Source of Madness

A game by Carry Castle for PC and Switch, not yet released.
Source of Madness is a roguelike actioner set in a dark Lovecraftian world overrun with unfathomable creatures. You take on the role of an Acolyte – one of many – who must leave the Tower of Knowledge and set out across the hellish landscape, venturing across the Loam Lands, climbing the Tower of Madness, and entering the citadel of the moon… among other similarly foreboding locales. Each time an Acolyte falls, a new recruit is called forth to make another attempt. Each new Acolyte has slightly varying stats, and as the player makes progress, new Acolyte classes become available, each with different specialties and upgrade trees.
The world is procedurally generated and consists of some handcrafted elements that appear in different configurations, with each area introducing new themes and level elements. Even the game’s textures are AI-generated, giving the game a rough-hewn appearance that fits with the theme of humanity hanging on the brink of destruction. Villages are filled with broken ruins and partially-toppled buildings, caves are dark places where it’s sometimes difficult to discern between jutting stones and lurking monsters, and the outside world is a mixture of overgrown forests, rocky outcroppings, and the carcasses of long dead creatures of seemingly impossible scale.
Your weapons are magical in nature, and at the start of each run, you are equipped with two rings, which are worn on opposite hands. These rings are each assigned to their own button and may be used in conjunction, and a great deal of strategy comes from using ring pairs that complement one another. For instance, a ring that takes a long time to charge a powerful projectile is more useful when paired with another ring that allows for fast weak strikes.
Each ring has its own stats, elemental affinities, and attack types, and while the player generally starts each run with fairly weak attacks (at least until better drops are unlocked), there are numerous rings to be found and purchased throughout each run, allowing the player to not only unleash more powerful attacks but to develop new strategies for combatting tough foes. Some rings cause physical damage, while others are aligned to the arcane, fire, lightning, nature, or other elements, and some can produce secondary effects, such as fire that can cause burning damage over time.
The range of each attack is important to consider, as some rings deliver powerful up-close damage, essentially acting as melee strikes, while others send out projectiles in a straight line, lob orbs in a long arc, or spew outward constantly like a flamethrower. Since the game does not pause when the player enters the inventory screen, it’s vital that the player have rings equipped that can deal with a variety of enemies and attacks. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by numerous enemies attacking at once, which will drain the player's precious life bar.
As in most roguelikes, death comes frequently. There are some unlocks on the skill tree that make your life a bit easier, such as permanent health extensions and the ability to drink a potion to restore your health (limited to a certain number of uses per level). New slots on the skill tree are unlocked with red orbs, which are acquired by killing enemies, and rarer blue orbs that are acquired by killing bosses. Still, many upgrades simply allow for better drops on each run, so you will ultimately need to hone your gameplay skills, develop effective combat strategies, and seek out better items and equipment during each run in order to survive.
New equipment may be found in treasure chests or purchased at shops. Some treasure chests are sitting out in the open on their own, while others allow you to choose which of two items you wish to pick up. Often, the player encounters doorways leading to optional enemy encounters – and sometimes to optional boss encounters – with one or more treasure chests given as a reward.
There are also occasional blood sacrifice sigils that allow the player to give up some health for a pick of one of three chests… but unfortunately there’s no way to tell what’s inside. The stats for the player and every piece of equipment are spelled out in detail on the inventory screen, which some players may find overwhelming, and it’s not always clear which types of elemental damage or resistance are beneficial for any given situation or enemy encounter.
Shops appear periodically, although the random construction of the game world means you’ll never know how far you’ll need to travel to reach the next one. By defeating enemies and breaking objects, the player steadily acquires currency that applies only to the current run. This currency may be spent with one of two shopkeepers on a variety of items, including new rings, hoods that grant health and/or passive buffs, active use items with cooldowns, and passive items that convey minor buffs. More importantly, players are able to sell off excess equipment, allowing them to purchase more expensive and more powerful items, and allowing them to mix and match rings to develop more effective combat strategies for dealing with the increasingly powerful enemies and bosses ahead.
The enemy designs are the real standout here. Lots of games lean on Lovecraftian themes for their world building and creature designs, but often this just means dropping the player into a dark world with enemies that have lots of tentacles. This game takes a different direction and instead offers up some truly indescribable creatures that are strange, grotesque, and impossible to comprehend… just like Uncle H.P. intended.
