Indie dungeon crawlers and roguelikes are some of my favorite games. When I was young, I’d spend my summer vacations downloading as many freeware dungeon exploration games I could find. I’d fill those hot days next to the air conditioner while slaying skeletons, filling my inventory with scrolls, and doing my best to explore every single grid tile of each game. MidBoss takes the traditional dungeon crawl game and adds its own unique twist. It feels nostalgic and familiar but offers interesting, new challenges for seasoned delvers.
I guess it’s no surprise that MidBoss begins in a dungeon. You play the role of an imp and his fiery friend, Mid. They are being harassed by another dungeon inhabitant, a skeleton, and his moaning pal, Zombie. A lot of sassiness is exchanged back and forth between fellow monsters until eventually, they leave, and our pal Mid encourages us to possess a rat. Apparently, our imp form is so wimpy that possessing a common dungeon rat is a step up in life. There’s not a whole lot of story to follow in the game, but the personality in exchanges like these are refreshing and enjoyable. The cheeky conversation between dungeon associates successfully sets the tone for the rest of the game.
At the beginning, possession is the only ability you know, and you can only possess an enemy by killing them first. Luckily, you can attack an enemy without any additional items or skills by simply clicking on them. When you successful possess an enemy, you learn one of their abilities, and as you level up that new form, you master even more of their skills. The challenge of MidBoss comes from learning how to best utilize these new skills and determining when it’s time to move on to a different form.
Although you may collect many different potions while exploring, most of the “potions” I discovered were of the poison variety. Similar to other roguelikes, I had to learn the hard way which items to avoid. Instead of drinking unidentified potions, the most reliable way to recover health points is actually through possessing or de-possessing other monsters. When you possess a monster, you regain 100% of your health. If you are stuck in a tight spot and need an immediate health boost, you can de-possess a monster, return to your imp form, and gain 30% of your HP. Eventually, you’ll learn which potions are safe to drink and also discover abilities to absorb health from other creatures.
At first glance, MidBoss seems like a traditional turn-based dungeon exploration game, but it’s filled with goofy elements, like cratefish and yarn balls. I don’t think I had ever collected a yarn ball in a video game until I played this one. If you find some, gather as many as you can, because yarn balls are used as currency and traded to a cat merchant in exchange for items. I won’t ruin the surprises cratefish unlock within the dungeon. Keeping in line with the witty theme, your character can equip any armor, weapon, or shield he finds while exploring. Even your rat form can equip a shield. It doesn’t make sense, but the game is filled with tongue-in-cheek goofs that don’t allow you to overthink the mechanics. I found that when I equipped a dagger to my plague rat, he’d start making sword noises when smashing boxes.
My favorite features of MidBoss are the death cards and grave goods. Upon death, you are rewarded with a death card that you can share on social media. It looks just like a playing card and proudly (or often, not-so-proudly) displays a screenshot of your death. It includes your name, the floor on which you died, the number of turns you survived, your equipped items, and a brief text summary of your character. The same death card can be loaded into a new game, allowing you to start the new game with an item of your choice from the previous playthrough. Discover a really cool amulet and then accidentally engage in combat with a monster much stronger than you? You can bring that amulet into your next playthrough. Genius.
MidBoss is filled with nostalgia-producing qualities, both positive and negative. The music and sound effects are fitting for the genre and reminiscent of classic roguelikes. The dungeon graphics are clear and fitting for the theme. Unfortunately, the font used in the game menus reminds me of my first attempts at creating cool-looking titles in Microsoft PowerPoint projects. The way the glow and gradient font effects are used have the regrettable outcome of making the game appear unprofessional. The developer may be holding on to this style choice as the game progresses in order to remain dedicated to fans of the itch.io version, but first impressions are important when trying to win over more players. A more polished main menu may help to win the loyalty of Steam players when the game is released there on May 25th.
It took me a few deaths to get used to the possession mechanic in MidBoss, but I found myself wanting to return over and over again. The fact that I could transfer my favorite item from the previous playthrough helped to keep me interested and engaged in the gameplay. I think new players will enjoy the sense of humor and uniqueness Kitsune Games was brave enough to include in their interpretation of the classic roguelike.
A PC review copy of Midboss was provided by Kitsune Games for the purpose of this review