Crown Trick releases to Steam and Nintendo Switch on October 16th. Joseph Pugh reviewed the PC version of the game.
You can find a video version of this review here: Crown Trick Video Review [Great new Roguelike] – YouTube
Crown Trick is a roguelike with a quirky turn-based system. Time only flows when you move. Every step or action you take counts as a turn, after which the enemies and traps take a turn. This system allows you to exert an impressive amount of control over the flow of the game. It’s as fast or slow as you wish it to be.
You play as Elle trapped in the realm of nightmares with an abrasive and mysterious talking crown. You must traverse a variety of randomly generated dungeons. Each room is its own challenge to combat using a wide variety of weapons, items, and abilities. Most of them interact in neat ways.
The environment itself can be your friend or foe. Various traps can affect both Elle and the baddies, while elements can be harnessed and combined for various synergies. Dungeons also house challenging bosses, but fear not, failure is an opportunity. You can spend soul shards on upgrades to take into your next run alongside your newfound knowledge.
Crown Trick kept me on my toes. Each time I thought I had it all figured out, it peeled back another layer, a new system, mechanic, or quirk. It’s a multitiered game of deceptive depth. But don’t let that intimidate you. It handles its complexity with such grace that it’s never once a hindrance, assuming you like smart games in the first place.
Crown Trick introduces new mechanics at a perfect pace that allows you to learn each one, and the tutorial is short, sweet, and informative. More importantly, is the accessible way the game handles information. Everything you need to know about any aspect of the game is available to you with a hovering tooltip.
Your weapons, abilities, items, enemies, status effects, and even the environment can be viewed simply by mousing over it. This allows you to make decisions with near-perfect information. The complexity is easily digestible.
That’s a huge boon to the game’s tactical gameplay, and failure never really feels unfair. Since you control the pace and have a plethora of info at your fingertips, you can take all the time you need to plan your moves.
While Crown Trick is technically turn-based, it doesn’t feel slow, even if you take your time. The enemies make their moves within a second, and it’s back to you. The gameplay is fluid and incredibly engaging.
Your mind is never left to wander as the ball is nearly always in your court. That’s because the vast array of foes aren’t thinking the same way you might see in a game like X-COM. They have preset behaviors and patterns of attack. While that sounds dull, I assure you it isn’t. They may not be programmed to react to your individual actions, but that doesn’t make them any less challenging.
The random enemy setup, environmental hazards, and even your own loadout make every fight feel fresh. There is never a time you can simply shut your brain off, or the game will punish you for it. Instead, this allows you to learn each enemy and plan accordingly, both in the decisions you make for each run and the moment-to-moment battles.
It’s Elemental My Dear
The world is layered on an invisible grid, with each space being a square. You can move freely, as quickly or slowly as you would like. But each time you do, nearby enemies and traps take a turn in-between.
You make basic attacks with a variety of weapons, and each type of weapon has its own attack pattern. A sword will swing at the adjacent three spaces in front of you. An axe swings all around you, while a rifle or pistol can fire several spaces straight ahead but needs to be reloaded after a few attacks.
There is a great variety of weapon types, but it goes deeper than just that. Each weapon is a specific weapon of that type. There might be a staff that deals fire damage or a pistol that has a chance to paralyze an enemy. Even beyond that, each one has a rarity dictating its attack power, skill power, and neat passive bonuses.
You will also encounter mini-bosses called familiars. Defeating them allows you to add their power to your arsenal. You usually get to pick from three of them whenever you find a familiar crystal. You can carry two familiars at once, and they grant you spell-like abilities that require MP to use. Each familiar has two spells.
Both your familiar skills and enemy abilities can trigger elemental effects, and they can synergize and combine. By itself, a water tile will drench a character and make them take more physical damage, but what if you applied some electricity?
The familiars each have a distinct theme with the spells they grant. One allows you to place exploding barrels and breath fire, another might allow you to turn invisible, and a different one may grant you the power of earthquakes. Each one feels different.
There are 20 unlockable familiars. I’m sure you can already see the variety of combinations available in addition to your weapon type. But to top it off, you also pick up relics that grant passive abilities and one-use items you can trigger. All these factors combine to build your loadout for each run.
The environment is often woven, with traps, hazards, and elements that can affect both you and the enemies. You can utilize them if you’re crafty or fall prey to them if you’re careless. The environmental, and elemental interaction is incredibly fun. It’s like a faster-paced but no less skillful Divinity game. You only control one character, so while you have a bunch of tactical options, it never feels overwhelming.
A Game of Chess
Each room of the dungeon is a self-contained challenge. You have a limited number of blinks, allowing you to teleport a short distance without consuming your turn. Your blinks and MP regain in each new room, but your health does not.
You approach every battle with a full tactical arsenal, but the dungeon can still wear you down through attrition, as regaining HP is very rare. You have an elixir that gets refilled after a boss floor, but anything beyond that is luck.
Taking damage is obviously bad, so you need to plan your moves to minimize it. The break system can help you accomplish this. Each enemy, including bosses, has a breaking threshold. Each attack lowers it by one, and when it reaches zero, they break and become stunned for a few turns before resetting it.
If you can break another enemy within seven moves, you start a combo that increases the damage you deal and grants you extra blinks. Since your blinks don’t consume your turn, they are integral to good battle plans.
If a foe is adjacent to you, you break an additional point when you attack them. If they are charging up an ability, you break an extra point. Meaning if you’re savvy, you can outright interrupt devastating attacks. This is true even with boss fights.
Mini-boss fights are interesting, but the dungeon bosses are intelligently designed challenges on a whole other level. Not only is breaking them key, but when you lower their health to certain thresholds, you gain additional blinks and MP. Meaning you can sustain yourself in a fight much longer than normal.
