Book of Demons – Early Access Preview
Thing Trunk has a plan: to develop an interlocking library of games that celebrates the early inspirations of video games. Each of the seven volumes is bound to pay tribute to a single game released prior to the new millennium, with the paper-craft style being the single element that is shared between entries in the series.
The first volume, Book of Demons, is described by Thing Trunk as a pure hack-and-slash entry, where the protagonist traverses the many levels of the cathedral to slay the Archdemon. It is blatantly evident that this is a tribute to Blizzard’s early ARPG Diablo. However, I would like to argue Thing Trunk’s description of Book of Demons as something more than a tribute:
This game is the illegitimate child of Diablo and Paper Mario that we never knew that we needed.
Placing the similarity in graphics aside, it’s the humour that ranges from the self-deprecating to the meta-textual that links these two games cohesively. Thing Trunk has been creative enough to provide players with the essence of characters such as Deckard Cain and Adria, without directly referencing them. This occurs through decisions in voice acting as well as a clear understanding on how each of these characters dialogue with the player. The meta-textual references once again beckon to memories of Super Paper Mario on the Wii, lightly peppered through the game to compliment the player experience rather than smacking the player in the face for their failed life choices.
There is an emphasis on the procurement of items to assist with fighting that could technically be considered reminiscent of Sticker Star or even the recent card-based mechanics employed by Australian independent title Hand of Fate. Cards dropped by slain enemies can be abilities or items, with the former requiring mana to use and the other earmarking a portion of your mana to equip. It is an interesting mechanic that forces the player to make careful choices between doing cool things or bundling up in advanced gear. When leveling you have to make a choice between increasing your health or increasing your mana, which can also speak loudly to your priorities. A more serious game would give these decisions more permanency for character development; Book of Demons lets you collect the unused attributes from a potions lady for a small fee.
For a small-scale game, there would be no need for a mechanism to reward the inner completionist, so I assume that Thing Trunk thought it important to emphasise that a player should explore every corner of the randomised dungeon and this was the only way to incentivise this activity. This is achieved through golden-crumbed footprints that alight when you have fully explored an entire area. I would probably enjoy it more if the game did not force you to walk a predominantly linear path through each level.
The other noteworthy device used in this game is the ability to scale the size of your dungeon. This has questionable motives though, diminishing the significance of Thing Trunk’s desire to pay tribute to early video games and perhaps detaching the player from the sense of immersion that early ARPGs aspired to. I have a love/hate relationship with it – I understand the point to maximize the demographic (Fisher Price “My First ARPG”), but I feel a bit insulted that newcomers are let off the hook so easily. The dominant card-based system is so strategically compelling that the graphic style doesn’t even make a dent in a perception that this is ARPG-lite. Book of Demons deserves to be seen as a serious contender, and I would worry at a view that it is entry-level. I am happy to crank the dungeon settings to maximum and settle in for a fun afternoon of exploration, and encourage others to do the same!
Don’t let its audiovisual choices be a hindrance to picking up this game during early access, and don’t judge this Book purely by its cover. Book of Demons is a compelling game in its own right, and while I am curious what other inspirations are referenced in future “volumes” of Thing Trunk’s opus, this is a great standalone ARPG to mix up your Diablo and Path of Exile tastes for something a little sweeter.