Cataegis - The White Wind: Ziggurat Chapter

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Ácido Cinza for PC, originally released in 2015.
Cataegis - The White Wind: Ziggurat Chapter is quite a mouthful, and it comes with a lengthy premise as well: A self-proclaimed deity named Ishtar has descended from the heavens and wrought havoc upon the Earth, yet she spared the lives of humankind. This deity resolves to rid the world of death, provided that the people worship her, which splits the world into factions of supporters and those working against her. The protagonist, Cataegis, is sent in with a mission to “erase Ishtar’s existence”.

The game’s introductory text scroll is followed by a lengthy anime-style opening cinematic, complete with over-the-top actions, huge energy waves, giant robotic attackers, loads of evil villains, and our hero slicing a missile in half with his sword… an action that is actually possible during gameplay. While the sequence is clearly inspired by stylish anime intros, the whole thing is done in a gritty lo-fi style with a very limited color palette, as is the rest of the game.

The main menu offers the ability to start the game, view extra content, or adjust the options. Opting to start the game takes the player to a second menu with “Main Stage” and “?????” as the available choices. This may lead the player to believe that the first option is the full game and that the other is some sort of secondary game mode. In actuality, the Main Stage consists of only a single level. Upon completion, another cinematic plays, and “?????” is replaced with The Ziggurat, which is where the bulk of the game takes place.

At the start of the game, the player is given the option to enter a virtual tutorial area where he may try out his various attacks and movement abilities. Cataegis is able to perform a 1x variable jump and a double jump, which spans most of the screen’s vertical resolution, and pressing DOWN+JUMP causes him to slide along the ground and pass under low overhangs. Double-tapping forward causes him to sprint quickly, during which time the player can repeatedly swing the sword while moving ahead (swinging the sword while walking causes him to come to a halt).

Cataegis can attack enemies to the left or right, and he can also duck and strike, or jump and strike. Sword swipes are very fast and leave behind a wide Strider-style swipe effect. In addition to his basic sword attack, he has two charge attacks which drain the "Sword Gauge" at the top of the screen. The first charge attack allows him to extend his reach somewhat, and the second is a shield that makes him completely impervious to damage from enemies, projectiles, and even spikes.

In addition, he can pick up three additional powerups that grant him new attacks, and each of these powerups has two charge attacks as well, offering an extensive array of combat abilities. However, the infrequency of pickups to replenish the Sword Gauge means that players will be sticking to the default abilities of their weapons for the most part.

The three new abilities are the Reach Laser Adaptor, Split Wave Adaptor, and Bastard Sword Adaptor. In the main game, these powerups are acquired in a traditional fashion, by grabbing “R”, “S”, and “B” icons, which then replace your current weapon. In The Ziggurat, on the other hand, these abilities must be purchased and the player is free to swap between them at will (more on this in a bit).

The Reach Laser Adaptor has a much longer reach. It penetrates walls and has a charge move that sends the laser upward to hit enemies above you, and another that extends its horizontal reach and increases its attack power. The Split Wave Adaptor sends out a pair of curved projectiles at angles, allowing you to hit enemies at a distance. These projectiles also penetrate walls, and charging the weapon allows players to fire off an additional projectile or to perform a spinning sword slash when jumping. Lastly, the Bastard Sword Adaptor is a powerful but short-range sword strike, allowing skilled players to get up close to baddies and bosses to drain their health quickly. Charging this weapon gives the player a longer range strike or sends a destructive shockwave to the left and right.

The game’s basic enemies die in a single hit, getting sliced in half when attacked. Often, these enemies appear in packs and run straight forward, allowing players to hammer away at the ATTACK button and slice through them quickly. Other basic humanoid enemies can toss spears, and some armored foes can swing a ball and chain and take a number of hits to destroy.

In addition to these basic foes, the player must face off against a number of mechanical beasties, including hovering orbs that shoot in different directions, flying sentries that vomit projectiles, and huge spider tanks that fire missiles – which you can slice in half with your sword, if you get the timing right – and drop energy balls that roll across the ground.

The game also offers no shortage of boss and miniboss encounters. The “Main Stage” consists of two different minibosses and a final boss during its short duration, all of which are quite difficult, at least on your first attempt. This is a game where memorization of enemy placement and boss tactics is very much required in order to succeed, particularly since many enemies have very short telegraphs for their devastating attacks, resulting in some quick player deaths.

Even the stages leading up to these bosses can drain the player’s health bar quickly. Some of this is due to tough platforming and fast enemies, but often this is due to the player being blindsided by tricky level designs and enemy placement. Players may find themselves being immediately attacked when an enemy is scrolled onto the screen, or knocked back off a platform when falling down into a lower area, or sometimes being forced to make blind jumps.

The first level is filled with these moments, including a rampaging city bus that comes out of nowhere and slams into the player, draining away his precious health as he struggles to stay in front of it... This is an impossibility for those experiencing the level for the first time, and it’s still pretty difficult even when you know what’s coming. This sequence leads to a boss encounter with the heavy-duty flame-throwing robot bus driver, which slowly marches off the bus to face the player, adding a bit of drama following the harrowing sequence.

From here, it’s not immediately apparent where the player needs to go, as no new paths open up and the player cannot continue to the right. There are a few areas throughout the game where the screen is locked until the player defeats the requisite enemies, after which he is able to continue on. However, no indication is given to the player as to where the exit lies.