I really can not overstate how great the bosses are. The moldable nature of your loadout makes them feel different every time, yet they all have specific features.
One, for example, takes place on a chessboard full of chess pieces. I got annihilated the first time I fought it before I realized the pieces themselves followed the same movement rules as real chess, and the boss could only command one at a time. Every boss has its own quirks like that and is a joy to pit your mind against.
Failure, progression, and randomness are common tropes in the roguelike/rogue-lite genres. Crown Trick doesn’t shy away from any of that, but one factor differentiates it from most others, at least for me. That factor is the player’s agency.
While random elements are present, from the dungeon layouts, enemy distribution, and loot, you are nearly always presented with a choice to swing that randomness in your favor. While single items do drop, most of the time, you are granted a selection. You aren’t simply saddled with whatever the game gives you with no choice in the matter.
You get to choose between a selection of weapons, relics, and familiars. In addition, there are shops where you can spend gold to further augment your playstyle. This is important as you struggle to react to each dungeon with your loadout.
Every dungeon has a theme with its own enemies and bosses with their own elemental weaknesses and attacks. While you don’t choose your exact load-outs, being given multiple choices in most instances elevates Crown Trick above other rogue-type games. You don’t just make due with what the random number God dotes on you. You make real, meaningful choices that impact how you play the game.
I mean that very seriously. The boss fights, for example, are incredibly well designed and could stand on their own. Multiple dungeon bosses exist for each dungeon, but they themselves and their arenas are not random. Yet they feel very different each time and are rarely repetitive, not because they changed, but because you did.
Approaching any given boss with an Axe and a relic that heals you on each attack with some trap abilities feels very different than when you have a rifle, spells that let you keep your distance, and relics that boost your MP.
That doesn’t mean you always have what you need. Maybe a boss is weak to fire, but you never had a choice of fire weapons or abilities. Yet, it’s still up to you how you react to that fact and forge your playstyle and strategy accordingly. It feels much better than just coping with a run of bad luck while still maintaining all the unpredictable fun that randomness brings to the table.
Some rooms don’t feature enemies at all, they could have puzzles, random events, loot for curse trade-offs, or push your luck slot machines. But the choice is always yours on whether to take the risk for the reward.
A Tale of Failing Forward
You will inevitably fail in Crown Trick. As you progress, you rescue a variety of characters that all have some backstory to uncover in addition to lore pieces you can find. The story of Crown Trick isn’t the selling point for me, but it’s more interesting than I expected, and I was always eager to learn more about the world, the crown, and the folks you rescue.
Gold can be spent on relics and items during a run, but soul shards are used back at your home base after each failure. Each person you rescue unlocks a new line of upgrades, most of which are significant. These range from giving you an additional elixir, to unlocking new effects that can appear on weapons.
As with the rest of Crown Trick, it’s up to you to prioritize your path of progression. But aside from soul shards, you will also encounter blueprints. If you manage to survive long enough to bring them to a post boss shop, you unlock new weapons, relics, and items that can appear in your runs.
While you always choose from a set of familiars, each one you defeat is unlocked forever and can appear for you to choose from in future runs. The progression system is graceful. It doesn’t gate fun stuff behind a grind given currency, but the upgrades are significant enough that you feel their effects.
The familiars are significant but appear randomly for you to defeat. Each time you encounter a new one is a very exciting and fearful moment as you will desperately want to defeat it, adding it to your repertoire of spells.
Crown Trick is something of a rarity. I’m a critic, and I can find flaws even in my most beloved titles. That didn’t really happen with Crown Trick. I didn’t even encounter any bugs I could waggle my finger at. I found a line of text that said string not found, but it affected literally nothing.
The fact of the matter is, the game is brilliantly designed. Every mechanic is finely tuned and has a place in the game, nothing feels unnecessary, and nothing feels missing. Its systems spectacularly intertwine with each other, making it one of the greatest tactical turn-based titles I’ve ever played. A crowning achievement indeed.
It’s a cerebral game that demands that you think, but it never feels slow or grating. I’m glued to my seat every time I play, eager for the challenge that awaits me in every room. Each mechanic feels like it’s meticulously designed to work the way it does. One wrong tweak could have broken and unbalanced the whole system, yet every single piece of the game fits in a perfectly shaped slot in tune with the rest of it.
The blink system gives you leverage to move around without consuming a turn. The break system allows you to stun enemies and refill your blinks. The elemental and environmental interaction and even the bosses regaining your MP as you damage them. Each aspect is tightly knit to form an intelligent, fun, and engaging combat system.
To top it all off, the animation and sound design are both charming, utilizing an artistic style that I find both attractive and unique. The enemies are visually distinct, allowing you to predict their actions on sight over time.
Crown Trick is replayable, fun, tactical, and full of meaningful variety. If you like rogue-type games at all, it’s a must-have and sets a high bar for the genre. If it doesn’t end up as a game of the year contender, it dang well should be.
A copy of Crown Trick was provided for Gideon’s Gaming by Team 17 for the purpose of review.
If you enjoyed this review, consider checking out my review of Streets of Rogue.
- Charming visuals
- Unique turn based system allows you to control the pace without ever feeling bogged down
- Incredibly cerebral combat
- Tons of player agency mixed with roguelike randomness
- Great variety of weapons, relics, items and abilities
- Outstanding boss fights
- Finely tuned mechanics that work together
- Deep but easy to learn thanks to the simple controls and informative interface
- Interesting lore
- I found a line of text that said, string not found. That’s it, go play the game