New. Different. Decent.

MidBoss review by Rick Moscatello-midbossspl-jpg

Over 30 years ago, a dungeon crawling game called Rogue was immensely popular. You were tossed randomly into a dungeon, with no knowledge of anything (for example, you don’t know what any potions do). You must descend to the 26th level, find the Amulet of Yendor, and then ascend back up. What separated this game from all others was the lack of any save option.

In other words, you had to beat the game making no fatal mistakes at any point. This made Rogue devilishly hard, and having frequently unwinnable dungeons didn’t help matters. Rogue’s popularity spawned the Roguelike genre: role playing games where you get no option to save (by this I mean you can save, but the save file is destroyed when you load it) and most games will end in permanent death.

There have been many games in the genre, and the best recent one is Dungeons of Dredmor—check it out to see the best ‘traditional’ Roguelike in years. The big weakness to the genre is very few Roguelikes are all that much different (beyond vastly superior graphics) from the namesake.

MidBoss review by Rick Moscatello-midbossdung-jpg
Back in the ol' dungeon again.

MidBoss adds a bit of spin: instead of a hero, you play as a monster, trying to move his way up in the world by moving further down the dungeon. That’s not the real difference, however, since you’re still at heart a monster-bashing adventurer trying to survive a hostile environment.

MidBoss review by Rick Moscatello-midbssstats-jpg
So many stats, but it all boils down to HP.

The big difference is you have the ability to possess and take the form of other monsters, eventually learning their abilities. Careful play will let you work your way up the food chain. You start by taking the form of a rat, then move up to vampire bats, and so on.

It’s a clever system, but does have its quirks. There is no healing of health by resting (but you can regain stamina and mana). This makes possession of enemy monsters absolutely mandatory, though it’s a bit unintuitive. To possess a monster, you have to beat it to death…then you take its form with full hit points. Your equipment actually translates to the new form, so, if you’re wearing plate mail and wielding a sword and shield, you’ll look like a rat when you possess a rat, but you’ll still be armored and dealing damage with your sword. This means there’s no advantage to fighting in your “main” Imp form, but you regain some precious hit points when you revert to Impishness (this is something of a desperation move, however).

MidBoss review by Rick Moscatello-midbosseq-jpg
The ol' dress up page.

Past this, however, you’re still doing the Roguelike thing, exploring randomly generated dungeons with random monsters and stuff in them. While the game generously lets you know when you have a Scroll of Identify, it’s pretty vicious with the bad things you can randomly find—I probably had as many deaths due to trying a new potion than from monsters, for example. If there’s any weakness to the design, this is it: it’s all pretty easy right until you’re doomed.

While there is no save, of course, MidBoss take a cue from Fate and gives you a way to transfer one item from a deceased character to a new character. This helps much to take the edge off the fairly dull early levels of the game—most Roguelikes have scary beginnings as your character is initially weak, but MidBoss’s possession mechanic makes the first few levels way too easy (as long as you don’t test new potions!).

Overall, MidBoss isn’t that hard a Roguelike to beat once you figure out the two big tricks to the game, but there is a learning curve to finding out what creatures have the best (i.e., healing) abilities and how to exploit them as quickly as possible. If you’re looking for a quick dungeon crawling fix with something new in it, MidBoss delivers, even if it isn’t particularly special otherwise.

Overall Rating: 78.