Into the Temple of Doom
In recent years, I’ve become a huge fan of the rogue genre. There’s something really satisfying about these kinds of games, especially the ones that are done right. So when I saw Curse of the Dead Gods, I was intrigued. Here was a rogue adventure about exploring Mayan temples crawling with monsters, angry gods, and deadly traps. And while I enjoyed my time with the game, there were a couple of design choices that kept it from a higher score. But before we get into that, let’s touch upon the premise of the game.
Choose Your Destiny
Curse of the Dead Gods is all about being trapped in labyrinthine Mayan temples. You play an unnamed mustachioed adventurer. It’s not clear if you got stuck in the temples unwittingly or not, but now you cannot escape. Not only are you faced with monstrous hordes of Mayan horrors, but the farther you get, the more cursed you become. Each run has you pick a temple to a different god and fight your way to the Champion at the very end. If you’re successful, you’ll get rewarded with riches beyond your wildest dreams. Just expect to get murdered a lot in the interim.
Stamina is Key
The good news is, death isn’t the end in Curse of the Dead Gods. Maybe the gods want to prolong your suffering, or maybe one of them is on your side. It’s unclear, but what is clear is that you have near infinite chances to succeed. That is if you’re made of stern enough stuff. Though the basic mechanics in the game aren’t that groundbreaking, they are challenging. A big reason for that is the stamina meter. This effects a huge portion of your controls. You use a stamina point to dodge or to use a ranged secondary weapon. Hell, you even expend them to do basic attack combos and finishers. While I’m not necessarily against stamina meters in rogue games, since I saw this implemented well in Hades, I feel Curse of the Dead Gods is overly reliant on it.
It’s incredibly easy to expend the meager points of stamina you have quickly, and the result is a slow-moving target that cannot dodge out of the way or even use all your weapons. The answer to alleviating some of this trauma is the parry mechanic. It’s totally essential, so much so that it made me think Curse of the Dead Gods was inspired by Souls games. By successfully parrying an attack, you get rewarded not only with two points of stamina, but you also stagger the foe temporarily. It took me a while before I grew wise to the parry’s necessity, but once I did, I could make much more progress in my runs and even manage to beat the game’s challenging bosses.
Stay in the Light…
One mechanic that’s especially unique in Curse of the Dead Gods is the light / dark mechanic. Basically, you want to stay in the light, since you take 50% more damage in the dark. You’re armed with a constantly lit torch, and can hold and attack with it to keep things lit up. But since the torch is pretty weak, it’s usually a better idea to light something else on fire and switch to your powerful primary and secondary weapons.
It’s important to remember that most of the foes you face are capable of breaking the objects you use as sources of light. So you’ll have to balance your time between staying in the light and attacking the monsters. I realized quickly that the game doesn’t want to make things easy, and started to take more risks by attacking in pitch darkness. It’s good to become friends with danger quickly, since that’s kind of a recurring theme in the game. A good example of that is another unique mechanic – the curses.
Get Ready to Curse
Curse of the Dead Gods is all about curse management. Every door you pass through to a new area curses you a little bit, and some traps and enemies can curse you as well. Your curse level is displayed by a meter. And when it fills up, you get rewarded with a new curse. The good news is, you can only suffer 5 curses at a time. The bad news is, there are some gnarly curses to contend with. Some of my favorite examples are the following – defeated enemies erupting into swarms of demonic bats; constantly losing health; strange hallucinations every time you get damaged, and even being unable to use your torch.
That’s only a small percentage of the many insane curses I accrued in my time with the game. But the worst curse you face will always be the fifth and final one. Those can make or break a successful run.
The good news about curses is that you can deal with them a couple of ways. You’ll come across equippable relics that decrease the rate you get cursed at. You can also offer unwanted equipment and relics to the gods to get boons, such as healing, getting more gold, or even decreasing your current curse level. Additionally, in larger dungeons, defeating the first boss will erase the most current curse you’re suffering, which is handy. Overall I liked the general idea of the curses, though I felt several were way too hardcore.
