"Cardinal Quest" is a roguelike game: Your character walks through randomly generated dungeon levels, fights monsters, collects loot, learns spells, and becomes better at most of this when he rises a level.
The game is set in a generic fantasy environment and has no story to speak of (unless you count the one-paragraph introduction and epilogue as "story"). There are no friendly NPCs in the game and there is no way to interact with the enemies except fighting them.
Movement is turn-based and tile-based. Combat is simulated with old-school RPG mechanics: The character's stats determine its chances to hit the enemy and the amount of damage that can be caused. Character progression happens automatically and does not offer the player any choices. In general, the gameplay is very simplistic - the only decisions that the player may make are which spells and which weapon to equip; also, fighting the monsters requires a minimum of tactical thought (positioning of the player, usage of spells and/or melee).
The game uses tile-based 8-bit "retro" graphics, which get their job done without looking particularly great or ugly. The game does not feature any animations at all (unless you count the movement of a static bitmap across a screen, like a fireball graphic originating at your character and moving towards the enemy, as such). The resolution of the graphics is very low, and especially on larger screens, the game looks extremely blocky and pixelated.
The game features plain, lo-fi sound effects reminiscent of other 8-bit games. The pitch of most sound effects is rather high. This, together with the background music, gives the game a playful atmosphere.
The background music is simple, there are only two pieces of music and most of the time you hear one of those looping endlessly. Despite its brevity it manages to not get annoying.
Contrary to the roguelike tradition, this game can be played entirely with the mouse (though keyboard shortcuts are available as well), and the interface is very intuitive and easy to understand. Movement and attacks work through simple mouseclicks, and equipment can be ordered and changed with "drag and drop" mechanics.
The map of the current dungeon level can be displayed as an overlay on the screen, and you can keep it displayed while your character moves. This is a useful feature when you've cleaned a level and just want to get to the stairs (to the next level) quickly.
The interface and the controls cannot be customized in any way.
EASE OF USE:
The game installs without any hassles, though it does require the Adobe AIR environment. This will be downloaded and installed automatically if it's not already present, but still I'd appreciate some information about such requirements in the product information.
The game is very easy to understand. The interface is so intuitive that it doesn't need any instructions, nevertheless an informative overlay (which explains the basic screen layout) is displayed in the beginning of the game. Information about all items and spells is available in the inventory screen, and character stats are explained in the character screen. There is no tutorial or manual, but the game is so simple that neither is needed.
One caveat: The games describes the fighter as the easiest character, but I found the mage far easier to play, since he isn't forced to enter melee, and can usually disengage and retreat more easily.
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE:
The game is extremely short and has very little content. The game features only 8 dungeon levels (that's an estimation; I haven't counted them while playing, so it might be one more or less), and it doesn't even have an end fight - simply clearing the last level wins the game. There is only about a dozen of different spells, about the same number of enemies, and only a handful of weapons or other equipment.
The game also doesn't have a score or achievements, so once you have experienced the three available character types and most of the spells, there is no replay value left. Theoretically, the randomly generated levels _could_ provide better replay value, but the game has so little content that it quickly gets repetitive even despite this feature.
The game has no save feature, but it is so short that none is really needed.
The game is enjoyable for 2-3 hours, but once you've solved it, and played it perhaps a dozen of times, it has nothing left to surprise you. The biggest strength of this game is its accessibility, but with so little actual content, I cannot give it more than 2 stars.
Review Date: 13/Apr/2012 -- Program version: 1.2 -- Progress: completed the game once and started about a dozen characters