Developer: Axaxaxas
Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.1
Device Reviewed On: iPad Mini Retina

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★☆☆
Controls Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

The existence of Amber Halls leads me to coin the name for a new sub-genre: microroguelikes. These short-form turn-based games with permadeath exist on a smaller scale than traditional roguelikes, with smaller boards and shorter play sessions. 868-HACK feels like the popular genesis for this sub-genre, at least among designers, in the way that Canabalt perhaps is the granddaddy of many iOS endless runners even if it didn’t have the best sales, that Velvet Underground effect. Amber Halls feels like developer Diego Cathalifaud played 868-HACK and decided to make his own take on it.

Players control a wizard who must navigate a series of ten five-by-five rooms, one turn at a time. The wizard can move one square, fire at an enemy in the same row or column, or interact with an item in their turn. After the player moves all the enemies will move, each with their own parameters: basic green enemies can only do one action per turn, the dark blue enemies can do two, and some enemies regenerate over time. As well, keys and chests appear randomly throughout the game: these need to be pushed through to the exit in order to get them together.

AmberHalls-1AmberHalls-2Now, Amber Halls is very hard: the entire game is plotting against the player’s destruction, and enemies have much greater capabilities than what the player has, so making it far in the game or scoring highly is rather difficult. Heck, even scoring is a challenge because it’s based on collecting gems. Killing enemies is just a way of staying alive.

A large part of the challenge comes from not being able to just wait, which is a core move in many roguelikes, but because movement and actions are forced here, it just makes things so much harder. An enemy at a diagonal angle is at a massive advantage. The game feels hard enough – giving me one more tactical advantage would make it easier, but not excessively so.

Still, no one ever said roguelikes were meant to be easy, and this just makes Amber Halls a game that requires a lot of thought; even if I’m pretty sure it’s so random that it’s possible to be put in a losing situation when spawning in a room – or at least, there can be very little in the way of difficulty curving. There’s a daily challenge mode with leaderboards for those who like seeing what they can do against others and want a reason to keep coming back. Of course, the game’s short sessions and one-hand-friendly gameplay also make it perfect for mobile. It’s not the best roguelike I’ve ever played, but it’s a solid little game.


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