Dying never felt so good

Here’s a little tidbit that we all seem to have forgotten in recent years: video games are supposed to be hard. I don’t mean control-throwingly unbeatable, or “save points every six hours” impossible, but hard in a genuinely challenging – but eventually conquerable – way.

With Wayward Souls, Rocketcat Games has gotten “hard” down to a science.

Wayward Souls

Building off of the gameplay of 2011′s exceptional Mage Gauntlet, Wayward Souls is a roguelike-like action game that pits players against an increasingly challenging horde of enemies as they descend floor-by-floor for as long as they can survive.

Like any good roguelike, the object of the game isn’t to win so much as it is to gather as much as you can to upgrade your hero and try again. Initially players will have three characters to choose from – a warrior, a mage, and a rogue (of course) – each with their own unique play-style and upgrade options. Your warrior, as you can probably guess, is your melee fighter. The mage does ranged damage, and the rogue – while somewhat similar to the warrior – is great at sliding past enemies to give them a quick stab in the back.

Other elements, like differing consumable special attacks, in-game weapon forges for their unique gear, and character-specific upgrade options, give each class a truly unique feel. And if three class choices aren’t enough for you, you’ll unlock more as you reach certain milestones in the game, bringing the grand total to six playable characters.

Wayward Souls

I wish I could comment on each one, but at this point I’ve only managed to unlock the Adventurer – because again, this game is HARD.

Still, it’s a fair kind of hard. The kind that leaves you feeling wholly accomplished once you’ve reached a new floor for the first time or pushed through an entire environment. It took me countless deaths and hours to eventually beat the boss of The Mines – the game’s first environment- but once I did, I felt like I could take on the world.

And then I progressed to section two, The Tower, and quickly learned that I couldn’t even take on a lowly knight.

Feeding this sense of challenge is the Wayward Souls‘ surprisingly thoughtful enemy design. All too often games provide you with lunkheaded enemies that require little more than a quick stab to bypass. Wayward Souls is a game where each and every enemy type is unique. One might throw a boulder at you as you enter a room, only to follow up with some melee axe attacks. Another might disappear and reappear at a distance ready to hurl a blade your way. Mages, monsters, and more – every type of creature you’ll face in Wayward Souls has its own original design. Learning them all – and discovering new ones – is half the fun of the game (whether these discoveries lead to your death or not).

Wayward Souls

All of this could be marred if the controls weren’t spot on, but Wayward Souls manages to nail that classic SNES feel while still managing to use modern touch-screen controls. The “put your thumb anywhere” invisible d-pad works perfectly, and tapping on the right side initiates an attack. Swiping up or down with that right thumb activates your consumable specials. It’s as simple as that.

The game isn’t flawless mind you – the upgrades you’ll buy, for example, can really leave player wanting – but it’s close enough to flawless that we can forgive our few small grievances. Roguelike, roguelike-like, procedural death labyrinth – what you want to call it, Wayward Souls is one of the best examples of the genre you’re going to find on mobile. It’s the kind of game you’ll sit down to play one session of, and the next thing you know you’ve killed the battery on your phone.

In other words, it’s everything you want a mobile game to be.