The Cave of Ātman
RPGs get a bad rap sometimes, what with their tendency to demand you stop the plot and spend at least three hours grinding to make your party stronger before you can so much as tickle the next boss. Chris and Daniel Johnson have done their best to not only streamline this, but also make it appealing, by turning powering up your party into a puzzle in their turn-based retro-styled game The Cave of Ātman. Your party of heroes has descended into the titular cave, where every floor is filled with monsters... but you can't just mindlessly start hacking away. As the tutorial will show you, each level is a puzzle. Click a hero to select them, then again anywhere that highlights blue to move them there. Once they've moved, red squares will show your attack range, or you can click them again to cancel your move. The catch is that your attacking hero has to be of equal or greater level (displayed with a number on the sprite) of the enemy they're trying to wallop. When you destroy an enemy, its aura will drop and slide a space (vanishing if it hits an obstacle or lands in a hole!), and any character that picks it up by moving over it goes up a level. Oh, and did I mention each character can only move and attack once per stage? As a result, every move you make and monster you slay needs to be carefully plotted out.
With pitch-perfect old school music by Hayden Davenport and some clean yet cute as a button pixel graphics, The Cave of Ātman is easy on the eyes and the ears, though some tracks are short enough that their loop can render them annoying. Though the game starts easy, as different heroes with attack restrictions are introduced and more obstacles crop up, things get more challenging without ever feeling like they become overcomplex in the process. Chances are you'll find that it still takes a long time to build up to anything that'll stymie you for longer than a moment or two, largely because the difficulty curve seems to go up and down like a wave for most of the game. The biggest challenge might actually be that the tutorial simply doesn't go over anything other than the bare basics, so you're left to figure out how each hero works on their own, or, for example, that two auras can be combined into a more powerful one. Some players will actually enjoy having to puzzle out the mechanics, however, and will find The Cave of Ātman a clever, if simple, little game that knows how to make the most out of very little. The ability to undo a single move rather than being forced to restart an entire level would have been nice, but for fans of strategic turn-based puzzling, The Cave of Ātman is well worth firing up.