[REVIEW] City of Brass (Switch)

Time to whip that brass.

There’s a lot worth exploring in the… City of Brass, developed by Bioshock veterans at Uppercut Games. The pedigree certainly carries over into this first-person roguelike. While it shares some similarities in style to Bioshock such as its exaggerated character design, colorful palette, and gameplay elements in the world, its play style is vastly different. City of Brass may be a few swings a miss for some, but the variety and feel of the game will have many coming back for more runs.

Instantly the most prominent aspect of City of Brass to grab my attention was the art style. Not many games go after the Arabian Nights setup. The detail of all things arabesque certainly makes the world feel alive with lore despite –based on fundamentals of many-run roguelikes– lacking much to begin with. The tutorial does a fine job of setting up why the city is the way it is explaining the cursed inhabitants who fell to greed so it does set a background for players to go off of. The bright, vibrant mesh of colorful characters and semi-realistic environments works perfectly here. Aside from a few noticeable seams in the sky and certain textures (things you have to look for in a game like this), the game’s identity is pleasant on the eyes for the Nintendo Switch. City of Brass runs on Unreal Engine 4, often praised for its power and capabilities yet offering longer load times than average. The better news is that load times are 10 seconds or less and gameplay runs at a stable 30 frames per second without any hiccups.

Spanning across a dozen levels with a few bosses sprinkled in between, both day and night variations apply to each. Levels are procedurally generated rich cities and they are loaded with goodies, but with that also comes the baddies. New players on their earliest goings are at Rank 1 and the rank is kept tracked every run thereafter. The are multiple characters with different starting gear. The base 2 available sword wielders are a male and a female. Reaching higher ranks will unlock additional characters. Continuous runs only put more on the table for grabs. For instance, reaching rank 3 will unlock The Soldier.who wields a spear, a weapon that offers a particular ability that the swords do not have: throwing it long distance and recalling it by magic.

Each character has their own set of grunts and yelps. Better yet, they each wield a whip that snaps into several uses. There is a walk/run mode, but ideally players will most likely want to set it to run as this enables the character to just move faster in general; this is not a sprint toggle. Each new run consists of discovering new items, genies who are help stations, weapons, armor, stat buffs, and more. Often players will be given the opportunity for a new relic or item without knowing nothing about it except for its name in part to keep the excitement of newly obtained stuff. Never fret, upon a new pickup players can press Minus to read the entry in their Journal. With several genies, enemies, potions and more, it’s good to know what you’re getting into. You may be able to guess their traits by their unique name, but more often than not it is guesswork until you know.

Both of your arms offer ways to strategize being offensive and defensive. Wielding a whip in your left and holding your weapon of choice in your right. The ways of slaughtering enemies and utilizing spacing will be to your advantage. The deserted towns and abandoned markets of a once peaceful and prosperous place are littered with even more traps than there are enemies. Hazardous gusts of sand will shoot from walls. Spikes from floors taller than you are will shoot straight up if activated by touch. Flammable lanterns will explode and cause an area of effect damage. Even more traps await. Interestingly enough, they can be to your advantage against enemies.

The Y button is for grabbing. Players can pick up vases to throw at enemies causing physical damage, explosive jars to cause damage to nearby enemies on impact, or even a ghostly chicken to cause a harmful distraction. In the cities, concoctions may also be picked up and one swig of these can cause any number of effects, such as briefly slowing down time or make your body expel electricity. It’s good to pick up what’s around which can be the deciding factor in just having another option to how you choose to go about the situation. You’re no sleaze with the whip, though. This is where the flow of the game changes drastically.

In City of Brass, tons of treasure is littered all over. Whether it’s buried into the sand, hidden in jars, or just hiding in plain sight, you’ll want to grab as much loot as you can as this is your means of currency to purchase valuable upgrades from particular genies, sporting a very similar holographic merchant aesthetic like Bioshock indeed, that may just save your life if not for just a bit longer adding to your rank progress for that run. Everything is better grabbed with by the whip, however. At least for items at a distance. Any piece of treasure, potion or throwable item can be picked up with one crack of the whip. Luckily the whip does not crack the target of choice. It’s also useful for destroying jars, baskets and other decor in the way, which may also be holding treasure. The more money you’ve accumulated, the better quality of your unlocks. You may even be able to purchase different types of ethereal companions to fight by your side.

