To be entirely honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Tribute Games’ previous effort, Mercenary Kings. As a fan of the franchise, the Metal Slug aesthetic appealed to me, but the sluggish action and myriad of technical issues turned me off of the title. I appreciated the old-school feel the studio was going for, though, which was partly why I was interested in their latest release, Curses ‘N Chaos. Like their last outing, it draws upon gaming’s past in order to create a new, but familiar experience.
Curses ‘N Chaos is one of those games where the title is an accurate description of what the game entails. Players step into the shoes of Lea and Leo, a pair of fist-throwing warriors who have been cursed by the evil Wizard King. In order to stop the constant barrage of monsters out to kill them, Lea and Leo have to concoct the Elixir of Life. To do so, they’ll need to beat up an army of monsters, which will provide different items for your friendly alchemist, Allison, to blend together.
Outside of providing motivation for our brave heroes to punch literally everything, the plot is a non-factor here. Much like the classic brawlers it apes, the title is mainly focused on brawling and high scoring. Lea and Leo also aren’t the most sophisticated of fighters, with each character sporting only a few attacks. There are a few special maneuvers here, but for the most part you’ll be punching, jump kicking or uppercutting every monster to death. Sprinting while doing these attacks helps up the damage, and if you’re not in a fighting mood, you could just dance at your foes. This won’t stop you from dying, mind you, but it’s a non-violent approach that any pacifist should appreciate.
As mentioned before, items will be dropped by enemies after you kill them. Not only can these items be used in order to craft new items in-between missions, but they can also be utilized mid-level. Sometimes you’ll pick up a one-time use weapon, while other times they’ll drop health potions or time stoppers, which helps prevent the Grim Reaper from showing up once you run out of time. The weapons come in assorted strength levels, with bombs being a destructive force, while the barrage of arrows tends to be pretty ineffective. Players can only hold one item at a time, although they can call upon their animal friend, Owlie, to hold onto a second item.
The one item at a time limitation is only a contributing factor to the absurd challenge brought on by Curses ‘N Chaos. It’s been some time since a title really put me on my ass, but the difficulty here was one of the harshest I have experienced in recent memory. Most of the challenge comes from the chaos unfolding over the course of each level. Even during the first section of the first stage, you’re going to be challenged by wave upon wave of enemies. And it’s interesting, because despite the fact that it seems randomized, there is a pattern to each grouping of goons. After you play through a level several times, you begin to get a handle on when certain enemies are going to show up, and can plan accordingly.
That said, I still feel that Curses ‘N Chaos can be a tad unfair at times. It’s easy for your character to get overwhelmed by enemies because your meagre attacks aren’t always strong enough to kill them quickly enough. You can get stuck punching a bear a handful of times, only for a dozen more enemies to pop up on screen. The special weapons help alleviate this headache, but it’s easy to lose track of exactly what item you are holding in the midst of all the action. You could go to use a bomb, but instead find out you had accidentally picked up a cloverleaf during the chaos of battle. Playing co-operatively makes things easier, but it’s still a hefty challenge.
Even if the title wasn’t off-puttingly difficult, I’m not sure if it has enough depth to stand out among its peers. You see, rather than travelling across epic, sweeping levels, each stage of the game takes place in a single area. In this area, you square off with several waves of foes, before fighting a boss to wrap things up. And that’s really all there is to the game. There’s simply not enough variety to each stage, even with the different, increasingly difficult enemies that spring forth across each one.
I feel the title could have been improved if it was a full-fledged sidescroller, rather than an arena brawler. With the lack of variety across the campaign, playing by yourself quickly becomes a rather boring trek. Again, if you happen to have a friend to play alongside with, things pick up a little bit. However, there are a handful of other multiplayer options out there that provide more depth, while also being challenging (See: Helldivers).
While the gameplay of Curses ‘N Chaos leaves a bit to be desired, Tribute Games helped make up for it with the killer retro look and feel of the title. It often feels like when developers make a game look “old-school” they just pixelate it without giving it any personality. Here, though, it looks and feels very much like a game you could have possibly seen on the NES. The sprites are colorful and vibrant, and everyone from the main protagonists to the common frogs you kill are charming. The chiptune style soundtrack also does an excellent job of getting you in the mood to punch some things.
Much like Mercenary Kings, Curses ‘N Chaos is a bit of a mixed bag. The gameplay, while fiendishly tough, is addicting, and compiling massive combo chains can be a thrilling endeavor. However, I still can’t shake the fact that the core game lacks any sort of depth. It often felt like it was a bonus section to a platformer, rather than a full priced release. For the right cost, I could maybe recommend Tribute Games’ latest effort as a game to test your skills with. However, unless you’re really hankering for a challenge, there are better and deeper options out there.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which we were provided with.
While it may be addictively rewarding in small doses, a brutal difficulty level and a general lack of depth is a combo that Curses 'N Chaos can't recover from.