s worth mentioning.

I’d also like to see that poison bug fixed, but I’m also pretty sure that’s coming naturally.

The control issue I had wasn’t quite big enough to warrant a grade shift, but if it got some attention in development then I wouldn’t complain.

The game is still in development, but I can’t wait to play the finished product.

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