The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures is simultaneously a tribute to the bygone generation of NES-era RPGs, as well as a vessel for many new ideas and contemporary gameplay. This is not just an RPG homage; it’s an RPG the way this developer thinks they always should have been made.
The biggest change from the classic RPG structure is that this is not based on random encounters or fully turn-based battles. The combat is turn-based, but it all happens on the field of play. What that means is that each time you move, cast a spell, or swing your weapon it equals one turn.
So while you may not notice it when you’re moving through a dungeon, you and all the enemies on screen are taking turns moving. It’s just happening too fast to perceive. However, once the battle starts, this becomes a very important aspect of the game. When there’s only one enemy approaching, you’ll mostly just walk up and kill it. But when there are multiple enemies encroaching from all sides, then carefully planning each move, spell, and attack becomes a necessity.
This is how dungeon crawling used to look.
It’s not just a necessity because you want to survive that specific encounter, but because there will be many more like it before the dungeon reaches its conclusion, and resources are scarce. Make no mistake about it, if that makes Isle of 8-bit Treasures sound like a hard game, that’s because it is. It’s very hard. You’ll need to use your specific class strengths (Swordsman, Witch, or Hunter,) potions, and spells just about perfectly or else you probably wont make it through.
What makes it so much more difficult is the downright devious exclusion of any type of save points during dungeons. The only way to save the game is to complete a dungeon. No matter where you are in the dungeon when you die, even if you’re just about to finish, you start at the beginning. This wouldn’t be so bad except that now you’ve lost all of the potions and spells you’ve accumulated from earlier victories (which you are allowed to save to bring with you on future missions. So that dungeon you just died in? It’s going to be even harder the next time.
The early dungeons are simple enough, and you’ll breeze through them in an attempt or two. Later dungeons though, require masterful resource management, forethought, and Herculean combat prowess. It’s understandable that the difficulty is so high, given that this game draws so much inspiration from old RPGs, but we can’t help but think that this will be a bit much for most players.
Now that’s a D-pad.
These types of old-school influences and dungeon crawling are what make up the lion’s share of the gameplay, but this game also incorporates some new age ideas other than the real-time turn-based battles discussed earlier. Chief among these is the ability to have dungeons and weapons crafted from songs in your iTunes library. It’s not an entirely new idea, since we’ve been seeing things like this for years with the likes of Audiosurf on the PC.
It’s a nice inclusion, but the weapons don’t seem to be custom-created from your songs, as we got many repeats of the same weapons when crafting from different songs. Having this mode also create dungeons adds a lot of replay value, since these dungeons will be new every time. However, we experimented to see if the level creator would make the same dungeon twice if we used the same song. The levels were similar in some ways, but different. So if the level doesn’t reflect the song that created it in any way as it would in a music game like Audiosurf, and it isn’t the same level each time a song is used, we’re just not sure what the benefit of this is over procedural generation. In all likelihood its just there to be a sales bullet point.
Your enjoyment of The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures really comes down to whether or not you’re willing to put up with its extremely high level of difficulty. If you can, this is a very good dungeon-crawler that will give you many hours of enjoyment. However, if you’re not accustomed to this level of challenge you’re in for a rude awakening, because you’ll probably never make it through the first few dungeons.