Wayward Souls is the game that Mage Gauntlet was supposed to be, and I mean that quite literally. When Rocketcat Games was making Mage Gauntlet, they wanted to have all of the things that Wayward Souls eventually ended up having, like randomized levels and multiple character classes. Eventually they realized that they were never going to be able to get that game done in time, and so Mage Gauntlet was born.
Wayward Souls is a rougelike action-RPG game steeped in old-school Nintendo nostalgia. A roguelike game, for those who don’t know, is typically a dungeon-crawler RPG where you only get one life, dying forces you to start all over again, and the difficulty is something that only the most stalwart (masochistic?) of gamers would be willing to put themselves through.
As a result, Wayward Souls is a mashup of the gameplay and level progression of Mage Gauntlet and the general sense of eventual death that comes with playing a roguelike game. You play. You die. You play again. Repeat as necessary.
Honestly, I’m kind of glad that’s how things worked out, because if the release dates were reversed and Wayward Souls was the precursor to Mage Gauntlet, then I think I would have approached Mage Gauntlet with a fair amount of trepidation.
After a brief intro/tutorial level, you start Wayward Souls as one of three initial classes the game offers: the powerful yet slow fighter, the meek mage with a powerful range attack, and the rogue (my favorite character so far) who specializes in misdirection. You can unlock three other characters, but that requires you to beat certain areas in the game, which can be very difficult.
Each character has their own backstory and reasons for wanting to go through this ordeal. As the story unfolds and you travel deeper into the levels, you’ll learn more about each character’s motives. Each character’s story is interesting and involving, and you’ll find yourself wanting to keep playing just to see where the story goes. Most roguelike games have thin stories that don’t evolve and serve as nothing more than a backdrop to the action.
What holds Wayward Souls back is the absurd level of difficulty you’re going to encounter. You’re going to die repeatedly. Most enemies are fast– even faster than the rogue. They have an obnoxious tendency to swarm your character and do prodigious amounts of damage, and enemies with ranged attacks can hit you from clear across the screen.
Wayward Souls seems to be designed to make you fail. Your characters, even the “fast” ones, have a slight pause after their attacks which makes them vulnerable to enemy attacks. In this game, even a millisecond of hesitation can be the difference between life and death.
There are health potions you can pick up throughout the game, but they drop at such an low rate that you could be forgiven for thinking that they don’t exist at all. The fighter actually has an upgradeable special ability that can give you more health from the potions you pick up, but this ability almost feels like a cruel joke. You can literally play for hours without finding one, and I never once found one with my mage. The mage has low health to begin with, and just a couple of attacks can knock her down.
Adding to the difficulty are the controls. In any other game, they would be fine, but in Wayward Souls they don’t seem adequate. Moving your characters is responsive, but the main problem has to do with your attacks. They’re controlled by a series of swipes and taps on the right side of the screen, and this just doesn’t work well enough. I often found myself trying to do one thing and instead doing another.
Lots of time I would just end up not doing anything at all, or moving instead of pulling off my ability. It actually got to a point where I stopped trying to activate certain abilities. Adding some buttons for the special abilities would be an enormous help, since the swiping functions are just too finicky to be completely reliable.
It may sound like I’m being awfully negative with the game, but personally enjoyed the challenge, even if it is a bit unbalanced. It’s a tough game for sure, and for a lot of people this kind of challenge can be a lot of fun. But for more casual gamers and fans of Mage Gauntlet, Wayward Souls’ level of challenge might be too daunting.
Be warned: This game is not Mage Gauntlet, and that game will not prepare you for what Wayward Souls has to offer. Wayward Souls does have some great level design that will change with almost every playthrough, although if you play through certain levels enough you will occasionally recognize patterns and maps. There are lots of different enemies to fight, each with their own ways of brutalizing you, and no matter which character you choose there is no singular strategy that will work. This game will make your brain hurt as much as your fingers.
Wayward Souls is designed to put you through the grinder again and again. Everyone loves a good challenge, but for some players, Wayward Souls may be too much. Even for the most hardened of players, this game presents a true test of skill and requires quite a bit of luck as well. It could use some tweaks to the enemies, the rate of spells, and health drops. Still, for those of us that enjoy a challenge, Wayward Souls will provide lots and lots of hours of pain– I mean, fun.