Is it high time for the Slime to shine?
Every hero needs to start somewhere. That's why ever since the dawn of slime, RPGs begin with the player leaving the comfort of the starting town, collecting trivial items, rescuing a couple of cats, all while smiting hordes of low-level monsters for precious XP. Though mobs sometimes appear in the hundreds, few enemies can hope to achieve the level of fame as that of the simple Slime. Name a popular series and it's almost certain to have its own iteration of this iconic enemy! But despite becoming an immediately-recognised staple of the genre and even its own trope, the Slime is usually battered, down-trodden and quickly cast aside once the player has levelled-up.
Left to right: Dragon Quest (Slime), Atelier series (Puni), Bravely Default (Slime), The Legend of Zelda (Chu-Chu), Neptunia series (Dogoo).
However, the role of the Slime has since changed, with the creation of games that seek to emphasise the importance of this iconic adversary. Games like Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, Slime-San, and Slime Rancher portray the character in a completely different image, sometimes even as the main protagonist. Joining the ranks of these sublime Slime games is the roguelike deck-builder: Rise of the Slime. An indie title impressively crafted by a one-man team, Maris Bunovsky (who is the game's sole creator, artist, and developer), the game launched yesterday on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and Xbox Series S | X.
So does Rise of the Slime join the ranks of other prime slime games, or is it a giant steaming pile of goo?
"What's a "Roguelike Deckbuilder?"
Games like Slay the Spire and the Hand of Fate have defined this subgenre, which combines randomised RPG elements with turn-based combat, focused on a deck of cards that is improved/expanded during progression. The gameplay of Rise of the Slime is exactly what you would expect from this subgenre: randomly-generated levels, challenging combat, and a sizeable pool of cards/abilities that mean no two playthroughs are exactly the same. In a genre that has become increasingly complex since its conception, Rise of the Slime goes back to basics and offers gameplay that is initially approachable and simple.
Starting in the Cemetery of the Ancients (hub area), you'll have the option to customise your slime with power-ups, bring along a pet to aide your quest, and then choose one of three gameplay modes. Challenge Mode is a continuous map with no checkpoints, Short Run features a plethora of "mutators" to adapt your Slime, and Old Path is a longer, more forgiving experience. I played a few hours of each and noticed a significant difference despite the same base gameplay.
Each area is divided into 20+ individual rooms within a distinct locale (Forest/Swamp/Lava etc.), which feature small environmental puzzles, upgrades or items, and of course, lots of enemies to try stop you. A single run will take anywhere between 30 minutes to over 2 hours, depending primarily on a combination of luck and skill. Four different decks are available at the beginning of a run and allow for vastly-different options in combat, focusing on close combat, ranged, ailments, or a combination of each. These decks don't necessarily dictate how you should play, but provide a foundation of combat on which you build with additional cards as you progress.
Combat is where your slime will spend most of its time. Using the deck provided, you'll take turns against enemies on a side-scrolling battlefield. A "mana system" limits how many cards can be used in a single turn, and will require you to prioritise moving, attacking, defending, or status cards like fire or acid which can afflict both yourself and the enemy. HP does not automatically regenerate between encounters, so conserving health during combat is of the utmost importance. This becomes difficult as enemies can quickly overwhelm and overpower you, which must give the poor Slime some horrid flashbacks of its RPG days. Unless you gain specific abilities or cards during a run, the combat, especially during boss fights, can become unfairly difficult and will quickly lead to frustration and failure. For a game that appears effortless on the surface, it can descend into brutal difficulty.
Additional cards will be unlocked upon completion of each round of combat, and can be chosen to best suit your current deck. Positive and negative "mutators" will also appear randomly in the environment, which can be either a blessing or a hinderance, and will dramatically change your success in each run. Upgrades may also be purchased throughout each run, improving both the Slime itself and the individual cards in the deck. The game also claims to offer permanent power-ups that can be purchased in the hub world prior to a run, though frustratingly I constantly encountered a bug that removed any upgrades immediately after leaving the room (which massively hindered my progress through the game).
Without a doubt the most appealing and charming aspect of RotS is its adorable visuals. Somehow managing to be equal parts cute and gloomy, Maris crafts an aesthetic akin to that of a picture book. The heroic Slime and all other characters appear as cut-outs supported on paddlepop sticks (that's a popsicle stick for all you non-Aussies out there), and move just like a puppet show. This style allows the characters to pop out of the background, which provides an often atmospheric backdrop to the action occurring in the foreground.
I did find myself on multiple occasions stopping to appreciate the game's illustrations, which are packed full of vibrant colours and extra details. Other aspects of design such as the UI, menus, and cards, are equally attractive, and feel like a more charming version of Hearthstone. Overall, it's a style that feels right at home on a Nintendo console and is especially suitable when being played in handheld mode.
The only aspect of the game not created by Maris is its soundtrack, which has been composed by Arletta Supe, a Latvian musician who has made her videogame music debut in Rise of the Slime. Although it's far from the catchy chiptunes or sweeping orchestral scores one might associate with the slimes of JRPGs past, Arletta offers a relaxed, ambient soundtrack that matches the aesthetic of the game. You're not likely to find yourself humming these songs or adding them to a game music playlist, but they provide a means of enhancing the atmosphere of each environment. It's a prime example of background music.
So, why should you play it?
Wanting to give the roguelike/deck-builder genre a go.
Adorable visual aesthetics appeal to you.
After a significant challenge? You may actually enjoy the difficulty.
But why shouldn't you play it?
Can be unfairly punishing.
May encounter bugs that will hinder gameplay.
Becomes repetitive after several hours.
A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com