One of my favourite sub-genres is the Rogue-lite one. The indie game scene is full of them, some great… some not so great. Developer Carry Castle and publisher Thunderful Games have a new Rogue-lite out now. A very dark and Lovecraftian stylised title called Source of Madness. But it is one of the great ones or one of the not so great ones?
“Source of Madness is a side-scrolling dark action roguelite set in the Loam Lands, a twisted Lovecraftian inspired world powered by procedural generation and AI machine learning. Take on the role of a new Acolyte as they embark on a nightmarish odyssey. Uncover the cosmic secrets of the Loam Lands and The Tower of Madness, the moon’s mysterious Citadel.”
So first, I just want to cover what that ‘AI machine learning’ is, that is mentioned in the blurb up there. Well, a major staple of the Rogue-lite genre is randomly generated levels. Each run that you do, you get thrown into a new area as it has been procedurally generated. Level layouts change, item/weapon locations and drops change and so on, However, one factor that never changes is the enemies. Oh yeah, they may change locations but you do always face the same enemies every run. With Source of Madness, that’s not how it works.
See, as with any good Rogue-lite, yeah the level layouts change, the item/weapon locations and drops change and all of that but here, the enemies themselves are randomly generated. How they look, how they attack and so on, everything about the enemies is created via AI machine learning. Having a very Lovecraftian influence means that you’ll come face to face with some pretty disturbingly horrific creations too. Multiple eyes, flailing tentacles and so on. As for the rest of the game?
What you get with Source of Madness is a very typical Rogue-lite action-platformer. I don’t think I really need to go too in-depth with the gameplay here because well, we have seen it all before. You know the score by now, spawn, kill enemies, earn in-game currency (in this case, blood) to buy upgrades, die, respawn, rinse and repeat. What Source of Madness does add to the mix (outside of the Lovecraftian, grotesque, AI-generated enemies) is a rather deep RPG/inventory system. There are loads of weapons and items to pick up and use here and the UI can get very busy with all of the information. You various different damages, resistances, cooldowns and so on. Your main attacks come from equipable rings that you will find as you play, that allow you to cast magic attacks. The rings have various and numerous RPG-like stats and elemental attacks. You can equip two rings at a time to mix up your attacks and spells. Try out different combinations until you find a set-up that suits your playstyle. There really is a lot here to take in.
In terms of looks, Source of Madness really is quite striking. That H.P. Lovecraft influence is pretty strong here. The graphics are dark and moody and it kind of looks like you are in a 2D world made from paper cut-outs, but with several layers of depth. It’s pretty tricky to describe in words to really get across just how the game looks and feels. In terms of visuals alone, Source of Madness is one of my favourites this year. However, there are times when things can get a little ‘messy’ and it becomes difficult to see what is actually going on. When you are in the midst of a fight against an enemy, sometimes they blend into the background and you can’t be sure if you are actually hitting them or not.
£16 – £17 (depending on format) is what Source of Madness is going to set you back. Available now on everything and there is a lot to like here… there are also quite a few things not to like too. This is a perfectly fine game but this really is part of the issue, it is just fine. The Rogue-lite sub-genre is rather populous within the indie game scene and there seems to be a new one released every other week at the moment. The upside to this is that there is a lot to choose from, the downside is that titles really need to do something impressive to stand out. This is where the main issue with Source of Madness lies, it really doesn’t do anything to stand out in the crowd.
This is a playable game, no doubt about it. But it feels very ‘seen it all before’ too. I love the art style, the Lovecraftian influence is wonderful and the 2-D paper cut-out design is really striking. Other than that, Source of Madness is a very ‘by the numbers’ Rogue-lite. I’m not entirely won over by the AI learning generated enemies either. I mean, even though these things are randomly created, they all begin to look the same after a while. It’s a great idea but perhaps it needed a bit more thought applied to it first?
Do I recommend this one? If you are a massive Rogue-lite fan and want something all too familiar, then yes. Source of Madness is very payable if you like this genre. It may not do anything new or interesting in terms of gameplay, this is no Dead Cells. There are a few rough edges here and there too. But overall, I think this one is worth taking a look at, even if it fails to stand out from the dozens of other similar games on the market. I’m just feeling a bit of Rogue-lite fatigue at the moment and need to take a break from these games for a while.