I have recently been given the opportunity to play a new Indie game called Ampersat before it has even been released. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this game, the first thing you should know is that the term “Ampersat” is the unofficial name of this symbol: @. The reason for this name is clear, as your character is actually an Ampersat, and your goal is to return language back to your home village. This game is a mix of several different game inspirations, such as retro Legend of Zelda, Gauntlet and Enter The Gungeon, and uses these different elements to craft this diverse experience.
The story of the game is that an evil sorcerer has stolen all the letters, and you must free them from captivity. One of the truly unique features from this game is that when you free a letter, the game actually plugs this letter into all of the messages in the game that contain that letter. Since language has been stolen away, all the signs and shops in the village are filled with empty passages, so in order to decipher the messages, you need to collect the missing letters. This can cause certain features to be difficult in the early game, as you can potentially buy new armor or weapons without knowing what they do, as the descriptions are empty.
When looking at the controls for this game, they are fairly straight forward, with the most interesting one being that you have two forms of attacks. Your left click controls your long range spells, and your right click controls your close range melee attacks. This is a good mechanic, as you can seamlessly switch between the two, and do not have to use one exclusively, and you should not. However, while I like that control mechanic, I am not as keen on the movement in the game. WASD controls the base movement, which is a plus, but the movement can feel a bit slow and sticky at times, and with the number of potential enemies and the relative lack of fire power early on, this can seem a bit daunting. Since these are just “First Impressions,” it is quite possible that there are higher octane spells with larger areas of effect, and knocking out hordes of enemies will become easier.
I would say that the mechanic I had the most issue with was the dash. As someone who has played a fair share of top-down game such as this, the dash mechanic can make or break the flow of the game. Other top-down games such as Hades make the dash essential to mastering the gameplay, and completing the game without a crisp dash would be near impossible. The dash mechanic in Ampersat leaves a few things to be desired. The first issue is that you cannot change the key-bind on keyboard, leaving the dash bound to left-shift, which is not horrible, but spacebar would be much more effective. In a game without a jump mechanic, space should (in my opinion) always be the spacebar, as it is the easier button to quickly control, and the spacebar in Ampersat is used to switch between spells instead. Secondly, while the dash mechanic allows you to move through enemies (which is important), it does not allow you to move through traps or enemy breath attacks unharmed, which is a pretty large missed opportunity. The dash loses a large amount of its effectiveness and utility if you are not fully impervious while using it.
Ampersat does have a lot of redeeming qualities, however, such as the large and diverse skill-tree, which in my opinion enhances most games. As you level up, you are able to spend the points you have earned on upgrades to things such as max health, melee damage, and resistances to different elemental attacks. And along with skill-tree upgrades, there are a plethora of different weapons and armors that you can buy from the shops, or more importantly, find along your adventures.
Ampersat is almost like playing a few different games at one time, which is both a positive and negative. Depending on if you enter a dungeon or choose to explore the well, the game changes. The dungeons are levels with various puzzles, where you can do a set of challenges in order to unlock bonus rewards, and they always end in a boss fight. The boss fights can range from a puzzle that you can completely without actually fighting to a bit tedious at times. I personally enjoyed the well option a bit more, as this was more of a classic dungeon crawler, where you would continue to delve deeper into the dungeon, exchanging easy enemies and basic loot for tougher enemies and far greater rewards.
One of the diversifying features of Ampersat is the wide array of enemies you would go up against, each of which with different stats and abilities. The creatures were all lowercase and uppercase letters, and the names and traits would depend on their names, like the enemy called the “white witch” was the lowercase w, and the “Elephant” was the capital E. I found this to be charming and clever, as well as a little bit confusing, if you could not easily tell which letter you were face to face with.
A factor in the game that I did not care for personally was that whenever you died you would lose not only half of your collected gold, but also half of your unused experience points. While I understand that it adds something in the way of deciding between pushing forward and falling back, it is not a feature that I appreciate in a game. If you are gaining momentum in a dungeon, and then you die and lose experience points, this causes you to essentially be in the same place that you started in, since you cannot upgrade skills when you are returned to the town, and there is no way to reclaim lost loot. In a game such as Hollow Knight (I understand they are very different), when you die and lose your geos (money), you can return to the spot where you died in order to retrieve your abandoned spoils. I have always been alright with dying in games, as long as you have something to show for your effort afterwards, such as unused skill points or knowledge in the form of enemy attack patterns, but losing both gold and experience points seems like a steep price to pay.
Ampersat is a unique experience that I would not recommend to everyone, but there are many elements that this game has that make it worth playing. Since there are many levels to explore, and a lot of skills and equipment to gain, the game offers a fair amount of content to discover. If you are someone who enjoys retro style games, and you feel like giving Ampersat a try, feel free to check it out and let me know where you agree or disagree with me!