One of the most popular games of 2019 has finally received its Android release. Slay the Spire captivated players with its desktop launch just two years ago, and this most recent mobile release means it’s available across platforms. Although the Android version of the game is less than ideal, it’s still worth playing.
Slay the Spire is a roguelike deck-building game, allowing players to battle thieves, cultists and reptile necromancers with custom built battle decks as they climb levels of a tower. Populated with strange, cosmic events and tetchy salespeople in addition to common and elite bosses, the procedurally-generated landscape of the tower presents a slew of obstacles for players to defeat using their deck and items they’ve collected along the way. With four available characters but a near-infinite combination of cards and relics, each playthrough feels different, drawing on different strengths and tactics to help players climb the titular spire.
Slay the Spire was released on Windows, Mac and Linux in January 2019, with console versions arriving later that year. In the summer of 2020, the game came to mobile with an iOS release, but Android users had to wait until Feb. 3 to get in on the fun. This new mobile port increases the availability of the already wildly popular game, allowing almost any potential player to find some way to enjoy Slay the Spire.
The Android port makes very few style or formatting changes from the original computer or console versions, which makes the transition to mobile play easy for established fans. The game also works seamlessly on Android, so there’s little to stand in the way of new players eager to get on board.
Some aspects of Slay the Spire don’t make the mobile transition particularly well, however. The Android screen isn’t optimized for easy readability, so Slay the Spire‘s text-rich design, with lots of explanations for conditions and even card descriptions, requires some strain or effort to read. While the game doesn’t overload the field of view like many larger-scale games (or really any FPS), the small Android version highlights just how much information it is still trying to communicate.
The small text issue is compounded by one of the only parts of the interface that feels clunky. Highlighting a card to read it during combat makes it hard to highlight a different card. For players still trying to learn their decks and reading multiple cards each turn, there is a real possibility of accidentally playing one while simply trying to read it.
Small text isn’t a deal breaker, and the game is still readily playable. It can, however, make it more difficult to put together optimal combinations between decks, potions and relics. As players progress up the tower they can buy or earn trinkets that give bonus powers, either one-use or perpetual. Relics can give players bonuses to strength or extra draws per turn, and potions can regenerate life or upgrade cards.
Each individual ability works well with certain cards, and crafting decks on the fly that fit in well with these abilities is not only a source of fun but also what allows for the most progress. Hard-to-read text can make it difficult to find the ideal combinations; it also poses potential accessibility issues for some players.
Slay the Spire doesn’t spend a lot of time on tutorialization or on-boarding new players. Right from the get-go, players are thrown into a world populated with tons of often inscrutable icons, all of which are meaningful and many of which should be factored into gameplay style. This means unfamiliar players will make mistakes early on and die frequently, which is admittedly built into the roguelike design but can make approaching Slay the Spire intimidating.
However, there’s a reason Slay the Spire topped “best of” lists in 2019 and is still so wildly popular today. Despite issues of legibility and an absence of hand-holding, the game is an absolute delight to play and an easy place to sink countless hours. The procedurally-generated levels and the mix of deck-building and combat mechanics have contributed to this widespread popularity.
The setting and characters in Slay the Spire form a surreal, cosmic-horror background that elevates the traditional dungeon to a new level. Players encounter Lovecraftian cultists and ancient tomes on their journey, and interact with beings whose motives are unclear yet surreal. The background art and music further add to Slay the Spire‘s generally immersive environment.
Deck-building games have some amount of immersion-breaking built into them. Abstracting out a character’s actions into cards builds in a barrier between the character and player. In place of that immersion, these types of games offer additional aspects of customization — instead of feeling one with the character, players instead get to play an active role in creating their character’s skill sets by designing the decks of cards that define them. It’s removed but still interactive and makes the game even more engrossing.
Slay the Spire was named the Best Strategy Game by IGN and awarded Best Design by PC Gamer, on top of nominations for Golden Joystick Awards, the Game Awards and the Steam Awards. While the new Android version wasn’t the subject of these accolades, it does bring the same award-winning content to mobile players everywhere.
Slay the Spire‘s unique blend of mechanics and aesthetic create a game that may be light on the immersion but still presents a compelling and thoroughly engrossing play. The Android version comes with some pitfalls native to the smaller format, but is generally an honest port of the wildly popular game.
Developed by MegaCrit and published by Humble Bundle, Slay the Spire is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Mac, iOS and Android.
CBR was provided with a review copy by the publisher.
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