Mostly Summoner

HIGH The unique minion movement system accents strategic elements.

LOW Starting a new run.

WTF The kamikaze minion.

Rogue Summoner has players taking the role of a magical apprentice who delves into ancient dungeons to defeat evil and earn a title. Each dungeon holds deadly enemies, and one wrong move could spell doom. However, while the game has roguelike elements, in practice it plays more like a programming puzzle – it’s interesting, yet it also kind of soured me.  

Players will start as a basic summoner with a monster to employ and a small mana pool used to conjure it. Each room of the dungeon has enemy monsters to fight, and occasionally potions or treasure to loot. As players defeat monsters, they will be able to add them to their roster of available summons.

Completing rooms will allow players to level up their summoner, which is where the roguelike portion comes in — players can focus on upgrading their mana pool, how quickly they restore mana, or upgrade the available inventory slots to hold more potions or monsters. These upgrades reset back to zero if the player is defeated and has to start a new run.

In terms of combat, each dungeon room is separated into a grid. Each grid tile can have only one thing on it — a monster, an obstacle, a treasure chest, etc. Some tiles come in different colors from the rest of the room, meaning there’s some type of special effect on that tile that will affect any monster that walks on it. These effects can be beneficial, like a damage buff or magic shield, or they might make a monster more vulnerable to damage from attacks.

When players enter a dungeon, players can place their minions on any unoccupied tile, and Rogue Summoner will show players how the enemies will move in response. When placement is complete, players click “play turn” to start combat with enemies moving first.

Each monster has its own movement patterns and attacks, and players don’t get the choice of exactly where their monsters move. They can summon them facing a specific direction, but there’s no direct control. The strategy comes in memorizing each monster’s movements, and thinking about how the enemy will move.

In a general sense, monsters will approach the nearest enemy, but what’s considered the ‘nearest’ may change if players aren’t thinking a few moves ahead – and this is where I started to run into trouble. Part of the enjoyment in a strategy or puzzle is in mastery of the tools that the game provides. In practice, that fuzziness of not knowing exactly how monsters will move makes earning mastery pretty difficult. There are just so many variables that if even one unit is placed just one square too far the wrong way, a battle will be lost.

Further punishment comes when players lose and are forced to replay previous levels. Each run in a standard roguelike would normally offer some variance – different starting skills, weapons, different room configurations and the like. Not so in Rogue Summoner. The enemy types and numbers remian the same for each run of that floor and that dungeon.

For example, if I lost a run on floor six in Dungeon A, I would have to play through an identical five floors before I got back to where I was, while using the same tools I had on the last run. There might be an additional special terrain tile or an obstacle that might not have been there before, but none of it changes that run’s content in a meaningful way.

Rogue Summoner advertises itself as a roguelike strategy title, but it feels more like a puzzle game that I had to brute-force until I found the one correct solution to each challenge. It’s currently still in development with regular updates coming, but I can’t help but feel that it’s misrepresenting the kind of experience that it is, and I’m not sure that patches are going to change that.  

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Gamecraft Studios.  It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game is not rated by the ESRB. The game is a bunch of board game pieces knocking into each other, and that’s about it. Approved for all ages.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All information is text and icon based, but there is no option for resizing text.

Remappable Controls: Controls are not remappable, and there is no control screenshot. Players can use either the arrow keys or the mouse to move through each floor. Players will use the mouse to select monsters they want to play, and use the arrow keys to select which direction the minion will face.

Eugene Sax
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