Created in 1932 by Robert E. Howard, the character of Conan the Barbarian, also named Conan the Cimmerian, had the right to a whole bunch of video game adaptations. In the cinema, interpreted by our good old Arnold Schwarzenegger in the years 77, the hero is also illustrated in the cartoon “Conan the adventurer” broadcast on the M6 Kids program or in the famous Club Dorothée in the middle years 90. There have indeed been a few video game adaptations attempting to transcribe the violent universe of our barbarian, such as the MMO Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures by 790, or Conan Exiles, a massively multiplayer survival game released in 9022. Mighty Kingdom and Funcom decide here on the spot by signing this year a colorful Rogue-Lite, but which retains the same creed: the fight!
A scenario pretext for combat
For those hoping to discover Conan’s lore, this is not the time you will learn more, so much the scenario fits on a postage stamp. Thoth-Amon, the evil wizard, seeks to resurrect Xaltotun, an ancient god. Only half succeeding, he decides to organize the Wrath-A-Thon, a competition bringing together the greatest Hyborian warriors. He hopes to identify the fighters whose bodies he can recover, in order to carry out his Machiavellian plan. We then embody one of the 4 heroes selected, aiming to do battle with a slew of enemies, within this Rogue-Lite type title with some notions of RPG.
For neophytes, let’s remember first of all what a Rogue-Lite is. This type of game is not to be confused with the Rogue-Like, yet similar in principle, and from which it originates. In a Rogue-Like, we go through endless levels, often procedurally, at high or even extreme difficulty. We regularly collect weapons, powers or gold there, making us gain in power. But, when our character’s life points drop to zero, we lose all the bonuses recovered and we start the game again without any improvement, as when the title was first launched.
- We will often see this screen.
The Rogue-Lite, in question here, takes up certain principles raised, in particular the procedural levels, the often twisted difficulty and the evolution of the avatar in a global way. But, we keep some advantages from one game to another, facilitating the progression of the next “runs“. Thus, death is not as punitive, the feeling of frustration less recurrent, and depending on the typology of players that we are, the desire to return and the pleasure we feel there may be greatly influenced. Finally, the Rogue-Lite has a final objective, a high point where you can tell yourself that the adventure is over.
In Conan Chop Chop, we will be invited to cross different biomes by facing monsters of all kinds. The title is relatively colorful, with its graphic charter reminiscent of certain flash games, playable on a browser. The cute side of the characters and enemies will probably attract younger players (the title is recommended for years and over), and it will be suitable both for older children and for parents wanting to have fun with their offspring. It will even be possible to sketch a grin in front of the animation of our heroes when they carry a club at arm’s length, a sadistic smile on their lips. If the title can be traveled in its entirety solo, it is indeed to several that it reveals its full potential. Thus, up to 4 players can, online or locally, join forces to defeat the forces of Thoth-Amon and Xaltotun. It’s much more fun, despite, it’s true, a certain loss of readability concerning the action, even becoming messy in the face of certain bosses.
- This boss will give us a hard time.
Each participant chooses his avatar at the start of the game, no duplicate characters being possible. There is of course the famous Conan whose sword is matched only by his legendary strength to leap and stun his enemies. Pallantides and his hammer inflict heavy damage by knocking back the attackers but move much more slowly than the barbarian. The blonde Valeria will use her blade to apply periodic bleeds to the villains, while the more agile pirate queen Bêlit will rain down arrows on the most solid bosses. These heroes are only basic archetypes, nothing prevents us from making Conan the new William Tell or Bêlit a trident juggler.
A accessible gameplay
The commands of the avatars in Conan Chop Chop are quite simple to assimilate, but will undoubtedly require investment to be fully mastered. A tutorial will make us practice the basics of the gameplay that we will detail here. We move with the left joystick and to attack in melee there are two options. Either we tap the X button directing the angle of attack with the movement joystick, or we use the right joystick, allowing with a simple tilt to aim and type simultaneously. Small clarification on melee attacks, they are the only ones with critical hits. The Y button will be very useful for triggering the ultimate attacks specific to each hero, and are subject to a charge gauge that fills up when we take damage or distribute a few mandalas.
