Friday, January 6, 2012

Cardinal Quest

Though I'm not an extensive player of roguelike games - the only one I've reeeeeally played is Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, god help me, and it's not quite as good a qualifier as some other games - I am familiar with the genre, enough to know that they're infamous for being BLOODY HARD. Permanent deaths, few items, unforgiving and repetitive dungeon environments... these things are the ORIGINAL dungeon crawls, folks.

Cardinal Quest is one such crawl, and this time, it's located in a browser game. And, yes, it more or less lives up to the reputation of the genre... more or less.


As fantasy games and books (as well as Greek myths) have long posited, minotaurs are assholes. There is one such minotaur in Cardinal Quest, and he keeps leading his monstrous minions on raids against humanity. Time to bring the bastard down - and there's only one man for the job. Who needs more of a reason to run into a dungeon, weapons at the ready?

Cardinal Quest is, as mentioned, a roguelike game. This probably isn't enough of an explanation for some folks, so to clarify, it's an RPG whereby a single hero wanders into a gridded dungeon and kills stuff while looking for treasure, as well as stairs leading to the next floor. Each time you move or perform an action it counts as a turn, and every other monster on your floor takes their turn as well - assuming you didn't kill 'em beforehand. This means that you have lots of time to plan out strategies, as enemies won't move until you do - which is good since making the wrong move can lead to a quick death.


Cardinal Quest relies on arrow keys/WASD for navigation and a mouse for accessing menus and spells and so forth. It's a simple control scheme, and so long as you don't accidentally hit the wrong key (and you have no excuse since the enemies wait for you to go) nothing should go wrong. Control problems are made through bad decisions, not programming flubs.


Like most roguelike titles, Cardinal Quest leans towards simplicity in visuals. The environments are fairly repetitive, the enemy sprites basic as hell and the animations non-existent. I didn't expect anything beyond what I got, however, and most player should be happy they're not staring at a screen covered in ASCII characters, like older dungeon crawlers.


Sound effects in Cardinal Quest are few and far between, and could probably be generated by any midi program. That leaves the music, which is admittedly better than I expected - though still not amazing. I WILL grant the programmers kudos, that said, for at least changing up the tunes every few levels. The aesthetics are typically not the focus in these kinds of games.

Challenge Rating

If you've played a game similar to Cardinal Quest before, you shouldn't have a ton of trouble with the title. It's unforgiving, yes, but it's also a more streamlined and simpler dungeon crawler: for example, the best items are automatically equipped on your character, and unnecessary items are sold to avoid clutter. You also do have one life before you die for good, so it's a two-strikes-you're-out sorta deal.

This does NOT make Cardinal Quest easy. Remember, you're a single man against a dungeon full of monsters, many of whom are just as strong as yourself. You're not a crazy Final Fantasy protagonist here with a massive sword and physics-defying powers, you're just some dude with a sword (or dagger, or magic wand - and in the case of the wand, you're very fragile). Careful strategy is an absolute necessity for survival.

Oh, and saving? There is none. You die twice, you have to start over again from the beginning with a new character. Sucks to be you.

These games are not meant to be fair to the player. They're endurance trials that test your strategic skills. For this reason alone, I can see many players giving up on Cardinal Quest before they get very far - and I will sadly admit that the game's semi-anti-climactic finale doesn't give much reason to go the full mile.


With multiple character classes, seemingly randomized dungeons (it's tough to tell when starting over) and a simplified-but-still-suitably-complex skill, item and combat system, Cardinal Quest is a worthy successor to the roguelike genre. It's not always fun and it's seldom fair, but saying that you beat the sucker (especially if you can beat it with the warrior, which is HARD AS HELL despite claims in the game) is like a badge of honour.


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