Source of Madness, from developer Carry Castle and publisher Thunderful, is out now for PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC. Here’s our review of the PS4 version.
It’s pretty safe to say that we’re seeing a lot of roguelites and roguelikes in the indie scene these days, so for one of them to stand out is becoming more and more rare. Source of Madness is being advertised as a “side-scrolling dark action roguelite” so we were ready for a somewhat formulaic experience, but when we saw the screenshots and trailers we were immediately sold and had to play it.
Source of Madness’ visuals are distinctively Lovecraft-like in providing dark, ominous and often grotesque locations and enemies. What’s especially impressive is that the game randomly generated all of the layouts, background and enemies each time you play, so it’ll look like a different kind of nightmare each time. This randomization doesn’t just extend to how enemies look, but also to how they behave, using different attacks and strategies each run, so there’s no one set combat strategy that’ll work for you either. That’s great, because it keeps you on your toes and makes it less grindy as a result.
There are still plenty of upgrades to grind your way towards though, as you collect blood and gold on each run and only the blood transfers to subsequent runs and permanent upgrades, which include more health and tons of other skill tree upgrades. With gold, you can upgrade offensive and defensive equipment during a run, but you’ll lose it when you die. Rings that you acquire are used for spells that work as long range attacks, and can be upgraded over the course of a run.
Your ultimate goal is to look for the titular source of madness, but as with many games in the genre this one focuses more on gameplay than narrative. Interesting mechanics include optional portals that present risk/reward opportunities like the chance to fight a strong foe in order to gain interesting loot, while more familiar elements include the opportunity to stop at a merchant’s place mid-level to apply upgrades.
Combat is a combination of melee and ranged attacks, for which you’ll also use the aforementioned spells and rings. You also have a dash move, but until you upgrade it can feel a little slow when using it. Other than that, the action flows very well, which we feel isn’t always a given when playing something with procedurally generated content.
It’s not without flaws though, as (perhaps because of the AI-generated gameplay) you can run into strange and frustrating difficulty spikes that force you to grind your way through. And while we loved the visual style – merging Lovecraft with roguelite very effectively, the grid-like user interface felt a little too dated and crude for our liking. This is still a very worthwhile game in its genre though, and one we can definitely recommend to fans of roguelites with a fondness for cosmic horror.