This article is part of our new test series, Backlog Club, where we (Nintendo Life!) pick a game that is likely to be on the “game we should play” list, and then we (NL + you!) spend the next month playing it. Here’s the halfway point, Part One of two, where we stop for a minute to check out the game and how much we’re enjoying it.
In April 2022 we are playing Slay The Spire! Not necessarily complete, but we will try to give it equally.
I don’t believe in “slow and sure win the race”. I think it’s a stupid sentiment, even if there’s some truth to it: Take your time and be careful, and you’ll get better results. I just don’t think about it win a race. The fable of the tortoise and the hare only works because the hare takes a nap! The hare deservedly won by running much faster, and the nap had nothing to do with whether the turtle was a good runner or not.
All this prologue is to say that I had to rethink my need for speed in the face of roguelike-like deck players, a genre I’m passionate about. Slay The Spire – this week’s Backlog Club pick – is one of them, and it’s a great one. (Oh, and if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out the Backlog Club intro I wrote a few weeks ago. It will make sense in a bit.)
In roguelikes and deckbuilders, slow and steady may not win the race (ie a speed tournament) but it definitely wins the game.
My usual tactic is to try to get things done as quickly as possible
In most strategy games, my usual tactic is to try to get everything done as quickly as possible, fill my attack list with whatever does the most damage, and hope that I would only have to make a few moves to kill a dead opponent. In RPGs I usually use a spoof or DPS build, because those allow me to press the “attack” button until my enemy kills. I’m not a strategist, most of the time; I’m merely a tank full of spikes, content to trade damage for damage as long as I win.
And that’s just inactive in turn-based deckbuilder games like Slay The Spire. So I had to try something new, even though it wasn’t new to most people, and that tactic is what I like to call “really interested in defense”. It’s the genius thing where I really try disable attacks before they are performed, instead of increasing damage as usual.
Slay The Spire isn’t about hitting hits – with just 80HP to your name, you can’t really afford it. Instead, you will have to use a variety of strategies to survive, because survival is the key to getting to the next war, and the next, and the next. You are the weak.
Other video games, especially RPGs, tend to position you as the World’s Strongest Punch Man, but Slay The Spire instead gives you The Ironclad as your starting warrior, a mid-range characters have a fairly well balanced deck of attack and containment without any major strategic things beyond the wall (other unlockable characters change this, but since we’re just getting into Slay The Spire for a few weeks, so I’ll just focus on the beginner character.) His strategy leans towards a tit-for-tat fighting style: Attack, block, attack, block, etc. The challenge is to survive long enough to knock out enemies with 80 HP or more, because of the attacks. Yours usually only deal 6-15 damage in one go.
And surviving means taking things slow. Where I usually hit hard and take a lot of damage back, I have to spend a large portion of the turns to mitigate the damage instead. I only have three “energy” per turn and I can use that energy to hit, defend, or use many other unique cards to increase stats, decrease enemy stats, etc. use all three mana points to use my awesome damage cards, but Slow and steady will win the race, so instead I use two mana points for defense, and the other for attack, slowly lowering the enemy’s HP. Key word: Slowly.
Sometimes all you can do is do your best to prevent damage, so you can go to the next room or the next day.
The thing about Slay The Spire so far is that it’s not a race. You don’t get bonus points for being quick or efficient. All you get is the reward for reaching the next room. But sometimes, that’s all you need – the next room can heal you, strengthen you, make you stronger or more resilient in some way. You just need to exist.
And yes, I’ll make an awkward analogy here, fasten your seat belts: I feel like Slay The Spire’s gentle emphasis that you should probably take care of yourself before trying to destroy monsters is a pretty useful lesson in general. It’s all about “putting on your oxygen mask before helping others”, something like that. When you’re in a pickle – whether it’s you having a bad day, or you’re fighting a bunch of weird little goblins that curse you for extra damage – sometimes all what you can do is do your best to block it, so that you can go to the next room or the next day.
Defending, defending, and surviving feel a bit boring and passive, but they can be the difference between failure and success – even if that success is down to your own teeth.
So that’s how I feel about Slay The Spire after a few weeks! I’m excited to try other characters – I’ve just unlocked The Silent, and while I like The Ironclad’s pointless strategies, I’m still interested in The Silent’s passive poison attacks. With The Ironclad, I got to the boss of the second zone, and he completely knocked me out. Tips and tricks are welcome!
And, of course, this is only half way: come back at the end of the month for our full thoughts on Slay The Spire and on our discussion.
Book Club Club Backlog!