Some things were just meant to go together. Peanut butter and jelly, cookies and cream, beer and pizza, Mario and Luigi. Other things are a bit of stretch, like putting mayo on your hot dog, or dipping your fries in ice cream. “Forced Showdown” falls on the latter side of this spectrum. It brings together hack and slash gameplay with some rouge-lite elements assisted by a complex trading card meta game. While at times it feels like developer BetaDwarf put too many damn things in this soup, it came out tasting much better than you would expect.
You take the role of one of four contenders competing in galactic game show where they must battle through several arenas for a chance to take on that season’s champion. In your way stand several smaller bosses, each with their own series of randomly generated environments for you to stomp some enemies through. Like “League of Legends,” your character has one main attack and several special attacks that must be recharged after use. The arenas also feature a few modifiers that can increase of decrease the difficulty accordingly. You become aware of these before stepping in, and considering you only have to go through two battles in order to unlock the next area, it helps to choose carefully.
The biggest selling point for “Forced Showdown” comes right before these arenas start. Your character comes equipped with a deck of thirty cards that provide you with upgrades as you progress. The cards have a certain mana cost and, like in “Hearthstone,” you earn a new mana crystal at the start of each arena. You might be able to get to the end of each season with the default pack but your life becomes much easier when you start spending some gold and building your own deck. Some heroes require you to stack them with defensive upgrades, while others benefit from the use of consumables. The variation in play styles is very well explored with this mechanic, but the element of luck does get pretty bothersome in some of the later levels. I sometimes found my character crawling by with very little health and I was only drawing damage cards. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game wasn’t so punishingly difficult. Dying takes you back to the beginning of your entire season, cancelling out hours of gameplay. You are able to tweak your deck and change your champion or AI controlled companion at this point, but the frustration you will feel is very real.
It can be a lot to handle at first glance. Each of the borrowed mechanics require knowledge of that particular genre in order to be able to successfully understand, and the in-game hints are not the most helpful. However, once you get the hang of it, the game does begin to take form and you start to make sense of the mangled madness beneath. Unfortunately, you will soon discover that all the borrowed elements are noticeably shallower than the games they come from. The four champions you can play as are unique in their own right but lack the innovation you might find in your average MOBA. There are plenty of cards to build a deck with, but the selection suffers from some balancing issues. And once you start figuring out the half dozen bosses, the fights lose some of their spark. At the same time, there is room for growth and only the future will determine if added content can make “Forced Showdown” a master of all its crafts.
All of the borrowed gameplay mechanics come packaged in a equally influenced presentation. The arena commentator comes straight out of your favorite competitive shooter, the champions all have a Blizzard taste to them, and the monsters you face are amalgamations of the past 15 years of video game history. It feels cluttered, and lacks any real focus. I will say that it is enjoyable that the game is a bit more violent than your average hack and slash, with blood staining the grounds after an intense battle.
Yet, with all of the arena fanfare surrounding “Forced Showdown,” there is a criminal lack of multiplayer. The original game in the franchise lived on the enjoyable co-op gameplay and the open battle style of this game yields itself perfectly to some multiplayer modes, co-op or otherwise. I really hope that this is a feature that is added later on, because for the time being I felt like I could have used a more competitive edge once I finished all of the seasons on offer. There are daily challenges complete with leaderboards, but these pale in comparison to a real battle against another human being.
Ultimately, what holds “Forced Showdown” back is its biggest selling factor. The mix of genres is an interesting experiment that feels confusing at first, innovative later on, and shallow once its all said and done. By giving you a taste of each of the borrowed mechanics, BetaDwarf show they are capable of designing any of the games they are teasing. However, it would have fared much better had they done one thing right instead of a bunch of things just halfway.
- Creative mix of gameplay styles.
- Addictive arena combat.
- Strategic deck building.
- Lack of multiplayer.
- Not much under the surface.
- Unfairly difficult at times.