Curses ‘n Chaos

A game by Tribute Games for PC, Mac, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2015.
Curses ‘n Chaos is a single-screen brawler starring a pair of bounty hunters named Lea and Leo who have been cursed by the Wizard King. As a result of this curse, Death follows them wherever they go, and their only hope is to continue fighting forward. Fortunately, the duo meets an alchemist named Allison who knows how to mix ingredients to create tools that can help them in battle. Combining the appropriate ingredients can even help Allison to brew up the Elixir of Life to dispel the terrible magic that has been laid up on them.

At the start of the game, players may select between Lea or Leo, each of which has equal combat abilities, or they can team up with a friend for online or offline 2P co-op. With all of the, er, chaos happening onscreen, going in with a friend can greatly help with crowd control, but players share a stock of lives, so you’ll want to bring along an equally skilled companion.

The game consists of 13 single-screen arenas with enemies emerging from both sides of the screen (and a few that teleport) while the player runs around the room trying to take them all down before he is overwhelmed… or before the time runs down.

Each area is divided into 10 waves, followed by a boss encounter, and each wave features a 60-second countdown timer. Fail to clear all of the enemies before the timer runs down, and Death appears. Fortunately, you are not immediately killed by the reaper; rather, he flies slowly around the screen and swings his scythe if you stand still for too long, giving you a chance to take down the remaining enemies if you move quickly enough. One strike from the hooded figure, however, and the player loses a life, regardless of his remaining health.

The player enters each area with a stock of three lives and a 5-unit health meter. If all lives are lost before clearing the stage – even upon dying at the boss encounter – the player must repeat the stage from the beginning. As such, it is vitally important that players make use of the tools available to them during battle.

Players have a weak short-range punch as their default attack, but they have a variety of moves that cause double damage, including an uppercut, a jump kick, and a dashing punch. Only a few enemies can be destroyed by a single weak punch, so players must use each of their double-damage moves effectively to take down enemies as quickly as possible in order to beat the countdown clock and to avoid being overrun.

Lea and Leo are very maneuverable and are able to dash quickly around the screen and double jump, which is necessary in order to move quickly between targets and to take down airborne foes.

Different enemies require different techniques to combat, and players must understand how enemies will move and how many hits it will take to defeat them. For instance, frogs and grasshopers don't take many hits to kill, but getting close to them causes them to jump high into the air. Skeletons, zombies, and mummies move slowly, but they can absorb a load of damage and take a long time to destroy, especially in large numbers.

Many airborne enemies fly out of reach, and players must wait for them to swoop down in order to strike. Some enemies rise up from the bottom of the screen, but they will not emerge unless the player stands still for a few seconds – which can be tough in the heat of battle – luring them and dodging away as they come out of the ground, and then moving back in quickly to strike.

In addition to engaging enemies with the proper techniques, players must make use of items that are frequently dropped by defeated creatures, most of which are weapons. These drops include bear traps that damage ground-based foes, bombs that explode to take out small groups of enemies, ballistas that fire arrows across the screen and penetrate multiple enemies, and boomerangs that fly through enemies and cause damage again on their return, among many others.

Players can hold onto a single item, but items are automatically swapped whenever the player touches another one, causing the first to be discarded (or players may manually discard unwanted items). The discarded item may be recollected, but it will disappear after a few seconds if untouched.

This design encourages players to use items as they get them rather than holding onto them, which adds some variety to the experience. A second item can be stored with the assistance of the player’s owl companion, which may be summoned to fly onto the screen and pick up or drop off items as needed.

Enemy drops also come in the form of health, so players must balance the need for a useful offensive pickup with the need to heal wounds. Any items remaining in the player’s (or owl’s) inventory at the end of a stage may be carried over to the next, or unequipped between missions to be stored, sold, or mixed to create new items (more on this in a bit).

Furthermore, the player gains additional rewards for performing well in combat, as a multiplier increases for every 10 enemies defeated without taking damage. While the multiplier adds to the player’s total score – as does pausing for a moment to dance – the game does not offer any leaderboards with which to share one’s combo prowess. The real rewards come in the form of more money left behind by enemies as the multiplier increases, which supports the game’s secondary gameplay in the form of a between-level crafting system.

Players are free to ignore the crafting system altogether if they like, although doing so leads to a fairly repetitive gameplay experience, at least in the game’s single player mode, as each stage essentially boils down to 10 minutes of survival with a limited set of moves.

However, the crafting system allows the player to unlock new items – with a grimoire that helps players determine the proper combinations – and this is key to discovering the game’s additional endings, one of which requires players to mix the Elixir of Life.

Making progress with the game’s crafting system is an expensive proposition. Since players can only exit levels with two items in storage, many of the ingredients will need to be purchased, which means that players will need to exploit the game’s combo system for maximum rewards. This design helps to ensure that there is some benefit to be had from repeating levels and offers a secondary goal to players as they move toward tougher challenges.

There are even Golden Axe-style thieves that will knock you down and steal some of your money, among other gaming references like Castlevania-style fire breathing skulls, Gradius-style ring-tossing Moai heads, and a certain well-endowed tanuki.

More powerful magic items can only be discovered by taking down bosses and moving forward, after which they will occasionally show up during stages as an enemy swoops low carrying the item, giving the player a very narrow opportunity to snag it, especially if he is busy fighting enemies. Higher-level magic spells allow the player to summon monsters that appear briefly and cause damage to everything on the screen.

Boss battles are pattern-based affairs, and most of them are not overly difficult, but they take a ton of hits to kill and do not give any indication of how much life they have remaining. Since the player has a limited stock of lives – and it’s difficult to avoid every attack – the risks for failure are larger, as defeat means replaying the entire stage from the start. The 60-second countdown timer appears during boss battles as well, but hourglass drops are frequent, allowing the player to put some more time on the clock and take things more slowly. Boss animations and cutscenes were created by the renowned sprite artist Paul Robertson.

Tribute Games is a Canadian studio, based in Montreal, Quebec. The studio is headed by designer Jonathan Lavigne and was founded along with Justin Cyr (pixel artist, animator, and sound designer) and Jean-François Major (programmer). Background art was created by Stéphane Boutin and boss animations and cutscenes were animated by Paul Robertson.

The company has two previous titles under its belt: Wizorb, a game that crosses the block breaking of Arkanoid with RPG elements, and Mercenary Kings, a Metal Slug-inspired run-and-gun actioner with RPG stats and a crafting system.

The team’s previous experience includes Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, Ninja Senki, and the GBA versions of TMNT, Open Season, Kong, and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.