Ultimagus has the look, feel and sound of an old arcade game. The sort you’d play as a kid in the early 80s for a quarter. I’m sure that, back then, this would have hit the sweet spot between difficulty and challenge. Being a 2D hack and slash with shooter elements it evokes the shooter arcade games of the time. Like Galaga or Galaxian with a landscape format and medieval/fantasy theme. Some might compare it to a tower defense. To be perfectly honest the ‘set it and forget it’ traps and spells are less tower defense and more just a tactical play mechanic. Like land mines or C4 in Metal Gear games.
Although a thematically retro title I expected more of a game built in 2017. I enjoy difficult and complicated games. I’ve sunken countless hours into Dwarf Fortress. I rarely start a game on anything below hard difficulty. That’s not a boast either. I will keep trying until I can master every game mechanic! The issue I have with Ultimagus is in the core game play. The basics need to be fun and I struggled to find the fun in Ultimagus.
You start off on a plain looking field with only one spell at your disposal: Fireball. From there you are dropped in the deep end. Very little is explained to you. This suits me just fine but others would find that immediately frustrating. After some experimenting you can figure out that the Q key shoots your fireballs. Now you just need to aim them at the oncoming skeletons – nothing horribly complicated. The object is to make sure they do not get passed you. If they manage to reach the goal behind you then health is lost. If enough make it past you then you’ve lost the battle and are brought back to the main screen.
The controls are easy enough. Keyboard only. Q W and E allow you to select your spells though they are labeled 1, 2 and 3. Which was confusing. You still have to press Enter to confirm your spell selections. Moving is done with the arrow keys instead of WASD. Additionally your character has extremely slow movement. Aiming the Fireballs with your slow moving character is hard as they only have a straight flight path. A skeleton sprite’s hitbox is also very narrow and you can miss easily.
Each spell has its own energy bar instead of the usual mana pool/magic points bar shared by all. Which means that if you spam your Fireball you are eventually forced into a cool down period while that spell’s energy regenerates. This on its own would be fine but you need to hit a single skeleton with around 5 Fireballs to kill it. Combine that with the aiming difficulty and the game becomes insanely difficult too quickly.
There are have other spells in the game. 20 or so from what I have seen so far. But you need money to buy new spells. Money that only gets awarded in big enough amounts if you manage to succeed. When you fail a battle you do get a few coins but depending on this paltry sum to acquire new spells is quite the grind. The new spells not very useful. The earth wall does no damage and can only reroute enemies. This could be used tactically but there’s a bug that allows the skeletons to squeeze past the wall. Sometimes they manage to end up on the edge of the map making them impossible to target. For my third spell I chose a summon knight. Unfortunately he seemed too stupid to attack anything unless it was directly in front of him.
I wanted to like this little game. But the 8 bit sound was ear grinding. There didn’t seem to be any game-play balance. After a few minutes it felt too tedious to play. The lack of progression soured any reward I got for my efforts.
4/10 – A neat idea. It requires a lot more polishing. A game’s simplicity shouldn’t be an excuse for a lack of fun!
Recommendations: Nerf the initial skeletons. Allow your players some success for a few maps before ramping up the difficulty. Retool some of the spells to make them more useful depending on the player’s skill and tactical style. Even 8 bit chiptunes can be masterpieces so try to re-engineer the music and audio effects.