In the next area, the player must jump from boat to boat along the water, killing enemies as he goes and occasionally slicing bug-like enemies out of the sky to use as platforms. Reaching these flying foes is fairly easy if the player has the Reach Laser Adaptor or Split Wave Adaptor equipped, but extremely difficult to do with a basic weapon or Bastard Sword, again emphasizing foreknowledge as a recipe for success.

Following a tough second miniboss – with hard-to-predict patterns on the player’s first attempt – the player reaches the end boss, a huge mechanoid spider-like creature. Its weak point is quite clearly the big red eye at the center of its head, but reaching it without taking damage is very difficult. Players must remain within the confines of the mech’s legs (which cause damage when touched), and the window for jumping to avoid ground-based attacks is even narrower. In addition, the mech can shoot projectiles and flame blasts from its head, making the encounter even more claustrophobic and dangerous.

Getting killed at any point during this first level allows the player to respawn on the spot, and losing all of his lives sends him back to a point following the most recent miniboss encounter. The Player may continue as often as he likes in this mode without penalty, but things change quickly once The Ziggurat is unlocked.

The Ziggurat begins with another introductory text scroll, explaining how those who fight against Ishtar are brought to the Ziggurat – a structure built by the people to honor their new god – in order to engage in gladiatorial combat to potentially earn their freedom. Cataegis decides to allow himself to be captured and hopes to work his way up through the ranks, as Ishtar herself is known to attend the higher-level battles.

This chapter begins with Cataegis locked in a cell, listening to guards speaking on the other side of his cell door. The guards decide that his sword is junk and toss it back to him. At this point, the player has a couple of options available to him… he can stand idly by and wait for the guards to wander off, or he can begin swinging his sword, at which point the guards see the energy being emitted from the weapon and charge in, leading to a short battle against some basic foes.

Choice is a large part of the game from here forward, especially in the way the player engages bosses. Boss encounters take place in gladiatorial arenas, and players fight bosses to the point of defeat, after which the they have the option of whether or not to finish them off. Doing so allows the player to slice the boss in half with his sword and move onto the next level, or the player may simply walk out of the room without killing them.

Sparing a boss may earn you an ally later in the game… or it may mean that the villain will come back to get his revenge. The player is given an indication as to when an important decision has been made by offering different dialogue choices when he speaks to the blacksmith between levels. Different player choices ultimately lead to one of 32 possible endings.

In addition to speaking with the blacksmith, the player is able to purchase weapons, health and Sword Gauge restoratives, and even 1UPs. Each of the three weapon adaptors are available for purchase here, and the player is free to switch between them at will via the pause menu. Once the player buys an adaptor, it stays in his inventory until he is killed, at which point he loses whichever adaptor he had installed at the time, although the player can stockpile them if desired. Of course, enterprising players may simply uninstall their chosen adaptor when they are nearing death, allowing them to keep it in their inventory.

It is highly recommended that players purchase different adaptor types at the start of the game, as the player’s basic weapon lacks the versatility of the others. For instance, the second level features a number of floating platforms with enemies placed above and below the player, making them difficult to reach with any weapon other than the Split Wave Adaptor, and the floor is lined with spikes, making jumping strikes all the more perilous, as players may find themselves knocked back off the platforms when engaging enemies. The miniboss is even more difficult to defeat without this weapon, as it travels along the spikes below.

Purchases can add up quickly, and the money available to spend is based on the number of enemies killed in the preceding level. Given how expensive 1UPs are, players really need to work to keep their life count up, or risk spending all of their hard earned cash to simply keep themselves alive. As mentioned, level designs, enemy placement, and lack of telegraphed attacks can make this quite difficult.

As such, players may find themselves replaying levels multiple times in order to reach the end with enough lives remaining to continue. The player can only save the game after defeating the boss at the end of each level, and the game records the player’s remaining lives, health, Sword Gauge, and purchased weapon adaptors. Upon death, the player is given the option of loading a saved game or continuing on. Opting to continue takes the player back to the last checkpoint, but strips him of his adaptors. On the other hand, he retains any money earned to that point, making it easier to recover if he can survive to the end of the level.

Pickups are infrequent, and consist of small health restoratives and Sword Gauge restoratives, as well as the occasional 1UP. Most of these pickups are found hidden behind breakable walls, encouraging players to strike at walls or suspicious areas to find the pickup within. On the player’s first run, many of these breakable walls reveal Caeliger Files, which may be viewed from the main menu, providing details and sprite art for the game’s enemies. Once the player collects the file, however, future runs through the level replace them with health, sword, or 1UP pickups.

Each area of The Ziggurat features a gauntlet of enemies, sometimes intermixed with platforming challenges, followed by a miniboss encounter, before facing more enemies and eventually the end level boss. Bosses are tough, and players can expect to make multiple attempts to beat them as they learn their behaviors. There are four arenas, each with a powerful boss at the end, including a necromancer who uses a recently killed enemy to attack you, a gorgon who can turn you to stone, a jumping dryad that attacks with thorny plants, and some sort of insect-like creature that flies around very quickly.

Cataegis - The White Wind: Ziggurat Chapter was developed by Ácido Cinza (which translates to “grey acid”), a Brazil-based studio headed by Rodrigo “Shin” Testa. The game was published by KISS Ltd.