Isn’t it weird how one niche, barely heard of yet thoroughly well supported game can come out and be an absolute game changer? Furi did it with its boss rush, technicolor lushness. Hotline Miami made waves with its pick-up-and-play, “one more go” attitude to hyper-violent puzzle rooms.
Then there was Dead Cells. A roguelike dungeon crawler, heavy on an older school of graphic presentation, offering challenge and somewhat saved progression between runs. It wasn’t the first of its kind, but it certainly did enough to cause ripples of “innovation”… and by that, I mean imitator.
Collapsed, as you may have gathered by way of tortured analogy above, is a roguelike in the same mold of Dead Cells. It does have one or two features that slightly change it up, but if you put them both side by side and squinted, you’d be hard pushed to tell which is which.
The million dollar question, then, is thus: Is it any good, or relegated to the sin bin for copying Motion Twins’ homework? Let’s find out…
Bring Out Your Inspiration
Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit unfair to call this a imitation of Dead Cells. But had these come out at the same time, in a parallel of Infamous and Prototype, I would wager there’d be an argument as to who’s copying whom.
In essence, it plays out in a similar fashion: you, a vessel in one of four different styles, are tasked with entering procedurally generated “dungeons” and getting as far as you can without dying. Along the way, there will be bosses, with victory over them opening up new areas to proceed to. There will be challenge, as with each randomised level the enemy placement and amount will vary.
But then, that’s every roguelike/lite. The Binding of Isaac and Spelunky are similarly natured, so why aren’t I drawing parallels and comparisons to them too?
Well, it’s because Collapsed looks so similar to Dead Cells that it’s hard not to. However, it’s not a carbon copy, which saves me calling it a complete knockoff. It’s set in the future, under the guise of robots going awry and killing all the humans on a planet named Pandora, as opposed to DC’s fantasy setting.
Not just robots, though. That’s just the preface for things going a bit wrong. There’s big nasty aliens in the mix too, just to make sure you’re not fighting the same reskinned enemies over and over again. However, expect to fight a lot of robots as you get used to the early stages though.
So far, it just sounds like I’m sassing on it for being like-but-actually-a-bit-different to Dead Cells. Yet here’s the plot twist: I actually quite like Collapsed.
Killing Is My Business
For one, Collapsed gives you more variety in how you tackle the waves of rogue robots. Instead of being one pile of squishy dead things that inhabits the same body type ad nauseum, Collapsed offers you four vessels to utilise instead. These are:
- The Reaper: an all-rounder, armed with assault rifle and scythe for 360° melee attacks.
- The Devourer: a long-ranged combat type, kitted out with single shot rifle and a spear that attacks several enemies in one direction.
- The Warrior (above): the heavy of the group, equipped with a whacking great big sword and combat shotgun for close encounters.
- The Pest: the experimental one, that uses status and elemental afflictions on foes and is quicker on its feet.
On my initial run, I went for the Reaper, just to get familiar with the mechanics of the game. After getting my ass handed to me a few times, I started again with the Devourer. By start again, I mean start a new save game. You get four slots, and I’ll explain why you would need a save system in a roguelike a bit further on.
I went for the Devourer because, unlike the game I keep comparing this to, this is set in the future. What do we have in abundance now (especially if you’re in America), that can only be enhanced in the next several hundred years? That’s right, guns. Lots of ’em.
Whilst melee is a formidable and favoured form of combat on your end, enemies still prefer to shoot you from afar if they can help it. There are points when the game can go a bit bullet-hell, with projectiles coming at you from all angles. Whilst you do have a double jump and dash ability, it can sometimes completely overwhelm you if you’re stuck in the thick of it.
Death may not relinquish all the items and experience you’ve collected, but to be cornered with a barrage of fireballs and razor-tipped baddies at any one time can be a right pain. Doubly so if you’re some several levels in and you inadvertently get trapped in a corner or one of the portal moments.
Thankfully, Collapsed isn’t as punishing as it would have you think… just inconvenient at times.
