This is Slay the Spire meets Mega Man Battle Network, revved up to the pace of a bullet hell shooter. Battles take place on an 8×4 grid, with your deck-building hero restricted to the left half.
Cards are randomly ordered and available two at a time, with each triggered attack replaced by the next in line until you hit reload and reshuffle the deck. Between skirmishes, you select rewards and your route towards the stage boss via more battles, shops, rest points, and hazards.
Initial excursions are confusing and brutal. There’s tons to learn to make the required mental adjustment, and the game refuses to ease you in or fully explain its systems. The fundamental hurdle is the amount of visual information that has to be parsed at speed, as your eyes flit constantly between your cards, the enemy’s position, and their rapid, scything attacks.
With no forewarning of what you’re up against, and no pauses in the action once it starts, it’s essential to memorise how each card works and recognise it from its representative icon. Each costs mana, which takes precious seconds to recharge, and it’s easy to make mistakes when some icons look alike, or cards have status effects that slip the mind in the heat of battle.
Eventually, however, having slowly absorbed an encyclopaedia of knowledge about every card and enemy through repeated painful experience, it flows. As thought processes melt into automatic responses, you steal glances at your deck and calculate moves while dancing patterns of defensive manoeuvres.
With some progress, you begin to unlock alternative characters and loadouts, and the different play styles they offer can really change your approach. Some cards you’ve been ignoring since the start suddenly make sense, and you can customise which types are most likely to turn up in random drops, to partially direct the development of each run. What once seemed an excess of information morphs into a toy-box of potentials.
In other words, One Step From Eden is a very good roguelike, with the variety, synergies, and unpredictability all that entails. And when your brain tunes in to its conflicting currents, it’s highly rewarding. Still, it remains difficult, in part because some late-game enemy combinations are almost impossible to survive unscathed, but mostly down to the relentless intensity of its multitasking demands.
No matter how much you learn to cope, you sometimes just need a second to think. When a game based on improvised tactics denies you that, it takes one step too far.
The bosses can be a nightmare, but they’re finely crafted, and their varied combat styles fill them with personality. In a neat twist, the order they appear is randomised, with more complex attack patterns added the later you meet them, causing fresh headaches even after you’ve mastered their basic forms.
A breathless action roguelike that demands but also rewards skill and patience.
Genre: Deck-building shooter
Format: Switch (tested) / PC
Developer: Thomas Moon Kang
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Release: Out now