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19 February, 2014

Isle of Bxnes Review

We’ve seen many trends come and go in the relatively short life of the gaming industry and there’s one currently gaining momentum I’m excited about - the resurrection of the roguelike. You know a game like this as soon as you see it: brutal difficulty, constant (and often permanent) deaths, and very little handholding. 

We’ve seen a few of these games successfully make their way to iOS in recent times, notably Cardinal Quest, Hoplite and 100 Rogues. Isle of Bxnes throws its hat into this hardcore RPG ring and despite some limitations, developer Whalenought Studios has done an impressive job showcasing the best of the roguelike genre.

Isle of Bxnes prides itself on its inaccessibility, smugly looking down on those not worthy of its time. Permadeath, little guidance, punishing difficult – Isle of Bxnes has it all. At first, even the title seems unpronounceable (it’s “Isle of Bones,” by the way). Once you get past scratching your head on that, you discover that you’re the leader of a little tribe floating around in the ocean, plundering islands and fighting barbaric savages. Isle of Bxnes doesn’t focus too much on the story, which is good, because the ending is just plain weird. 

You’re thrown into the game with stunningly little direction. Perhaps too little direction. I bumbled around for a good ten minutes trying to figure out what all the buttons did. Once I had the basics covered, I started dying. Boy, did I start dying. As much as I enjoy permadeath RPGs, when I actually start dying, the charm diminishes. That being said, Isle of Bxnes does provide you with the means of taking the edges of its sharp difficulty. Your scavenged resources can be used to unlock new abilities and discovered relics can grant additional bonuses. But you’re never made to feel comfortable. My palms were constantly sweaty with the knowledge I was always one malevolent clubbing away from a smug “Game Over” screen.

For a game that prides itself on difficulty, it’s particularly unfortunate that Isle of Bxnes struggles with its interface. Too often my deaths were the cause of fiddly controls, causing me to roll directly into an enemy’s attack or charge into a mob of witch doctors. And yes, that’s as scary as it sounds. This was the most challenging aspect of the game to overcome, and it shouldn’t be in a title that, by its nature, is difficult. Towards the back end of the game, I also experienced some performance issues. It may be funny to roll off the map, but not so much when it’s your last life. 

Admittedly, I was tempted to put Isle of Bxnes down because of the fiddly controls and occasional lag. But I persisted. And in doing so I reaped the reward that was lying just beneath the rusty controls - an enjoyably difficult roguelike RPG. I would love to see a sequel or an update that fixes the control problems and adds a bit more depth to the story and character development so other don’t have to slog through to the good stuff as I did. Nonetheless, Whalenought Studios has provided an experience that’s not just skin and bones.

Grab the game here.

Verdict: Isle of Bxnes is unrepentant in its brutality and challenge, and its inaccessibility will be a turn off for many people. But if you’re willing to dig in and master the fiddly controls, you will unearth the bones of a very solid roguelike.

You can also check out our Top 10 Tips for Isle of Bxnes.

    - Isle of Bxnes
    - Cardinal Quest 
    - 100 Rogues 
    - Hoplite

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