Douglas Cowley clearly knows how strong Hoplite’s core system is. The game relishes in its refusal to coddle the player. There is almost no storyline and the soundtrack is a single repeating track that gets tiresome pretty quick. The game is also made up of only a handful of different 2D character sprites and features almost no animations. Hoplite is a confident labor of love.
Hoplite is a roguelike, which is a breed of games that has seen something of a resurgence lately. Ideas like randomly generated stages and permadeath are no longer fringe game concepts after such hits as Spelunky, FTL: Faster Than Light and The Binding of Isaac. In fact the first version of Hoplite was created last year as part of the 2013 Seven-Day Roguelike Challenge game jam.
In Hoplite, you’re a knight who needs to clear the 16th floor of a lava-filled hellscape in order to complete the game. Movement is presented in very simple, hexagonal tiles—not so unlike the look of a board game. At heart, Hoplite is a straight-shooting, turn-based tactical action game. While that’s not usually my cup of tea, Hoplite cuts out a lot of the extra baggage of both roguelikes and turn-based tactical games to create an experience where every move you make really does matter.
Your knight has a variety of things he can do outside of his normal attack, including throw his spear, jump and bash with his shield. Each of these actions are perfectly balanced against the four enemy types. Yes—there are only four, which is kind of a bummer. But between the limited amount of actions and enemy types, Hoplite creates great opportunity for tactical strategizing. You’ll feel really smart once you’ve mastered the game.
The final piece of Hoplite’s strategy is the upgrade that you get in each stage. After clearing out the enemies, you’ll head on over to the altar and choose which upgrade you want. You only get one per stage, so having to choose between reviving your health, increasing your maximum health or acquiring a randomly generated attack modification gets really dicey in the later stages.
As in most roguelikes, beating the game isn’t quite the end—there is always a higher score to attain and more stages to clear. Hoplite is surprisingly streamlined, though, trimmed down into a game that boasts an amazing amount of strategy and fun in a very modest package. That kind of confidence will hook you and its core mechanics will leave you wishing for more—and until FTL hits the iPad later this year, it just might be the most solid roguelike out on mobile devices.
Luke Larsen is the tech editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @lalarsen11.