Platform: iPhone & iPad
Glancing at a Slay the Spire screenshot might lead you to conclude that it’s not for you. But hold that finger for a second before you back out, because this is something seriously special.
Slay the Spire is way easier to grasp than its turn-based RPG trappings would suggest. If you’ve ever played and enjoyed a game like Card Crawl, Void Tyrant or Solitairica, you’ll be perfectly at home with this brand of snappy roguelike card combat.
Your fantastical warrior (one of four unlocked in sequence) faces off against a succession of enemies. When it’s your turn to go, you have three move points to spend on various maneuvers before handing over to your opponent.
These maneuvers manifest as a personalized deck of cards that you accrue throughout a run, each card of which has its own offensive and defensive attributes as well as a move cost.
You’ll need to balance laying the smackdown on your foes with raising a sufficient shield to mitigate their impending attacks, which are handily telegraphed to you ahead of time. Beating enemies will snag you exotic new cards, as well as relics and potions that imbue you with bonus attributes – permanently and temporarily, respectively.
You get the chance to collect more of these on a branching overworld map that features shops, chests, mysterious bonus events, and the odd ‘Elite’ mini-boss.
That’s really everything you need to known to get started in Slay the Spire. Where it shines – and where it will keep you coming back for potentially hundreds of hours – is in the endless tactical nuances that have been built on top of this solid foundation.
Most obviously, there’s the fact that each of the four heroes plays completely differently, with their own distinctive cards and attributes. The Ironclad is your typical hardy sword-wielding warrior who heals in between rounds, while the Silent is a mage with the capacity to increase their card and move count.
Trickier to master is the Defect, with its capacity to install orbs that impart offensive and defensive effects at the end of a turn. Perhaps most advanced of all is the Watcher, a warrior monk-like figure who can enter states of stat-shifting Calm or Rage.
We’d happily name Slay the Spire game of the year and hand out full marks at this point, but for that fact that this is an imperfect port of the original PC game. The touch controls are disappointingly flaky, with all-too-frequent unintentional card selections. The lack of an iCloud save function, too, is deeply irritating in a game that you’ll likely want to play on all of your iOS devices.
That said, this really is a much better experience on iPad than it is on iPhone. Those aforementioned control issues are only exacerbated on a smaller screen, alongside tiny text and button prompts.
Slay the Spire on iOS is a deeply imperfect version of a game that openly flirts with perfection. This almighty, endlessly replayable card battler could become one of the very best games on the App Store, but it might take an update or two to reach its full potential.