All of the meat and none of the fat.
Keep it simple stupid is a principle that more indie developers should probably be striving towards. Often I find myself enjoying a particular battle system or story narrative of a smaller budget game only to be turned off when it’s clear that aspirations have eclipsed scope. Trying to recreate a big budget experience with a small team rarely works out and more often than not, it shows in the final product. This principle is why Slay the Spire excels so well at what it does. Instead of trying to introduce an assortment of mediocre ideas, it instead focuses solely on perfecting one individual mechanic. The narrow focus on the collectible card combat mechanics results in a uniquely deep and detailed experience that provides both a satisfying and addictive gameplay loop.
Slay the Spire wastes no time getting straight to the combat because there’s no actual story, ever. The only goal: defeating anything in your path on the way to the top of the Spire. No explanation as to why we need to get to the top. No narrative along the way providing backstory or context. And really it’s not needed, the card-based combat system is more than enough to keep me coming back for more punishment. The path to the top is never the same, each playthrough features new pathways through the Spire making each run feel different from the last.
The heart of Slay the Spire is the easy-to-learn, but complex-to-master collectible card-based battle system. The rules for such are fairly simple and feel familiar if you’ve played one of the many card-based offerings on the eShop. It allows for new and experienced players to get right into the action, but as you peel back the layers many advanced strategies become visible. New cards are collected after each win and with some foresight, can be strategically linked to existing cards in your deck. On top of dynamic deck building, relics also provide a strategic advantage by applying buffs to your character.
To add variety to the roguelike experience, three styles of decks can be unlocked: Ironclad the soldier, Silent the huntress, and Defect the robot. Each has a different focus and strategies that can be employed. Relics and additional cards are randomly assigned, which forces you to adapt and evolve on-the-go. That helps prevent replays from feeling stale. The only real repetition came in the form of seeing some of the same enemies from previous runs, or the background music that became so monotonous I turned it off.
With the growing library of roguelikes and card-based strategy games accumulating in the eShop, new entrants continuously need to find new ways to stand out from the crowd. Slay the Spire succeeds in this regard by foregoing a traditional story or narrative and allowing the player to become completely immersed in strategic thinking. It may not be the prettiest or flashiest roguelike out there, but it certainly has my attention.