Shred Til You're Dead
It seemed like it was only yesterday that PAX East rolled around and many gamers got a chance to go hands-on with a number of up-and-coming titles. With many Steam Fests throughout the summer, we take a look back at a title that left a great first impression. Power Chord, Big Blue Bubble's bodacious builder and brawler, was one of the most unique titles on the show floor. It had that nostalgic Guitar Hero-esque theme with a well-strategized approach to the deck-building roguelike genre.
At the time, the premise of Power Chord's gameplay was simple enough. The player controls a band consisting of four members, a Drummer, Bassist, Guitarist, and Singer. What I quickly figured out during my hands-on was that despite the name of each role, there's a very loose term when it comes to what one would expect. For example, the Singer is generally the Support role but depending on who the player picks, they may be a medic or a disruptor towards enemies. Each role has a specific niche but certain characters lean towards different spectrums than others.
The Metalocalypse Is Now
One thing I didn't get a chance to fully explore at PAX East was the lore behind Power Chord. Fortunately, it's easy enough to follow yet sensible enough to give the player a purpose. A horde of demons caused a reign of terror and was stopped by a blacksmith and a killer guitar. While the demons were vanquished, neither the blacksmith nor the guitar returned from the giant tower. Demons are once again running amok and it's up to whoever has the balls to stand up to the horde to retrieve the guitar and save the world once more.
I like this plot because it gives agency to what the end goal is for the player. Power Chord makes it known that the team you form are a team of ragtag misfits with a common goal. There are no personal connections made or a chance to build one, as bonds are forged in the heat of battle. Or a series of deadly winner-takes-all battle of the band-style matches. The demo only consists of the first boss but there are loads of content for players to enjoy and experiment.
The Four Horsemen Ready To 'Kill 'Em All'
Initially, there are four characters to choose from, one from each role and each with a quirk known as a "gear" that benefits the overall party. Beginning with the drummer, Bob Ironcast: The Last Thunder Fist. This hulking suit of armor's special Gear is that he has access to the Barrier spell at the beginning of every turn. This means that the player will be able to shield at least one party member from one source of damage each turn. There's a reason I said one source of damage as enemies with multi-hitting attacks will be able to go through the barrier, but it's still a free shield.
The bassist, Shinobi 13, captures every techwear cyberpunk ninja cliche and manages to make it more badass than usual. His gimmick is manipulating toxins that deal shield damage or health damage. If an enemy is inflicted with corrosion or poison, he will deal bonus damage. His role is to attack as many enemies as possible while also keeping the enemy's health drained. The guitarist, Grimnir Brawlfist, looks like the kind of guy who starts bar brawls and finishes them. That's his shtick, as the more damage he takes the more his rage builds up and the stronger his attacks are. Lastly, Stitch is the "medic" who buffs other allies while keeping herself alive with vampiric powers.
Choose Your Path Wisely
Early on, there are basic enemy grunts that are easily dealt with. At the start of each turn, the player starts with at least 4 energy. Each spell costs energy to use, generally speaking, the higher the cost the more powerful the card is. It becomes a choice to make, whether to use several low-energy cards or one powerhouse card to deal as much damage as possible. At the end of the player's turn, the enemy band will attack the player, with Elite Packs dealing tons of damage if left unchecked. There are ways for players to prepare for the onslaught in advance.
There are markers above each enemy's head that signals who they are going to attack. Blue is the drummer, red is the guitarist, purple is the bassist, and yellow is the singer. If the player knows that the singer will take the most damage, the drummer can toss a barrier to mitigate the damage. If multiple sources are attacking a single target, it's best to give that unit some armor instead. Enemies also has access to armor but if their armor is depleted, they enter a "guard crush" state similar to fighting games. That means their next action is canceled, proving that the best defense is a good offense.
Choosing the best path will mean the difference between an easy time and a rough one as there are other events besides fighting. Players can trigger scenes where helpful allies can teach your party useful skills. Others include "free money" with the chance of triggering a fight. There was even an instance where "free floor pizza" restored my party's health by a small amount. There are also medic stops where players can heal one party member to maximum health, all party members to 30% health, and a deceased member to 50% health.
At the end, all paths lead to the boss which is a unique experience. The boss has the most health and the highest shield of all enemies, but he only attacks once per turn. He's surrounded by his own allies which must be dealt with or the boss can use them to boost his own strength. With enough damage, the boss fell and I was told that I unlocked a second singer! This time it would be Asher Odd, The Seer. I mentioned how two different characters can play a role differently and this charming fellow is definitely different.
Heart Of The Cards, Etc
Asher Odd's gimmick is that he has a secondary source separate from the base energy everyone uses. This "tarot energy" can be used to play specific spells including the ability to draw a card for any team member. Each team member has a set of cards that only they can use, for example, drummers can only use cards meant for drummers labeled in blue. If a team member dies, so too does the ability for the team to use their cards unless they're revived.
I went ahead the second time through and I realized how great his Curse spell was. He deals one damage to an enemy but adds two weakness charges to a single enemy. I eventually found an item where if an enemy gets a weakness charge, they also suffer corrosion stacks. Combined this with Shinobi 13's ability and I quickly dealt a lot of damage while the enemy did almost no damage to me. That's the beauty of Power Chord. It's a simple and easy-to-learn game that allows players to naturally learn combos. In the full version, I expect even more unique combinations, but with this starting team, it's enough to learn the basics and reward the player.
Right now, Power Chord has a public demo that's available during Steam's Next Fest. You can check it out here. Thank you once again for Big Blue Bubble for the opportunity to check this one out early!