City of Brass is a first-person rogue-lite which has players plundering the cursed titular city for various treasures. Its procedurally generated levels that last for only a handful of minutes imply that the game is meant to be highly replayable, but due to several fundamental issues in each of its core aspects, the game is anything but.
Throughout City of Brass, players will find themselves re-treading through the same levels over and over, trying to progress further and collect more treasure. Collecting as much treasure as possible in each level will contribute to rank ups, but the issue is that increasing in rank offers no meaningful rewards.
An extra rank increase will give players an extra item for their next run, but nothing in the way of any kind of permanent upgrades. With the repetitive nature of the game and the rogue-lite sub-genre in general, permanent upgrades would go a long way in making the grindy repetition feel like it’s worth pushing through. City of Brass doesn’t offer this kind of hook or sense of progression.
The sense of progression instead comes from defeating bosses and gaining access to later levels, but the game doesn’t offer enough variety in its levels to make the arduous grind feel worthwhile. Beyond some visual tweaks to the different areas and a few altered traps, there really isn’t much separating the earlier levels from the later levels.
Treasure can also be used to purchase various single-use items from genies to help out with runs, but it’s not enough of an incentive to make exploring the levels deeper for more treasure feel enticing. There’s no risk/reward here, leading to an experience that feels unengaging and tedious.
A lack of trade-off that could add an extra layer of strategy or depth to the game is also missing from the various buffs and debuffs that can be applied at the start of each session. These can range from increased health to enemies attacking more frequently. There’s absolutely no downside to a player just applying all of the buffs, and as such, it feels like a system that lacks a sense of meaning to the game as a whole.
Gaining a higher rank will occasionally unlock a new character, but again City of Brass manages to miss the mark in this aspect. The characters just don’t feel like they offer enough variety in their playstyles, and they aren’t balanced in a way that makes them feel like they could potentially appeal to different kinds of players. Even after unlocking each character, I found myself reverting back to the first unlocked character due to her seemingly lacking any disadvantages that the later unlockable characters have.
A lot of the aforementioned problems could probably be forgiven if it was enjoyable to play on a moment-to-moment basis, but it isn’t. There’s no interesting way to maneuver around these environments, and the characters feel like they simply glide across surfaces, as opposed to any kind of weight or momentum being given to movement that makes it feel kinetic.
Combat also lacks any sense of flow or weight. I never felt like I was facing off against foes in any sort of engaging fight, instead mindlessly bashing away at lifeless enemies. Hits don’t connect so much as they travel through bodies causing damage, and the rigid animations fail to deliver on the satisfaction that should come from dealing a killing blow.
It’s a shame because there are some interesting interactions that could have led to a battle system that was genuinely enjoyable. Each character is equipped with a whip along with their primary weapon, and the whip can perform multiple long-range actions ranging from disarming a foe, to closing the gap between a player and an enemy attacking from a long range.
To the credit of the developers, City of Brass feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch. Its short play sessions and grindy nature make it a natural fit for a system with portable functionality, and it runs without a hitch in handheld. I wish my praises didn’t have to end there.
City of Brass is a game without any kind of a hook. Its rogue-lite focus doesn’t have the necessary progression system to make it worth sticking within the long term, the level design lacks the necessary variety to alleviate the monotony of the repetition, and its combat doesn’t have the satisfactory fundamentals to make its moments of interesting interactivity shine. City of Brass is a fitting title because it’s certainly not golden.
Sometimes we use affiliate links in our media. All links support the site and help keep food on the table and servers running. We will keep an updated list of affiliates on each article. Humble Store, GameNerdz.com. If you like what we do, shop through our link and help support the site.
For the latest in gaming and entertainment, be sure to like Back to the Gaming on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. You can also support us via Patreon, which allows us to create better content for our audience.
A Nintendo Switch review copy of City of Brass was provided by Uppercut Games for the purpose of this review.