Death Is On The March

HIGH Getting a massive power-up card just as I engage with the boss.

LOW Enemy abilities that can lock my entire hand.

WTF The Toybox Arsenal!

The ‘army spawner’ genre is nearly as old as videogames — while it’s not particularly popular at the moment, there’s a long and storied history of titles in which players send troops on a suicide mission against enemy strongholds.

The Tower Defense genre originated as a clever inversion of the army spawner format, and the closest thing to it I’ve seen recently are the CastleStorm games, which put more focus on artillery elements than troop management. So, the novelty of getting to play a new army spawner had me charmed right off the bat, and I’m shocked to say that this appreciation managed to overcome my deep-seated distaste for card-based games!

Necronator: Dead Wrong puts players in the shoes of a necromancer bent on world domination. They’re aided in the task by Chubat, a chubby bat who gives questionable advice and loves to take credit whenever things go even slightly right. Players start with a handful of troop, spell and utility cards which they use to struggle through the first missions until they can upgrade their deck and start figuring out their playstyle.

Strategic combat is the main focus of Necronator, with each encounter taking place on a tiny diorama representing the path leading from an underworld portal to a fortified castle that must be destroyed. The player gets a mana bar that fills automatically, as well as a few cards pulled from their deck. Each card has a mana cost, troops spawn from the portal and spells are able to be cast anywhere on map.

Everything is pared down to the point that I’d imagine anyone could jump into Necronator almost immediately with no previous familiarity with the genre. While choosing the order and timing of how to use troops takes some getting used to, the tiny maps ensure that things never get more complicated than deciding which of two paths to send troops down, and this allows players to focus on what’s important — assessing the troops the enemy castle is sending, and figuring out the best way to counter them.

There’s a bit of repetitiveness to the encounters, of course. It’s literally the same goal accomplished the same way every time, with the only difference being how many paths the player has to choose between, and whether there are capturable towers along the way. However, Necronator keeps this from getting too tedious by ensuring that the whole thing is a breeze to play.

For example, levels are incredibly brisk — at the top of the screen is a timer letting the player know when the enemy reinforcements will arrive (which acts as a kind of time limit) and the game is balanced to ensure that a player who’s learned the basics of the game will never hit that limit. Overall, most missions take about 3-4 minutes to play out, win or lose.

I found this bite-sized structure to be a delight, especially when bolstered by the upgrade system. The campaign offers battles where players can earn cards and souls to spend at shops, and each card can be upgraded in two different ways, giving the player a chance to tailor their deck to their exact specifications — do they want fast troops, or tough ones? Should spells heal their troops or damage the enemies?

There’s countless ways to build a deck, including a surprisingly expensive option to discard cards. I have so little experience with deckbuilders that the idea of ditching cards seemed bizarre, but after a few disastrous encounters where I found my hand filled with pointless utilities, I began to see the value in paring a deck down to a leaner, more vicious version of itself.

While I won’t say that Necronator has turned me around on deckbuilders, it speaks highly of the developers’ skill at accessible design that it managed to pull me in as quickly and effectively as it did. With cute art, speedy gameplay and a surprising amount of depth, I found it easy to keep jumping back into another campaign whenever I made a crucial error — which is the best state of mind this type of game can put a player in.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Toge Productions and published by Modern Wolf. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed (as one character). There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was not rated by the ESRB, but it’s roughly a T, and contains Fantasy Violence. There are plenty of jokes about the evil plans of the main characters, but the whole game is blood-free and kind of silly. The only thing close to objectionable are the somewhat suggestive costumes a couple of the characters wear.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. There are no sound cues to speak of. All information is delivered via text. Text cannot be resized.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls cannot be remapped. There is no control diagram. Players control the game with the mouse — selecting cards with a button and dragging them to where they can be used.

Daniel Weissenberger
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