Sproggiwood and Ziggurat

Two Worthwhile Indie Games

Although there are plenty of releases with plenty of hype, and also a Call of Duty, I get a sick sort of pleasure out of reviewing indie games while larger titles loom in the distance. I’m constantly tasting and examining games large and small and, in the past few weeks, these two very different games caught my eye. What they have in common is that they’re both made by small developers, they’re both rather simple in execution (and therefore harder to talk about for 500 words) and they’re both excellent little games.

Sproggiwood is probably the cutest Roguelike I’ve ever played, and it might also be one of the games that best earns that title. It’s very similar to the original Rogue of 1980, a turn-based RPG where ASCII characters were used as placeholders for adventurers, monsters, and treasure. Cooked up by D&D addicts at the UC Santa Cruz Computer Lab, Rogue was to video RPGs what Moby Dick was to the novel.

In Sproggiwood, the player selects from a variety of classes and wanders out into a randomly generated dungeon, where as they level up, they can choose from four different abilities, and must tactically manage space, health, and stamina against cleverly designed enemies. The setting is a cutesy retelling of Finnish mythology, and completing dungeons unlocks new pieces for the little village the player can design. Don’t let the happy-go-lucky attitude of the game fool you, however. Sproggiwood is hard. After a few easier first levels, the player finds that they must make every move count.

Its variety of items, classes, dungeons, and random generation gives Sproggiwood an awful lot of replay value, and its silly yet not-so-silly storyline is hard enough to beat that even without replaying much at all, the player gets a good amount of mileage from a game that looks simple on the surface and is well-designed underneath.

Ziggurat, meanwhile, is another Roguelike, but of a very different sort. It’s a first person shooter with fast-moving enemies and legions of bullets streaming across the sprawling dungeons. The player is a mage traversing some sort of arcane proving grounds, slinging spells, wielding staves, and using alchemical items. It’s similar to the (now somewhat infamous) Paranautical Activity in that it seems like a weird combination of Quake and The Binding of Isaac, but these comparisons, although more recognizable, miss out on a better one. It’s likely inspired by 1994’s Heretic, another first-person magic-shooter set in a sprawling dungeon, adapted off the original Doom engine.

Much like Sproggiwood, Ziggurat is hard, and it has an essential learning curve for anyone who picks it up, if only to adapt your reflexes to all the projectiles. It also has an enormous variety of items, plenty of characters with fundamental differences, and no shortage of challenges necessary to unlock said items and characters. Thanks to random generation, any of them could happen, and the replay value of the game goes up exponentially.

There’s a reason Roguelikes have done so well recently: they’re cheap, lean, and hard to get tired of. As a genre of game, they emphasize that the most important thing is the cleverness and thoroughness of design, so they’re easy to dote on as smart little underdogs.