Demo Driver 8: Croixleur Sigma
Remember how I said two weeks ago that if you put out a demo for your game, it should include a tutorial? Apparently that advice was taken to heart by the makers of Croixleur Sigma in the worst possible way. Because they included one that is entirely non-interactive, thus invalidating the benefit of having a tutorial by preventing you from putting your hands on the controls and actually feeling how the game controls. Then again, considering the game was already going out of its way to make sure it didn’t actually recognize my gamepad mappings, perhaps that’s a… understandable thing?
Croixleur Sigma is one of the various Japanese indie games that’s popped up on Steam, and like so many of them it’s kind of a thin offering. By no means is it one of the worst games I’ve played here, but it manages to commit the worst of all sins. Not by failing to last 15 minutes (although it does that, too), but by making slashing my way through a whole pile of monsters feel boring.
Here’s the premise: A fantasy kingdom is ruled by a queen and there are two separate classes within the kingdom, the Knights and the Aristocrats. As the game has already neatly stepped away from anything remotely resembling reality, it stands to reason that the two factions would duel for the right to protect the queen, because apparently words like “knight” and “aristocrat” no longer mean anything, so screw it. None of it matters anyway, since the demo completely omits even the barest hint of the story and instead just sends you rolling into the Score Attack mode.
I hate Score Attack as a concept. I am sure someone out there gets unbelievably turned on the second that they realize Score Attack is in a game, but it’s the very essence of a game without an objective. The game tries to bill it as being similar to Devil May Cry‘s Bloody Palace, but that runs into several problems, starting with the fact that Devil May Cry is a stylish blend of action elements.
Playing through Score Attack, I was honestly reminded of nothing so much as a stripped-down version of Nier, which already was not an outstanding example of what could be done with action gameplay. You can jump and you can spam attacks, and that’s about it. You’ve also got a Dash ability and a special attack button, and then there’s a button to unleash magical abilities that never seemed to actually work all that well. Apparently you can also switch weapons, maybe? I must admit that despite being told to select multiple weapons I never actually figured that bit out.
Not that it actually mattered all that much, though. The arena you fight in during, apparently, the entire game is always a big circle floating in the middle of nowhere. You run around and mash the one attack button over and over in order to kill things. It’s like an arcade game, which means that there are tons of enemies, none of them are all that visually interesting, and all of them fight with the same pattern of dodging telegraphed attacks and then hacking away without a care in the world.
You have a limited number of charges for your special attack, functionally acting as your smart bombs. You have a health bar and a slowly refilling magic bar if you feel the need to use magic. It’s all very similar to Nier or Drakengard or points related with the important difference that those titles were more fun to play. Sure, they were not buffets of good game design, but they made up for it with tight writing, varied arenas, and at the very least melee attacks that flet like they had weight to them.
Running around in Croixleur Sigma, by contrast, the only way I knew that I was taking damage was to glance at my health meter. There were no stagger motions, no weight behind impacts, nothing. Which is not a good thing for a game that has literally nothing else.
I think the developers were opting for a more arcade-like feel, back in the days when a sketchy story and some play mechanics were all you really needed. The problem, though, is twofold. First of all, throwing out play mechanics and saying “go” only works when those play mechanics are, like, fun. Yes, Devil May Cry adds in endless modes, but that’s an option sideline to hacking your way through the story. Second, do I need to make it clear that my home computer is not an arcade machine? That I’m not dropping a quarter in every time I want to play? That it’s not a social activity with onlookers and the like?
Even disregarding all of that, there are games that do this well. Assault Android Cactus has its issues, but it manages to get that feeling of clearing your way through hordes of enemies with reckless abandon. Croixleur Sigma isn’t awful, but it doesn’t bring me to think “okay, one more round, I can clear this or score more points or whatever.” It makes me just… well, bored.
And that’s the death knell. It could manage through the control remapping issues and a weak story, but when you make hacking through enemies boring you have officially missed the boat. You have lost.
It’s a shame, really. I had expected something that might not be polished but would at least be fun to play; what I got was something with reasonable amounts of polish but not much to keep you playing. Its biggest assets are its cheap price and its graphical style, and it’s not without a certain charm, but there’s not enough here to really recommend it. Perhaps if I was throwing quarters at it after all.