Collapsed doesn’t have a level system, per se, but does offer a skill tree mechanic instead. Rather than collecting experience from fallen foes, you earn Nether Shards. These, upon return to the intro hub, can be spent on upgrades for your vessel. Ranging from higher amounts of life and more ranged/melee damage, they then evolve into upgrades for longer status or elemental affliction times, special abilities and the like.
As well as keeping your experience, death also lets you keep the equipment that you’ve picked up on each run. Don’t ask me how you transport it back with you, but you do. These range from ammo types to armour buffs, like adding fire to your bullets or a shield when you’re midair, respectively. Melee weapons can be buffed to knock back enemies that are stunned, to give you a little breathing room, whilst scopes can be attached to your firearm to deal more damage from crouched shots.
These can’t be upgraded, but you can pick up higher leveled ones at random, which can be changed out on the fly, so it always pays to keep an eye on what you’ve got in your pockets. Or, if you’re feeling crafty you can evolve new items from the ones you’ve already got (and your shards). Crafting stations can be found during a run, so sometimes it may benefit from holding back on upgrades between deaths and seeing what you can make on the fly with what you’ve got on you.
It’s why the save system comes in handy. Rather than have one overall playthrough that follows the same progression, you can utilise up to four different characters (or one of each, if you want to be creative) and equip/skill them out in a variety of ways to suit.
Well, that, and the constant amount of death make playing this for long periods absolutely infuriating.
You’re Not The Boss Of Me
The format to this roguelike is pretty straightforward: you start a run from a portal in the home world, which is always the factory that produced the boisterous ‘bots, battle through a few portals until you get to a boss fight, then proceed through a choice of two portals to the next area.
Portals aren’t just simple links to the next level, though. On activation, the area gets walled off and you have to fight a horde of enemies off before you can hop through it. This is where the whole “procedural generation” thing can be gift or curse. Sometimes only a handful of enemies can come through, in a decent sized room to fend them off. At others, it can be tiny rooms with environmental hazards in them and a swarm of enemies.
It’s hard to be mad a game that does this to you, as it can be pure luck that you get a decent run through or an absolute kicking every step of the way. Thankfully, you do get a life refilling potion to use along the way, as well as instant health pickups from time to time. It makes you responsible for keeping an eye on it, so you can’t blame the game if you die with no life but a full tank of health juice going untouched.
The only other limitation to keep an eye on is your ammo. It can be refilled, but not in abundance, so provided you don’t spray and pray you should be alright.
There’s nothing more annoying than battling your way through several levels, thinking you’re on top of things, only to appear before a boss half-healed and half-cocked. Much like Neon Abyss, bosses are slightly randomised each time. I say slightly, as they’re thematic to the environment you’re in. You won’t see the above crab monster in the robot factory, for example.
Flattery Not Included
So, if you’re following this far, it would suggest that I would put Collapsed on par with Dead Cells, perhaps even above it with its improved progression mechanics.
And yet… I can’t.
I’ve realised what I don’t like about it, despite the above. It’s the visuals, the generally appearance of the game. Whilst I love the sprite-based, retro look of Dead Cells, the art of Collapsed reminds me of Castle Crashers and Binding of Isaac: that weird, Newgrounds Flash game that feels like I should be playing it in a browser than on console.
But, that’s a personal gripe, albeit a weird one. To criticise a game for its looks over how it plays would be shallow indeed, and I don’t want to detract from how good Collapsed actually is. It’s just for me, someone who loves his SNES and 2D PlayStation sprite games, I can’t get on board with this style.
Don’t let that put you off, though. Despite its somewhat simplistic looking art style, the mechanics beneath it are enough to keep you going. It brings nothing new to the roguelike – or even lite – genre of “dungeon crawlers”, but then it isn’t trying to.
I’ve made the parallels to Dead Cells obvious only out of praise, in a roundabout way, because I really like that game. That Collapsed does a great deal to remind me of it and be fun in its own right is a winner in my books.
A cracking roguelike with a welcome progression system, Collapsed is only let down by its dated Flash-like graphics. See past that, and there’s a great adventure to keep coming back to.
Collapsed is available now on Nintendo Switch (reviewed on Switch Lite), PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Glaive Games
Publisher: Glaive Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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