Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a monster stuck in the depths of a dungeon, awaiting your demise at the hands of a steely adventurer? Developer Kitsune Games asked just that question, and they emerged with MidBoss, a procedurally-generated turn-based dungeon crawler with a unique possession mechanic. MidBoss was originally developed in 2013 over the course of three days for a “You Are The Villain” challenge for Ludum Dare #25, the accelerated game development event, and then completely overhauled for full release this year.
Most games in the oft labelled “rogue-like” genre tend to put you in the shoes of knights, heroes, or otherwise valiant protagonists looking to clean house of each and every denizen that has taken residence there. In MidBoss, you take on the roll of “Boss”, a silent fire imp who, with the help of a cheerily sarcastic ball of flame Mid, decide to take fortunes into their own hands and defeat all of the monsters ahead of the hero to become the dungeon’s endboss.
That is how your tale always begins; after being verbally accosted by an overly cruel skeleton and shockingly sensitive zombie, you and Mid venture forth into the dungeon to start doing the heroes’ work for them. The possession ability, the imp’s only weapon in his arsenal at onset, is given to you immediately so that you can start making use of the plentiful hosts you will find throughout each floor. Get ready to become overly comfortable in the skin of a rat.
Once you enter the proximity of an enemy, everything transitions into turn-based combat. You can move horizontally and vertically, as well as diagonally, allowing for greater maneuverability when strategizing your movement when you are surrounded by fellow baddies, which happens often the deeper you go. You possess an enemy by casting the spell on them from your quickbar, and then defeating them through a combination of regular attacks and special monster abilities. You attack enemies simply by smashing into them repeatedly with the movement keys, and once defeated you immediately possess the hapless soul. MidBoss’ controls are simple; deceptively so. It is one of those games where that simplicity in design lends itself to the game’s overall strategy, rather than being an impediment to gameplay or structure.
You can use monster abilities from the quickbar to give you the upper hand in battle, which are obtained by possessing different creatures and leveling them up through combat. You should see the look on that skeleton’s face when it gets attacked by its “friend” zombie. Note however, that if you use a debilitating “bleed” ability such as Poison on an enemy before possessing them, you will end up inhabiting the intoxicated body and losing a portion of your health; I found this out the hard way, multiple times. MidBoss gives you some tips towards the beginning of the game, but after the first level it is largely unforgiving. Be prepared to die and learn from your deaths, and in doing so learn how to perfect your possession strategy.
Possession has an alternate use other than to taking over monsters to gain their abilities: completely regenerating your host’s health. Whether you are switching to a new monster or simply possessing the same monster again, you will always take over the new creature will full health; assuming you remembered not to use Poison the turn before defeating them. You start the game with relatively low health, defense, and damage output, but by defeating enemies you level up your imp and receive points to put into one of your four attributes: Violence (damage), Cruelty (criticals and minimum damage), Adamancy (defense), and Relentlessness (HP, mana, and stamina). Everything from the points you invest into your imp, to the creatures you possess and the equipment you pick up, will have an effect on these attributes, so you need to find the best balance for your playstyle and general survivability. You can luckily regain stamina and mana by resting anywhere without monsters, but health can only be regained through possession or a lucky potion.
There are a wealth of useful abilities that you can learn as you body snatch your way from monster to monster, and the longer you stay in any form the stronger it will become, unlocking new abilities to make your descent slightly less daunting. One of the best aspects of MidBoss is that you do not have to worry about losing the abilities you have earned if you decide to possess a new monster you come across. Each new monster you possess is added to an overall roster of possessions for any given playthrough, and you can combine their abilities together to create the ultimate ability fusions. Each monster is allowed to have one additional ability set fused with its current powers, and if you choose to revert back to the imp form, you can stack two monster move-sets on top of your core abilities. By playing around with these combinations, it is possible to end up with some exceptionally powerful hybrids, allowing you to perform oft live-saving combos like stealing health and dashing around your enemy out of melee range. One of the best parts of this system is that it remembers what your ability preference was every time you switch back to a previously possessed monster, so you do not have to re-add each ability.
It is important to note that if you die while you are in your imp form it is an immediate game over. Conversely, if you are wearing another monster’s skin and you are defeated, you are instantly transfigured back into the imp, albeit with negligible amounts of health. This at least gives you a small chance to get away from your adversary, but from my experience it was still hard to escape unless I was facing an exceptionally slow opponent, or was using the aforementioned drain-and-fly combo.
And what would a dungeon-crawler be without loot, right? There is treasure lying around everywhere in the depths of MidBoss, and the hardest part was often choosing what to keep. Many of the items that you pick up, including all of the potions, will be unidentified until you use an identify scroll on them. Equipment comes in your typical RPG rarities, but often unidentified weapons and armor are cursed, which forces the player to suffer a substantial stat-debilitation in exchange for increased damage output or a unique buff. Potions similarly can have an extremely wide-ranging variety of effects, and in a panic, unable to escape a pursuing enemy, I often drank a mystery potion that only expedited my demise.
Luckily if you are low on equipment or identify scrolls and rolling in balls of yarn, the currency of MidBoss, you can visit the Cat Merchant to sell or stock up on equipment and have a laugh. There is not an overwhelming amount of narrative in MidBoss, which is typical of the genre, but those interactions that do happen throughout the dungeon are fraught with punny comedic relief and a willingness to lay into the tropes of the roleplaying world, including some retro filters that are bound to invoke feelings of nostalgia in some gamers. While I have yet to hear the imp’s take on anything, Mid seems to have just the right balance of wit and cynicism to convey the sentiments of a forgotten monster.
In MidBoss, like in many of its inspirations, death is only the beginning of a new adventure. When you lose your life in the dungeons, you are first treated with a Death Card, Kitsune Games’ way of memorializing your tragic defeat for all to see. These Death Cards are not only shareable to social media so that others can delight in your suffering, but they also generate a level seed, which allows you and your friends to compete against one another in the same dungeon. When you start your next foray into the depths, you can pick some of your previous gear from the Death Card to make the journey less dangerous. It took me around a dozen attempts before I finally had the equipment (and wits) to be able to make it deeper than MidBoss‘ third level
A unique combat possession mechanic and a plethora of ways to combine and utilize monster abilities make MidBoss an exceptionally entertaining dungeon crawler. Deceptively simple controls and the ability to attempt so many different strategies give the game a wealth of replay value, which is a critical aspect of any game, especially a procedurally generated RPG. Combined with the light loot-based persistence between playthroughs and shareable Death Cards, Kitsune Games have delivered a distinct take on a fairly saturated genre.
MidBoss will be available on May 25 on Steam for US$14.99/CA$19.99.