Different genies offer their own types of goods. Each station you meet a genie has an option to “Wish”. At the cost of a higher price, you may wish for a higher quality version of what you’re asking for. Keep it in mind that you only have 3 wishes to use. Ah-ha!

Mastering the whip is crucial for the best runs. Pressing ZL will crack the whip and depending on what’s being targeted exactly will function accordingly. For instance, targeting an enemy’s legs might stagger them for a second. However, targeting their head will stun them for several seconds buying you more time to escape an attack and counter. As mentioned earlier, traps also affect enemies. Pressing L will latch onto an enemy and pull them in closer by a few feet from where they are. This is especially useful for dragging an enemy to spiked pit and it feels so satisfying to do so. Likewise, pressing R pushes an enemy with your hands for up-close measure. Pushing and pulling enemies into and onto hazards is a nice way to show them who the new person is to run their city.

Enemies are varied, too. There are magic types who send projectiles, archers who desire to pierce you every other second with arrows, skeletal maniacs who run at you head on, aerial types, even genies who can fight for you instead if you manage to get to them while you dodge their attacks. No matter which enemy, you’ll want to attack with your weapon using ZR. The visuals of attacks are reminiscent of a byproduct of Bioshock veterans. The feel of the attacks are a different matter. Swinging a wrench in Bioshock felt quick and to the point. Your weapon in City of Brass feels more weighty and slower. Comparable to any Bethesda Game Studios developed game in the last decade, if you’ve swung any melee weapon then you’re probably aware that it has that sense of taking a brief moment to pull back your weapon before swinging it forward. This may take a slight adjustment to other fast-paced, twitchy roguelikes. Prepare to take damage on occasion.

Curses and/or Blessings. You may choose any available before your next run to tailor to your skill level or you may just leave them blank for a normal run. Such include traits that both negatively or postively affect health, time limit, enemy respawns, damage and more.

There’s always an arrow at the top of the screen pointing to your end goal, but there’s more than 1 way to get there. Levels are timed, but not crazy punishing even if it runs out. It leads to decision-making. And the way they are generated can lead to different encounters. Do you enter rooms to find more treasure or do you risk certain traps to open a chest with a possibility of a new weapon or armor? There may even be a hidden area with treasure that’s hidden behind a sandfall (you know, like a waterfall, but with sand). With the City of Brass’ theme, combat against undead freaks, and traps to avoid, many times it feels like a Prince of Persia spin-off in first-person. It’s kind of neat.

To further cement that idea is the light parkour mechanic (no, there’s no wall running) to the level design. Players can use their whip to latch onto hooks to swing across from platform to platform. Likewise, holding jump on a ledge will allow players to climb up. Pressing jump at the right time also works. Say you didn’t destroy certain objects in the environment, you might be able to climb from one to another until you’re high on a balcony with the remains of a person holding some treasure. It all depends on how you choose to tackle each level. And on that note, completing a level will allow you continue or save and quit to come back to later before starting the next one. There’s no cheesing it, though. You close the game to the home menu and restart it during a level and that’s the end of your run.

HD rumble isn’t detailing every action, but it feels alright. Music takes a back seat and aside from sounds to accentuate what’s happening during your run, it’s mostly player and the environment.

City of Brass stands out for a roguelike. It's one of the first-person roguelikes with an underused visual theme that recognizable and feels more realistic than arcadey. The snap of the whip feels great and the opportunity it presents will vary from run to run. The different items, enemy variety and amount of traps will surely test you. It feels good and there's not much more to it than that. It's a roguelike meant for repeated plays until you unlock get it down with all the things to see and unlock. The gameplay might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it has its audience. For something that feels more weighted and isn't a shooter, City of Brass has you covered; not in sand.
The Stellar
  • Visually appealing.
  • Solid rogue elements for multiple fresh runs.
  • The right kind of challenge and skill.
  • Different characters to unlock.
The Lesser
  • Solid foundations make me crave for a bit more than repeated runs.
  • Controls feel good, but in a last-gen kind of way.
Pretty Good
Gameplay - 8
Visual - 8
Audio - 7
Value - 9

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