Genre: Deck Building Roguelike | Turn Based Strategy
Modes: Single player
Developed by: Big Blue Bubble
Published by: Big Blue Bubble
Original release date: January 2023
Platforms: PC and Nintendo Switch (soon)
Platform I played on: PC
Thanks to Big Blue Bubble for the review code!
Immediately upon playing Big Blue Bubble's Power Chord, it reminded me a lot of Louis Morel's 2021, Pizza Apocalypse. Both strategy titles are fun, addicting, and both feature some of my favourite things; Music and Pizza! I don't play roguelikes or strategy titles often, but when I do it has to really draw me in - as is the case with Power Chord. Hades is the only other recent roguelike title I can think of that kept me hooked. It's not that I dislike roguelikes or strategy titles, but they've never really appealed to me too much. Power Chord delivers a heavy metal/punk/rock experience that I enjoyed to the extent where I lost track of time while playing it. But, why was this the case? Let's jump into the mosh;
You're not allowed to stay dead as long as the demons are out there!
To set the scene, the narrative is unravelled with short cutscenes, as is the case with most standard roguelike titles. As you assemble earths mightiest musicians, also known as the Thunderfists, you'll rift off against other bands. Aka, the demonic invaders of Hellmouth in grungy venues. It's up to you and your band to build the most powerful set list of cards to get rid of these demonic invaders, and seal them off once and for all. So, it's journey to the centre of Hellmouth for you.
Each bandmate has unique abilities tailored to them. Eventually the more you play, you'll also acquire more variation of characters with different personalities. You can mix and match to your liking, but your band will always have to consist of a vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer. Each band member, as mentioned previously, has unique abilities. The vocalist, for example, acts as a 'healer'.
Throughout each tour, you'll also have a few pit stops between battling. Whether it's to pick up some good loot or coming across different characters in a scenario, you never quite know what to expect as the story unfolds. As I've played through this a few times now, I can confirm no two tours feel the same. Some things will remain the same such as coming across a chest box with a new ability or cards in a pit stop, but even these change it up and are never quite the same abilities or cards.
Characters at each pit stop scenario can either aid you, stop you or attempt to fight you. One of the main reasons I enjoyed Power Chord so much was because it kept things fresh by adding different scenarios in the story, as well as making each restart of the tour different. Of course, this goes hand in hand with the gameplay which is the next section of this review;
While you fight to survive the most epic concert in your home town's grungy bars, the controls are relatively simple. However, mastering the game itself is a whole other thing. As you'll see in the screen shot below, it's just a matter of moving up, down, left and right - but choosing what card and which option to pick in a scenario will either cause you and your band to strive, or potentially get killed off... or a bit of both.
You can expect some levels of frustration, specially the classic 'Oh that's complete BULL' (tfw all four of your band members are killed off at the end boss yet again reeee) Anyway, still totally not sour about that particular encounter(s) I had, but I digress. Yes, you may get frustrated and annoyed unless you have a tonne of patience.
As I mentioned in the story section of this review, each character has unique abilities specifically tailored to them. How you use them, of course, is up to you.
During encounters with enemy bands, you'll draw 5 cards which is combined with each band member's unique abilities. For example your vocalist can boost stats to help your guitarist strum out a literal killer solo. Or, you can use toxic damage over time from your bassist, to your drummer building up shield defences for each band member. All your band members in one way will be able to help each other, so it's important that you take that into consideration when you're playing. Sometimes, shielding your band mates will come in useful for a round rather than attacking head on, and sometimes vice versa. If you've played a roguelike title before, then you kind of know what to expect, but if this is maybe going to be your first roguelike title, just keep that in mind.
During your attempts to take back your home town, along the way you'll come across some pit stops such as a Rest stop, which includes the option to regenerate health, bring back a band member or give all your band mates 30% health. If a bandmate gets killed during a battle, they’re out until the next Rest Site - if you decide to bring them back, that is.
From the screenshot below, you'll see what I'm talking about. The skull means a battle, Health cross is a rest stop (as I mentioned above), the chest is a randomised ability/card, ? is an encounter (good or bad), $ is the shop to purchase abilities or cards, and the giant demons are bigger enemies. Eventually, you'll get to the bigger boss at the end. In some scenarios, there's also the option to skip a battle, so you'll just go to the next thing on the tour.