Like any good roguelike, there are ways to unlock passive upgrades that make progressive runs a wee bit easier. You pay for these every time you die and wind up in the Underworld. You don’t use gold, but instead Crystal Skulls and Jade Rings. Both are generally acquired by defeating bosses, but sometimes you can get them other ways, such as limited-time Event missions. Regardless, you can unlock helpful items with Skulls and Rings. These include a wider array of starting weaponry, blessings that enhance you a specific way, new weapons and relics, and much more besides. As for all that gold you acquire, that’s useful while you’re engaged in a run, but it disappears once you die.
During a run, you’ll come across altars you can get new items. You can pay two ways. The easy way is with gold, but sometimes you won’t have enough. Fret not, cause the Mayan deities also take blood sacrifices! However, this isn’t a literal deal. Paying with blood actually means you get a lot more cursed, but sometimes that’s worth the trade.
Sacrifice to the Gods
You’ll also come across shrines to the Jaguar, Eagle, and Serpent. These are represented by red, blue, and green, respectively, and they also offer different assistance. The Jaguar boosts your Constitution, which contends primarily with health. The Eagle boosts your Dexterity, which affects your damage inflicted. Lastly, the Serpent boosts Perception, which helps you find more gold and treasures. Honestly, this really reminded me of a favorite classic game, Eternal Darkness. Even the color coding for the entities is consistent. Unfortunately, Curse of the Dead Gods is nowhere near as focused on plot or ambiance as that classic.
Despite my earlier complaints about the stamina system, I do enjoy the combat in the game. You find a wide range of fun weapons to wield, including machetes, hammers, whips, guns, spears, and even bow and arrow. There’s a ton of variety, and that includes the type of damage weapons can inflict. My personal favorite was poison-imbued weapons, but you can also find weapons bursting with flame or crackling with storm energy.
The combat isn’t that complex, but it is nuanced and challenging. Foes are ruthless and love to charge in recklessly. Whenever you see a glimmer of light before they attack, you can respond with a well-timed parry. And I did appreciate how each weapon type is tied to a specific button, and simply pressing it immediately sheathes your current weapon and draws the new one. Y is used for Primary weapons, X for Secondary, A controls your Torch, and B handles two-handed weapons. Meanwhile, ZR dodges and ZL parries. Oh, and if you’re feeling confident, you can rack up a lot of gold with Greed Kills. This is done by defeating foes in succession before the timer counts down, which rewards you with extra gold.
Visually, Curse of the Dead Gods is pretty attractive. They make good use of realistic light, and even in the darkness, you can make out your immediate surroundings. I love the varied Mayan monsters eager to murder you, especially since there are different ones found in the varied ruins. The minions in the Jaguar ruins are faster and more brutal; those devoted to the Eagle fire ranged shots and electrical blasts; and the devotees of the Serpent are poisonous wretches and skull wreathed horrors. My only complaint about the artwork is that sometimes it’s hard to see everything that’s happening simultaneously. As for the sound design, that’s a lot more mixed. The game eschews a musical score for ambient noise most of the time, other than in boss fights. That said, the shrieks of monsters and thunk of traps activating do keep you on your toes.
Into the Fray
Much as I enjoyed my time with Curse of the Dead Gods, I feel it’s a bit unbalanced. I’m not averse to a challenge, but I am against unfair difficulty. And honestly, the whole game is weighed against the player. If you’re not patient and willing to put in the time to master the mechanics, this can be a bit of a painful grind. And the boss fights, while cool, can be more than a bit frustrating. More than anything, I really wanted to get lost in the lore of the game, but that’s pretty much nonexistent. The only exception is info found in the bestiary.
If you’re a fan of roguelikes and want to try your hand at something reminiscent of Indiana Jones, Curse of the Dead Gods might be your game. For everyone else, it’s best to avoid entering this deadly temple of ancient horrors.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One; Publisher: Focus Home Interactive; Developer: Passtech Games; Players: 1; Released: February 23, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen, Blood, Partial Nudity, Violence; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.