REVIEW: Ancient Enemy

Apr
29

REVIEW: Ancient Enemy

A take on Solitaire for an innovative game in the genre

Released: Steam
Type: Singleplayer
Genre: Card game
Developer: Grey Alien Games
Publisher: Grey Alien Games
Release Date: 9 Apr, 2020

Overview

Ancient Enemy is a card game in which mechanics similar to those of Solitaire encounter those of Slay the Spire for a new take on the genre. You find yourself in a world where the forces of evil have already won: travel across the wilderness to gain power, destroy powerful enemies and, above all, survive! All the elements for the next, big card game are there, let’s see if Grey Alien Games has played its best cards!

The new iteration

To be completely honest, Ancient Enemy mechanics do not come from a completely new idea: the very same rules can be found in Shadowhand, a 2017 title from the very same developers. What Ancient Enemy does is removing those that worked less and improving the already good formula of the first game.

But how do these mechanics work, anyway?
The number one rule of the game is that we can remove a card from the field if its value is neighbouring with the one of our active card. Thus, if we have a “3” as card, we can remove a “2” or a “4” from the field and the removed card becomes the active one. This lets us make big combos by progressively removing cards and creating successions. That’s it, the game is incredibly easy to understand, but it also introduces new mechanics and cards during the story in order to keep the gameplay always fresh.

In this scenario, the best way to make a combo is “2”-“3”-“4”-“5”-“6”-“5”, thus making a 6 card chain (without considering special cards).

Exploring…

As I’ve already said, the game has two distinct types of matches: fights and exploration (I call them like that, the game doesn’t actually give them a name). During exploration matches, our goal is to completely clear the field of cards before our deck ends. If there are no cards of the field to match with our active one, we can draw a new active card from our deck. While this game mode is less tactical than fights, it usually makes up with more complex schemas of cards. It is also during exploration that we can find new cards, power, trinkets and so on.

One of my exploration matches. The gates are a new mechanic that gets introduced later on in the game: they require the player to remove a number of cards of the same colour in order to remove the gate.

…and fighting

Fights are the most important type of matches in Ancient Enemy and are always fought 1v1. Unlike exploration matches, they do not require to clean the board of cards, but to bring your opponent’s hp to zero. This is usually done by using abilities that can either deal physical damage or magic damage to your opponent. Before using an ability though, you have to charge it by removing cards of the corresponding colour from the board: yellow for physical abilities, orange for magical and blue for shield ones. Every ability deals a pre-defined amount of damage but, and this is what makes combat particularly fun, entering a combo of cards can boost its capability, adding more damage and special effect to the attack. Every time an ability is used, the opponent makes its move, usually attacking or shielding.

The Harrowed Wife is the final boss of the the Tortured Pass level. On the right there are its stats along with the abilities it can use. The purple cards on the bottom center of the screen are instead special once-per-fight cards that are usually helpful when it comes to keeping the combo going.

During combat it is also possible to use equipment cards, like potions or grenades, that are always available and don’t need to be charged: the twist here is that they are discarded on use and you can’t get them back unless you find the same equipment later on in the story. Another interesting element of combat is the star reward: each fight usually has two time values, measured in turns, that defined the star reward when the opponent gets killed. An example from the screenshot above: if I get to kill the Harrowed Wife in six turns or less, I get three stars, while I only get two stars if I take between 7 and 8 turns. Taking more than 9 turns to kill it will only get me one star. This system strongly encourages the player to play around combos and boosts the longevity of the game, especially when one wants to complete the game to perfection.

New style

The biggest difference between Ancient Enemy and Shadowhand is visible to anyone who watches screenshots of the two games: Ancient Enemy has way better graphics and a more inspired art style. Both characters and backgrounds are beautifully drawn and everything is in place, even the very simple style of the cards blends well with the rest of the elements on screen.

The art style is more inspired than the one of Shadowhand.

Verdict

Ancient Enemy is a new card game that hits the mark with fresh gameplay unlike any others. While a niche title, the idea of working around Solitaire’s mechanics and combos is incredible and I personally haven’t had such a good time with a card game in a while. The longevity and low price point make for a huge recommendation from me!

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