Some of these pit stop obstacles as I mentioned previously will also include coming across other characters - who may or may not help you on your tour. You can decide to trust characters so they can help you in your next battle, or you can lose all your coins by not fighting them. Walk away or step in, there's no safe option really. There's a few different scenarios that will be hurled at you, so choose wisely... or don't.
There are also specific challenges you can do to unlock things - as you can see from the screenshot below, there's quite a few you can do if you're feeling up to the ultimate challenge. Hey, kudos to whoever does all of these! (Not me, probably)
Most of all though, it's fun even if you make the wrong choices - because even when you get all four of your band members killed off (me, many times) starting over doesn't even feel like a chore, and thankfully each tour is a little bit different than the previous one. You'll adapt and learn as you go, and if you stick with it I think you'll be plenty entertained. The downsides is that this title definitely won't be for every roguelike player. If you're looking for a roguelike with more combat controls and a bit more meat to it - you won't get that here. If you're someone that doesn't enjoy repetitive gameplay then yeah, you might feel a little burnt out and maybe not the title for you. I haven't played a heap of roguelikes to make a large comparison, but as far as they go I enjoyed it with the hours I've put in so far. Whether or not this will change will depend, but I haven't found it to be too repetitive for me yet.
Bands from the Borderlands
With it's eye catching visuals, to art style similar to the likes of Tales of the Borderlands and the Telltale Series titles, it's what makes this game (at least to me) that much more charming and enticing. The game reflects on Rock and it's offspring's, Punk and Heavy Metal with a grungy atmosphere in venues that feels like it oozes in sweat, liquor and in general, old bar with sticky floors smell. Alongside this, the overall design of the game is simple to read, and clear to understand. While they've absolutely nailed the atmosphere and tone, I was hoping for a bit more variation in some settings and tracks. Overall though, it's still a solid design for all to enjoy.
Amp it up
Don't get it wrong, the soundtrack and sound design is still fantastic, but personally I was expecting to hear a few more different tracks throughout my playthroughs. The soundtrack was composed by Tom, who said in an interview (that you can check out here btw) that they were inspired by bands such as Red Fang, Mastodon and Pallbearer in order to create a compelling, fast paced demonic fantasy sound. As far as soundtracks go, he did a superb job in creating music that reflects well in the atmosphere of the game, I was just hoping for a bit more variation is all. I can't seem to find Tom's music or the soundtrack in general on any platform, but as soon as I do I'll be sure to add that soundtrack to my giant video game soundtrack playlist, for sure.
Glitches | Bugs | Issues
I've been lucky with the games I've been reviewing lately (well, now that I've said it) but I haven't come across any glitches, bugs or issues in Power Chord. Of course though as I say in all of my reviews - this isn't to say there aren't any at all, I just haven't come across any. I do believe it's a pretty polished game from my end.
Length | Replay ability
Replay ability are roguelikes bread and butter. The game wants you to play, fail, play, fail and eventually succeed to the end. This game feels like I might come back to it from time to time. Whether I'm waiting for a game to download, or to play when I just want to play something for the sake of it. I can recommend this title if you're looking for something to hook you in hours on end, whether you play continuously or spread over a few weeks. I know that there some extremely skilled achievement hunters out there, and for this game there are 36 achievements to collect, so good luck! I will definitely not be attempting this.
The final battle
Power Chord delivers on an exceptional game that keeps you on your toes, and making it fresh each time you play. While it can get frustrating, there's still more overall to enjoy about this game. I can highly recommend this title if you're looking for a fresh new roguelike deck builder title to sink your teeth into, or if you're just looking for a new challenge regardless of genre. I can even recommend this if you're starting out with this genre, this may be a good one for you to jump onto.
For someone such as myself who has only played a handful of roguelikes as I've mentioned (and who sometimes has no patience) I still really enjoyed my time with Power Chord. It felt worth playing through numerous times, and maybe I come off a little biased because I don't have much else to compare it to as it's not my go to genre of games, but still. Of course, it can be bit frustrating at times especially when you want to see what's at the end, but I digress. If you're ready for a journey to fight off demons and stop them with your instruments for hours on end, look no further than Power Chord.