Creatures are strange amalgamations of legs, wings, eye stalks, and… ok yes, tentacles, but they’re all constructed as if they were odd assemblages of parts that came to life and just so happened to be capable of ambulation. There is no symmetry, no obvious weak point to target, no bit that stands out as the head or the body; it’s just parts rumbling toward you while you scream and toss spells in the hopes that you can get the fleshy abominations to stop moving before they reach you. Some enemies are capable of flight, while others can leap to great heights, many can drag themselves along walls and around corners, a few toss projectiles, and most are capable of charging straight for you.
And this is where the less fun side of eldritch-oriented entertainment comes into play. All of the creatures have physics applied to them, allowing them to move around the environment in suitably creepy ways. In fact, some of the standout moments come from a creature getting one of its limbs blown off only to keep coming at you… or when you think something is one huge monster but it’s actually a couple of different monsters that got all tangled up in each other as they closed ground on your tender corpus.
On the other hand, as soon as you’re wading through dismembered body parts and masses of writhing creatures who are all attacking you at once, it becomes impossible to tell what the hell is going on. You’ll lose sight of your character, find your movement thwarted by the bodies of dead creatures and the ones you’re fighting, and even double jumping or dashing can cause you to get hung up on objects or enemies that you can’t possibly parse. In these moments, you’ll just be mashing the attack buttons (actually most attacks auto-fire if you hold the buttons) and just doing whatever you can to extricate yourself from the mess while helplessly watching your health meter drain.
These are the most frustrating moments of the experience, and while they can be minimized through expert play, they’re never entirely avoidable. Similar situations can come from facing a boss – often joined by support creatures – and finding yourself pinned down beneath its weight or jammed into a corner that you cannot escape. On the other hand, since physics are applied to everything, it’s also possible to jump up and get on top of a boss, aiming your attacks at its writhing flesh while it flounders beneath you, swiping with its various appendages and firing projectiles in hopes of dislodging you from your perch.
Due to the game’s procedural generation, you never know when you’ll face a boss, whether it be in the middle of a level, the end of the level, or not at all… or you might even encounter two bosses in a level. That said, you can also dash your way out of a lot of encounters, so if you’re just trying to progress quickly through a level, you can do that, but you’ll miss out on the rewards that come from defeating these powerful enemies. Some bosses can’t be skipped however, as is the case during encounters that take up an entire level, such as the giant blood worm that you face in the third area. The thing is so massive that you’ll fight it while standing on top of it and running across its back, and you’ll use its body as your way to the next area.
For the most part, levels are meant to be traversed from left to right, but it’s not always that simple. The first area is deceptively simple with almost no travel off the main route, but this is reversed in the second area which allows a ton of movement above and below. As a result, you can find yourself reaching dead ends, requiring you to backtrack and find a new way forward, and it can be easy to get turned around until you figure out that moving to the right almost always means making progress. But the more you explore the branching paths, the more enemies you face, and the more likely you are to be killed, given that health is only restored between levels and with healing potions that are restricted to a certain number of uses per level. As such, in the early going, you can expect to spend a lot of time stuck in the first two areas.
Aesthetically, the game is purposefully dark and dreary, and while the procedural generation and AI-driven textures lack a handcrafted feel, the organic nature of the environments – even the manmade structures – works to suit the atmosphere of a world that has all but fallen to the ancient horrors. There are some dazzling set pieces as well, with looming structures that do not appear to have been built by human hands, and this is all supported by a somber soundtrack. There is a bit of narrative to be found, although much of it must be sought out, but it seems that your cult intends – unwillingly – to reopen a path to the moon.

2D CRED
Source of Madness was developed by Carry Castle, a studio based in Gothenburg, Sweden and comprised of Per Fornander, Robin Lindh Nilsson, and Johannes Winkler. The studio's previous releases include VR titles Zen Garden and Everything Must Fall.
The game was published by Thunderful Publishing, which was founded in 2017 and is also based in Gothenburg, Sweden as a sister company to fellow Gothenburg studios Image & Form and Zoink. The studio previously published Lonely Mountains: Downhill and the Curious Expedition Series.


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