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Review of Summoner’s Mess

The summoner carrying a torch near a small fire in the middle, crossing a bridge over an abyss in bottom right, and standing at a pit of tentacles in top left.

A modern Pac-Man without the ghosts?

Summoner’s Mess is a 2D top-down game similar in appearance to the classic Legend of Zelda. It is a short maze-running game. And I mean short. It took me two hours to beat the game and get all ten achievements.

Graphics are what made me look at this game, as they are meant to be retro pixel sprites (including a rounding effect to give the game a fake-round-screen CRT styling) but are well made and have some modern touches added.

The plot is simple enough: you’re a low-tier member of a death cult that wants to summon evil to do its bidding, but being low-tier pisses you off, so you attempt to summon evil all by yourself, for fame, glory, and leadership of the cult. Army of Darkness-style fumbling with the incantation causes evil to scatter your books across the dungeon, and you need to go find them to take control of the abomination.

The conceit is that you have limited light, so as you make your way through the dark dungeon, you must constantly pick up torches and candles to renew your light. If your torch dies out, as in Zork, you get eaten by a grue. At which point you start anew.

Controls are limited to WASD or arrow keys (or controller), but it’s a simple enough game, which makes it mostly forgivable. You have three inventory slots, and if you pick up more items then you will drop one of them (though you can pick it back up to cycle to the one you choose to drop). The torch is a separate thing, not taking up inventory, and it has a subtle back-fill that indicates how close it is to burning out. It could be more obvious, as I didn’t even notice the background fill until I was writing the review. But I could tell from the lighting alone when I was in danger, so the HUD element wasn’t that important.

There is a speedrun mode, which starts the timer when you move and displays a clock. Pressing the escape key pauses the game, letting you restart. You’ll want to hold down the escape key when starting runs (after your first) to skip the exposition at the start of an attempt.

There are also some accessibility options in the settings if you need them, though it warns you can’t complete achievements while they’re turned on.

Again, it’s a simple and short game. Perhaps too simple, but it’s hard to say what would have added to the game without changing its character entirely. It’s well-made as it is. Adding an enemy to kill or flee wouldn’t have done much. While the avoid-the-dark mechanic is getting to be overused in general, it is well-suited to the pacing of the game. Keep moving, get your books, keep your torch lit.

In all, it was a tidy diversion. If you like retro art, maze-type games, or if you think Cthulu is cthool, it’s worth a look (if you have the light left by which to see).

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