- The map is relatively austere.
Each fighter can also attack from a distance, via a combination of the left trigger to grab the bow and the right stick to target and release the arrows. The aim is sometimes a little rough, moreover these shots are subject to an ammunition gauge, which recharges over time or resets between each area crossed. Our avatar can also drop a bomb by pressing the right trigger. Placing this explosive on the ground is relatively useless in combat, because not only does it do little damage to enemies, but above all its use empties almost all of the ammunition gauge, thus making it temporarily impossible to use the bow. We will just place them from time to time on the few obstacles blocking access to chests.
The RB and LB keys are essential to our longevity. Indeed, RB allows us to do a dodge. This “dash“ causes a movement over a medium distance while being immune to damage during this movement. Once the skill is unlocked, it also allows us to pass through certain barriers or other destructible objects to access loot, often of rare or epic quality. The LB key is more dedicated to blocking and parrying. Blocking is represented by a colored bubble surrounding our avatar, which will shrink as we take damage. Once completely damaged, the bubble breaks and we then have to wait a few seconds to reuse it. The parade is more limited in time, of course. It deploys at the start of pressure on LB and its window of use is symbolized by a more pronounced outline of the protection bubble. It is then imperative for us to learn the patterns of the different enemies, as it requires precision. A successful parry then results in a temporary stun of the opponents, giving us free rein to distribute devastating blows in the dentition of our opponents.
Finally, if we are in bad shape, maintaining the B button can put us back on our feet, provided we have a piece of meat in stock. It will therefore be necessary to think of buying some beforehand in the village, or from a merchant along the way, because if we can find from time to time a heart that increases health or restores a small part of it, the skewer cannot be get that in exchange for a large amount of gold. Depending on the charms used, we can carry up to 3 pieces, use one systematically in the event of death, or even have one in our inventory from the start of the game for free, on condition once again, for having unlocked the passive talent necessary to obtain it beforehand.
An uninspired exploration and bestiary
We therefore begin our epic in a peaceful but dilapidated village, to which we will return later. The introductory animation shows us a huge locked stone door in the public square of this hamlet. We then understand that each of the 4 locks placed are linked to entities, which we are going to slay manu-militari in order to thwart the plans of Thoth-Amon. These champions reside in dangerous dungeons within distinct biomes: the forests of Nemedia and Darkwood, the desert of Koth, the frozen steppes of Vanaheim or the volcanic region of Hyperboria.
- The levels follow each other and resemble each other.
Each environment consists of several procedural areas where our reflexes will be put to the test. A welcome idea is also offered on the mini-map at the bottom of the screen. The route to your objective can be shortened by obscuring the areas whose entrance is symbolized by a yellow dot. These special levels are essentially cul-de-sacs, sometimes leading you to a vendor with epic goods, a chest with a lot of gold, or a fight against a cohort of villains. If exploring the entire area becomes too redundant, we can then blindly follow the path marked with a white dot, this is then the shortest way to access the lair of the lieutenants of Thoth-Amon. We also note a big flat on the “dungeon” part of the title. If we can visit each of the rooms to hope to recover a little gold or equipment, very often we do not find anything very folichon there. Worse still, we almost systematically waste life points unnecessarily, whereas it is generally enough to always take a northerly direction, once the threshold of the building has been crossed, to arrive in front of the guardian of the premises. Finally, each place visited is always a bit alike, a feeling of weariness can quickly point the tip of one’s nose.
The path leading to each dungeon is also strewn with pitfalls and we then have to fight against enemies with stereotypical behaviors repeated throughout the adventure , with some variables from one biome to another. We face, for example, melee units (slimes, wolves, brigands), various projectile launchers (bees, plants, archers or bombers) or wizards teleporting on us in order to launch a zone spell varying according to the region. Some optional bosses can be flushed out, but they take over the patterns of their underlings at the frame in an almost identical way. Only the bosses at the end of the course differ somewhat, by their much higher range of stuffing, and brawls taking place in three phases. These fights are also much longer and more complicated than average, especially that of the Frost Giant which represents a big peak in difficulty. One thing to know, however, for multiplayer games, if one of our allies falls in battle, he will be automatically resurrected at the end of each zone, and at each change of phase during a fight against a boss.
