When I came across Wildfrost, I was excited to see how quickly it would make me lose grip on reality. After an entire evening of death after death at the hands of monstrous penguins and mushroom spores, I finally got to the final boss. But it wasn’t meant to be. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by poisonous beasts, and within a couple of rounds I found myself staring at the starting screen once again.
Climbing on the parapets of games like Slay The Spire, Wildfrost is a new deckbuilding roguelike that sees you battling monsters across frozen wastes on a mission to bring an end to the eternal winter that grips the land. You’ll fight creatures, collect new cards for your deck, find charms that add passive buffs to your minions, and even recruit a muscular pink berry as a companion.
Roguelikes can be many things – real-time, turn-based, platformers, deckbuilders, dungeon crawlers, or strategy games. The only thing that consistently ties them together is death and randomization. Despite some newer roguelikes allowing you to progress in a metagame, returning to the beginning of a newly generated run is a constant. It’s the feature that makes the genre what it is, but can also be its most infuriating quality.
More than once, after being turned into a pile of ash by Slay The Spire’s hyper beam-toting Bronze Automaton, I’ve come close to snapping a controller in two. But frustration can be a good thing, and it’s what keeps me hooked on these games. The driving force behind roguelikes is always to get better, to learn from your mistakes and from your enemies. To turn that Automaton into a pile of useless gears and bolts before it can charge up its laser.
The Binding of Isaac is the peak of the form, for me. Even after a million runs, I’d be met with different environments, but the same enemies. It would be new enough to keep me on my toes, yet familiar enough that I knew the fighting habits of my foes.
Take Larry Jr, a fleshy snake monster who can split into multiple fleshy parts, all armed with sharp teeth. Keeping your distance is key. As Larry worms his way around the arena, he leaves piles of poop in his wake, so you have to learn to be aware of your surroundings – not getting trapped by walls of dung while being chased by hungry Larrys. Regardless of all those difficult fights and gut-wrenching deaths, I always went back for more. And Wildfrost inspires in me that same masochistic drive to be better.
Every time you start a new game of Wildfrost you’re presented with a fresh map of icy tundra. The first step is always a battle of some sort, so be warned you may see the sinister penguins sooner than expected. After your first fight, you pick which branch of the route to take next. Do you go north and recruit more companions to your party? Or, seeing that your health is low and you could use some power ups, do you go south to pick up a couple of treasure chests?
In Wildfrost every battle follows the same structure: you fight through a few henchmen and then their boss turns up. But it doesn’t get repetitive. The main bosses stay the same, always appearing at the same spots on the world map, yet the combination of grunts that you grapple with beforehand always differs. This keeps me on a constant edge, because each enemy type brings different buffs and abilities that can combine in new (and deadly) ways.
In one fight, I was unfortunate enough to go up against not one but two Puffballs. These little fellas poison you every time one of their squad attacks. This is bad on its own, but when combined with enemies called Shrootles that could frenzy attack three times in a row, I saw my entire party decimated almost immediately.
Combinations like this are why you can’t get complacent in Widfrost. I had to be mindful to sometimes take out the grunts first, rather than going for the boss that dealt the most damage. Well, that’s what I should have done. But at least I learnt something for my next playthrough.
Substance with style
Roguelikes are more than just their systems and mechanics, especially now that every other game seems to include some version of permadeath. Wildfrost stands out – as so many games Chucklefish publishes do – because of its art. Each character jumps off the screen, though none more than Big Berry. The frontline tank is a powerful companion, sure, but more importanly he is simply a buff-looking berry. He can protect you from big hits while healing your minions and dealing some pretty serious damage as well. And he just looks so happy to do it.
Even some of the enemies are lovable. I was taken off guard in the first battle after getting completely steamrolled by some of the cutest cartoon penguins I had ever seen. The particular bird that got me is called Chungoon – such an adorable name it shouldn’t be allowed to deal that much damage.
But your opponents soon upgrade to menacing, and if the cute ones hit hard, then you can only imagine what the scary ones can do. Bamboozle resembles the pokemon Onix, but made of snow and with long sharp teeth. Definitely not something you’d want to encounter in the tundra.
Deadpan Games has delivered an infuriatingly fun game to play. No matter how many times Wildfrost wipes the floor with me, I keep going back for more. I would both kill and die for you Big Berry – a great ally to the end, and the next end, and the next.
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Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.