Whip Up A Frenzy
City of Brass was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to Ground Punch by the publisher.
Something has always intrigued me about the Arabian Nights setting, even as a child watching one of my favorite Disney movies, Aladdin. I was drawn to exotic tales of underdog thieves and scoundrels seeking opportunity and conflict in the vast and mysterious sprawling labyrinths. Hoping to find hidden treasures, no doubt.
So when I discovered Uppercut Games’ City of Brass, I was all over the idea immediately. I booted up the game on my Switch and dove head first in. What I discovered was a simple, yet exciting experience filled with endless puzzles and level-based adventures with intuitive combat variety and a satisfying challenge to boot.
City of Brass starts by offering the player a short tutorial on the game’s mechanics and combat, but anyone who has played Bioshock will be pretty much immediately familiar with the style. After that, the game doesn’t do any hand holding, and the unique levels are open and waiting. Traps, a variety of enemies and hidden treasure litter every floor of the maze- and various elixirs allow for different gameplay advantages. These are available to purchase from genies littered around the levels and offer buffs like temporary infinite health, increased damage, and stronger weapons. The treasure scattered around the levels are used as in-game currency and becomes vital in later floors of the labyrinth.
The combat is definitely the shining point of City of Brass and is focused heavily on melee attacks. These attacks are supplemented by a handy whip can be used to stun enemies and reach high points to find treasures that would otherwise be unreachable. A great variety of enemies makes for plenty of ways to use the sword/whip combo, such as whipping at floating skulls that will explode on impact. A sword is used in the right hand and can be utilized in combination with the whip to pull enemies toward you and hack them up. Weapons can be swapped out for better, more powerful versions that become essential in defeating some of City of Brass’ more difficult enemies. The game is fair in its difficulty, but will still punish the player if they aren’t paying attention to their surroundings.
The controls are simple enough, but I found it slightly uncomfortable to play on the normal Switch joy-cons. These frustrations are not at all uncommon with games ported over from other consoles or PC but it remains frustrating none the less. It might be that I just have awkwardly sized hands, but I found it much easier and enjoyable to play with a Pro Controller or the grips that come with the Switch console. Button mapping is also slightly strange and while it wasn’t enough to deter me from playing, it did prevent me from playing in handheld mode unless I brought controller grips with me.
Being a procedurally generated level based game, the frustration of having to start from the beginning after death can be a tough but important lesson. These setbacks help the player learn the nooks and crannies of City of Brass and even though it isn’t necessarily my type of game, I’m having a lot of fun with the challenge of learning enemy patterns and level design. Knowing when to risk attempting another level or quitting while you’re ahead and keeping the treasure you’ve earned to reap powerful rewards adds a certain strategy to the game that keeps it fresh even after hours of play.
The level design makes clever use of different traps and verticality to hide treasure. This commitment to design means that the environment can be used to dispatch enemies efficiently without having to get in close and risk taking too much damage or getting overwhelmed. Enemies can be pulled by the whip into pits of spikes or high-powered air traps that blow their frail skeleton frames to pieces. Smart and safe playstyles are rewarded, as large groups of foes can quickly surround and defeat the player easily, wiping away all their progress for that run.
Corridors and stairs leading nowhere or into an angry group of baddies keep even the most experienced players on their toes and really make the labyrinth feel like a maze. This sense of an enclosed, dangerous space pairs well with the timed levels that force you to hustle to the exit and prioritize which enemies to kill and which treasures to pick up on your way.
City of Brass is also beautiful to look at; the visuals are stunning, and the semi cell-shaded look makes for great eye-candy as your whip cracks and tears through the cursed undead. One of the biggest things that drew me to this game is its visual identity, and I wasn’t at all disappointed after playing. The lighting and shadows draw the eye to key points and the glimmer of the treasure ensures focus is pulled to it at just the right times. These effects all feel very real to life with your eye being drawn to things just as it would just in the real world.
City of Brass offers a fresh challenge with its balanced combat and a chance to feel true mastery after hours of grinding and learning where to search for treasure. The game uses its visuals to assist players in finding these treasures, which in turn maximize the best possible rewards, as any game of its kind should. As someone who very much enjoyed Bioshock, I can see the love and effort that went into this game, and I can’t wait to continue diving into the genie’s labyrinth.