At the end of this terrible confrontation, we are teleported to the starting village where access to the next environment will be opened. This break is then the perfect opportunity to evolve your avatar and your equipment, in exchange for the hard-earned gems. These gems are also kept after the death of our avatar, unlike the weapons, armor, shields and charms that we used on our “run” before succumbing.
Death by the way, let’s talk about it. We will face it often, very often. Death is only an eternal restart, and if we actually lose all the equipment worn just before, it is above all the only way to earn skill points. Each death is accompanied by a table displaying some statistics of the game played, and thus provides experience to the player’s account. Acquiring a level then grants a skill point to be spent with the village trainer, among the talent trees of Conan, Bêlit, Valéria or Pallantidès. We can unlock significant permanent bonuses there for the next sessions, ranging from additional hearts of life to the increase in speed, a little more gold at the start of the game or the allocation of traits and ultimate attacks. These “spheres” are identical from one character to another, unlike the ultimates and unlockable traits. It will probably be better to evolve a character to the maximum, before evolving the other protagonists, to facilitate the next sessions. On the other hand, if one of our friends chooses to play with the only hero that we have evolved, it will be imperative to set his sights on an avatar free of any evolution. This can get a little frustrating and we might have opted for the possibility of being able to assign the points acquired at the start of each session.
Each character has its dedicated talent tree.
Finally, let’s get to the village and its shops. Besides the trainer, the second important NPC is the blacksmith. In exchange for the famous gems mentioned above, which, remember, are kept after death, we can buy plans for weapons, armor, shields or charms. If at the launch of the title we only have one purchase offer available per shop, unlocking all the item recipes at each of the sellers allows them to partially retype their building. Thus, by going to level 2, a merchant will give us the choice of two shields instead of one. At level 3, the choice will be even higher, until the last level, where we will face a tough dilemma between 4 pieces of equipment. Gold does not flow particularly afloat, so we have to choose wisely the gear we intend to embark for our wanderings.
Weapons are divided into 4 categories: balanced swords, powerful but slow hammers, fast spears but lower in damage, and bows allowing skirmishes at a good distance. All characters can equip a melee weapon, a bow, a shield and between 2 and 4 charms, and change them at will as they explore, provided they loot or buy them first. All gear contains stats that influence related effects depending on their quality or rarity. A melee weapon increases the chances of critical hits under certain conditions, certain bows can benefit from magic bonuses, armor will increase your life bar more or less, among other things.
The essential point of customization is nevertheless related to charms. Under this name, we find a slew of modifiers allocating us various possibilities of builds. We have the opportunity to engage familiars, add status alterations to our attacks, shoot double arrows or even send tornadoes of ice during a successful parry. If the examples are far too numerous to mention them all, they are unfortunately not all equal in effectiveness. Some will even say that a few of them are useless, but it leaves us the freedom to shape the characters as we wish. Some item descriptions unfortunately lack precision and we will therefore have to try them before judging their relevance, especially since they are available randomly from merchants. Creating an optimized build will then be as much a matter of luck during our expeditions as it is of gold sacrifices at the various points of sale. Unlocking more equipment implicitly leads to less chance of getting the items you want, and therefore more difficulty to go on the road with a perfect build. But it is also what makes the “runs“ unique and more or less interesting.
Finally, all these objects are listed under a dedicated tab in the pause menu, a nice way to know what we have left to obtain . Finally, we mention two significant negative points. The OST is completely anecdotal. The songs are absolutely redundant and bring absolutely nothing to the action, nor to the immersion. If we couple the soundscape to the already repetitive side of the bestiary and the environments, the title can quickly become tiresome for some. Especially since, and this seems relatively inconceivable to us today, we are unable to skip cutscenes or animations of summoning dungeon bosses. That it is not tolerated by the developers on the very first “run“, why not? But we often die, a lot, sometimes in less than 5 minutes, and very sincerely, having to undergo these animations on a loop with each game, even if they only last 10 at 15 seconds, it quickly becomes exhausting. We want the fight, the fight, right away. By the way, we’re going back there now!
Tested on Xbox Series X.