Slay the Spire is an atypical rogue-lite game cleverly disguised as a card game. While climbing the eponymous spire, you fight monsters and bosses in three acts with your expanding (sometimes shrinking) deck of attacks, skills, and powers. As you fight and die, you unlock new cards and relics to help you on your repeated climbs.
Slay the Spire doesn’t play like your average rogue-lite, turn-based RPG, or card game, but it does draw aspects from all three. After picking one of three characters and getting thrown into the spire, you’re equipped with nothing but your starting relic and a deck of cards that always starts the same. You choose your path as you climb the spire, each step along the way being one of six different room types: Rest, Enemy, Elite, Shop, Chest, or Mystery. Mystery rooms can be any of the others except for Rest and Elite, but they also commonly feature one of many events that can help or hinder the player. The controls of the game are fully customizable, and it offers controller support. While in combat, the game can be played with just a mouse or just a keyboard on top of K&B and controller, leaving very few limits on who can play and how.
At first, Slay the Spire proves to be quite the challenge. I actually bought it, refunded it, then bought it again to give it another shot, and I’m glad I did. Knowledge is the most powerful thing you gain as you do more and more runs, though the unlocks can also help a great deal. Enemy patterns and moves, which enemies and elites spawn on which floor, and different deck builds are all necessary to actually Slay the Spire. The large cast of enemies, events, relics, and cards all start to become familiar yet each run manages to keep its uniqueness by only giving the player so many opportunities to see events or get certain cards in each run. Once the player gains the knowledge, adaptiveness becomes the name of the game. You may have a favorite build, but sometimes the game simply won’t give you what you need to pull it off, and other times you’ll get something early on that makes another build so powerful that it’s a guaranteed win if you lean into it. This tends to lead the player to try out builds they may not have thought of or like, ending up in a new favorite build being explored. This happened to me with Exhaust Ironclad, which I hated the thought of because exhausting cards removes them from use until your next battle but ended up finding hilariously strong with the right relics and cards.
Like most Rogue-lites, but more so than others, the game is light on lore and lets you fill in the wide gaps between character and relic descriptions. Much like Dark Souls (Slay the Spire is not the Dark Souls of card games, just to be clear), everything you’re able to learn about the world will either be from what you’re fighting, descriptions of relics, and YouTube videos where someone explains how a small cluster of pixels proves that the main protagonist is actually the antagonist’s long lost sibling.
The sound design is nothing that will bring a tear to your eye, but it certainly services the game well. Different attacks have their own hit sounds, with some being more visceral than others, but by and large, the sounds are very simple. The audio is not at all required and can easily be muted or supplemented with your own music, so Slay the Spire fits the “pick up and play a quick game for 15 minutes” theme perfectly. The art design and style has a wonderfully unique feel to it, as opposed to the rather staple sounds. A wide variety of pastel colors are used and blend together nicely, without one color really dominating the others throughout a full run. By far the greatest achievement of the art design is the enemies. Each one can be recognized the instant they appear on screen, and most portray just from their look what sorts of actions they can take. My favorite part about the whole game is how enemies never really seemed out of place. Since there’s no lore, you’re not primed to expect space marines or knights in armor or eldritch horrors, and what you get is a whole host of enemies, each of which seems to belong to their own group and have their own stories. Crow cultists, robots and automatons, and goblins all prowl the Spire, and even the boss that consists of a giant donut and octahedron didn’t immediately strike me as odd. Why they didn’t I can’t say, but perhaps at that point, I had subconsciously accepted that this game was consistently inconsistent with how nonsensical it could be. At times you’ll be fighting a knight and his cleric friend, others you’ll come across a knight at a bridge who demands you bet on a chicken fight.
There is no greater example of just how silly the game can get than the playtester art on cards. Playtester card art is a setting that silently pops up when enabling the beta on steam, and after being enabled the game instantly becomes 100x better. The art on cards is replaced with puns, jokes, memes, stick figures, and whole new levels of stupidity that never fail to bring up a laugh.
Slay the Spire runs well and is definitely deserving of your time and money, assuming you’re the type of person who likes these games. If you know you’ll enjoy it or are considering it, there’s relatively little risk due to its low cost, and the fact that it is still in active development at the time of writing. It is a great game one can play anywhere for any length of time, making it a great travel game.