Game Reviews

Amber Halls

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| Amber Halls
Amber Halls
| Amber Halls

Developer Axaxaxas Games describes Amber Halls as a "tiny roguelike".

Don't be fooled into thinking you're getting an experience that's lightweight, though. Tiny Amber Halls is BIG on challenge.

In fact, its difficulty is a little too high. And at points, this game is downright unfair.

Survival occasionally becomes impossible, then, marring an otherwise-commendable attempt at a pocket-sized roguelike.

You move, I move

Amber Halls takes place in a temple constructed out of (you guessed it) amber halls. There are treasures galore in these 10x5 rooms, but there are also monsters by the bushel.

You start each run with three hearts. If the baddies deplete all three of your thumpers, you're done for.

Whenever you move, your enemies move, too. Some, like the green trapezoid-shaped beings, move one square at a time. Others, like the black monsters shaped like an Xbox controller, can move two squares at a time. It's vital to keep your enemies' patterns in mind as you make your way to each room's exit.

Thankfully, you're not totally defenceless. You have a staff that shoots a fireball in one of four directions, though dispatching a baddie sometimes requires more than one hit.

You also have access to spell tiles that put the hurt on your foes or can whisk you to an adjacent spot on the map (though not necessarily to safety).

Collect gems

As you play through Amber Halls, it quickly becomes apparent your enemies have significant advantages over you. They're resilient, and move more freely than you. Your limited attack can't travel diagonally, either.

To make your journey even more complicated, you can only build up your score by collecting red gems scattered around every map. This process turns into a real adventure when the floor is crawling with monsters. You can push and pull objects like keys, doors, and spells from room to room, too, which makes the challenge of survival all the more harrowing.

The problem with Amber Halls is that it's a bit too random. That's admittedly an odd thing to say about a roguelike, a genre that is all about random dungeons and enemy placements. But it's simply unfair to let the player start up a new game, only to plunk her in a situation in which a single move immediately boxes her in a corner.

Roguelikes are notoriously difficult, sure, but it's not as if there aren't ways to make these games fun and winnable. At the very least, the player should have a fighting chance, something that's not always available in Amber Halls. Sometimes, you see, even a superhuman level of foresight isn't enough to save you here.

Rough roguelike

It's a shame, because when Amber Halls DOES give you room to think and move, outsmarting your enemies is a gratifying experience.

With some retooling and rebalancing, Amber Halls could have a long future as a roguelike exemplar for folks that frequently find themselves stuck in queues.

Amber Halls

Amber Halls has potential as a pocket-sized roguelike, but its difficulty is in need of rebalancing