What’s yours is mine
I loved creating characters with Legos when I was a kid. My favorite thing to make? Villains, of course. I would spend countless hours piecing those tiny bricks together, in hopes of creating some fearsome creature for a hapless hero to do battle with. I remember running into the same problem over and over, though. The villains in these stories needed to be beaten, which, in my mind, meant that I had to destroy my creations. I didn’t want to do that. Instead, my solution was to have the hero defeat the villain and somehow either fuse with them or take control of them instead of outright killing them. That they were “good”, and if they were “good” then they didn’t need to be destroyed. Yes, this relates to my review — I promise.
You see, playing MidBoss felt like the exact same thing. The entire game is about making progress by encountering other creatures — creatures that are better than you — and taking control of them. Rather than destroying all of the “cool stuff” that you run into, you can instead become said “cool stuff”. It’s a simple concept, but it’s also very neat — and apparently I still find it just as fun now as I did so many years ago.
The goal in MidBoss is fairly straightforward. You play as an Imp. Does that sound cool? Well, apparently it isn’t. You’re small, weak, and probably one of the first to get killed by the titular hero and, because of that, everyone treats you like crap. Imps always seem to drop bad loot, too. Have you ever gotten any cool drops from an Imp? I haven’t. So, after being pushed around by the other monsters for months years centuries what I assume is a long time (I don’t know what a normal lifespan for an Imp is), you’ve had enough. It’s time to finally show everyone what you’re made of, and claim the throne for yourself!
A Whole New Me
So the drive and the intellect to storm your own castle in hopes of finally gaining some respect is all well and good, but you’re forgetting something. You’re an Imp and, in case you had forgotten, Imps kind of suck. How do you fix that? Well that’s pretty easy, actually — just don’t be an Imp. Weak though you may be, you do have a special gift — possession. As an Imp, you can take over the bodies of fallen monsters. Fallen monsters. As in they’re dead. Unfortunately for you, there doesn’t seem to be a large supply of monster corpses in the castle (which is kind of surprising, actually), so it’s up to you to do the killing.
Possession essentially follows a “chain of power”. You start off by killing something weak, take its body over, use your new form to take down something slightly stronger, possess it, rinse, and repeat. It isn’t so simple as upgrading from “Monster A” to “Monster B”, however. Every single monster comes with its own set of abilities and stat multipliers. Because of this, it’s important to keep in mind what your current form is good at, and approach situations accordingly.
You can also assimilate parts of each monster into your own being. As you fight other monsters, your current Form (the creature you are possessing) gains Form Points which, in turn, level up that Form. Forms basically work like traditional RPG classes, meaning that the longer you fight other things as a Zombie, the more skills you’ll have while in Zombie Form. But wait, there’s more! MidBoss also allows you to equip an extra Form while possessing a monster. This means that you can utilize skills from both your current Form and a monster which you have previously possessed at the same time, effectively being this game’s version of “multi-classing”. The ability is somewhat limited in the beginning, but becomes much more important as you progress throughout the castle. Also the color of your character changes depending on which Form you have equipped, so that’s neat too.
The Multi-Form Madness doesn’t stop there, either. While you can equip one extra Form when possessing an enemy, MidBoss allows you to equip up to three extra Forms as an Imp — and you get a bonus if those Forms are at their highest level. Considering that if you die as an Imp then it’s Game Over, I gladly welcomed this ability. Unfortunately, it didn’t necessarily amount to much. Even with an increased number of powers as an Imp, I almost always fared better when in a different Form. It was honestly kind of disappointing. After all, wrecking the entire castle as an Imp would have made for some pretty sweet revenge!
Aside from your ability (and need) to jump from body to body, things are pretty standard in terms of gameplay in mechanics. MidBoss is a procedurally generated tactical (ish) RPG/dungeon crawler with a formula somewhat similar to games like The Binding of Isaac (in terms of progression). Your goal on each floor is always the same — to find the staircase to the next floor. If you want to, that’s all you really have to focus on for the most part. There aren’t bosses guarding each floor’s staircases and, with the Imp’s innate ability to blend in while possessing a monster, you can potentially walk through most rooms without fighting at all (should your Stealth be high enough).
All of that sneaking around is a bad idea, though. Come on, this isn’t Metal Gear Solid, it’s MidBoss! You’ve got to put up a fight and claim what’s yours! Also I can tell you right now that, if all you’re doing is sneaking around and running away, you’ll eventually get spotted on a higher floor by something that you have absolutely no chance of winning against. And it is for that very reason why I’m not sure why MidBoss lets you get away with hiding in the shadows so much in the first place.
Naturally, the smart thing to do is to explore every nook and cranny of the floor that you’re on, I and suggest doing this for several reasons. The first one should be obvious. What do most RPG castles have? Sweet loot, duh! And MidBoss is no different. Despite being a monster, you can find and equip weapons and armor just as well as any would-be hero. As important as Forms may be, their stat modifiers alone aren’t enough to save you. Finding good equipment that compliments your current Form is crucial. Unfortunately, that isn’t always easy. MidBoss seems to have some weird issues with RNG. I experienced several playthroughs with the quality of loot spawning not being on-par with the floor that I was on, which always led to my demise. I’m no stranger to RNG shenanigans, but it’s still frustrating.
Now that I think about it, the second reason should be obvious, too — experience! It’s really important to remember that you almost never start out with all of a monster’s abilities. Beating up monsters is the only way that you’re going to make your current Form stronger. The Imp also has an overall character level that he gains experience for regardless of what form he’s in. Unlike with Form levels, the character level is responsible for making you stronger overall. I’m sure that most of you reading this know how leveling up works in an RPG, right? No need to detail that any further, then!
It’s a good thing that MidBoss‘ whole Form-leveling formula is so addictive, because the actual exploration isn’t really that enthralling. Occasionally you’ll run into a merchant, or a special room containing a sacrificial altar or, even less frequently, the glorious Cratefish King who literally rewards you for smashing open every wooden crate that you come across, but other than that things are pretty barren. I don’t think that MidBoss needs to add in a ton of gimmicks or anything, but a few extra random events here and there wouldn’t hurt. I personally would also rather have less loot appear, but have the loot that does appear be more valuable. That’s just me, though.
Victory Through Defeat
Being a procedurally generated game and all, MidBoss knows that you’re going to lose. A lot. So, in order to lighten the burden, it’s makes use of “Death Cards” — a nifty little feature that allows your failed runthroughs to have meaning. Each time you die, the game creates a playing card for you known as a Death Card. Along with detailing your humiliating demise and poking fun at you for losing, Death Cards also take note of your inventory.
Statistics are great and all, but you might be asking how any of that is helpful. Well my friend, Death Cards don’t just show you your past inventory, they allow you to take an item from that playthrough to use on your next one! You’re basically grave robbing yourself — which is really cool in this context. You can use up to six Death Cards per run in order to give you an advantage, but they do disappear after one use so it’s best to save them for when you think you’re ready. I don’t think that I’ve ever encountered a mechanic quite like this one before, but now that I’ve seen it I can honestly say that I like it a lot.
MidBoss can be a bit plain at times. Other than that, there really isn’t anything bad to say about it. It’s a fun and satisfying roguelike RPG with a gimmick that, though intimidating at first, ends up being very satisfying to use. If you’re in the market for a challenge with plenty of replay value, but don’t want something that will take you ages to get good at, then MidBoss should be right up your alley.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Kitsune Games ; Developer: Kitsune Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: May 25, 2017; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of MidBoss given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher