I’m not sure that I could say that I’m a huge fan of roguelites, but I seem to always try them out. I guess I should probably note that it’s really just that they don’t hold my attention for long, but I always find them interesting enough on the surface to try. What I appreciate about a good roguelite is that it takes a simple twist in a very basic system and repeats it with minor deviations. Done well, this can result in wildly creative games with nearly infinite replayability. Done poorly, it’s just a boring half-hearted attempt at a game.
I’ve played a lot of really interesting roguelites that were published through HumbleBundle, but I’ve also stumbled across a fair number of duds. Alt Shift recently released their Crying Suns, and it caught my eye and then my interest, but not in the same way that a lot of roguelites have over the years, so I decided to give it a rip.
Try It Free
Right off the bat, there’s a free demo. If I’d have liked nothing else about the game, I’d have downloaded it and tried just for that. Partly because it’s such a dangerous thing to do for a roguelite. If your system isn’t spot-on and fun, that demo is going to cost you a lot of potential impulse sales.
I respect the guts it takes to do something like that a great deal, though. Crying Suns started off on Kickstarter where they received just over €72,000 ($80,000 US) barely a year ago to develop the game. They rolled out a beta version just a couple weeks later, which suggests to me that the Kickstarter was probably as much about the publicity as the money. It was a plan that worked as they announced a partnership with Humble Bundle a few months later in February 2019.
Throughout the process, backers had early access to beta versions, but a free demo was offered to the general public as early as 23rd October. That was just under three months since successfully funding their project on Kickstarter. That’s partly why I think the game was well on its way by the time they announced the crowdfunding campaign.
You have to have some pretty serious confidence in your game to let people play early versions of your demo for free and months before you actually go to release. I like that sort of thing a whole lot. That level of confidence from a new studio can be dangerous, but I love it when entrepreneurial people have a good idea and swing hard for the fences with determination.
I saw that demo on Steam and immediately bought the game because that’s the sort of risk-taking and self-confidence that I want to reward. I wasn’t disappointed and I don’t think you will be either, but if you’re not so sure, the demo is right there for you to try the game out for free.
Smart UI Design
Another thing that stood out to me when I started the game was how impressively well done the UI is in Crying Suns. It’s clean and presents all the relevant information. Somehow the UI has this really great retro feel to it, yet it’s still highly functional despite all the simplicity.
There are four main versions of the UI. The space battles (which I’ll talk a bit more about below), missions to planet surfaces, maps, and your normal ship operations. There are various activities in each of those and a handful of other UIs that are more transitional, but those are the four I’ll focus on in this article.
The bridge you spend most of your time on is fantastic for a lot of reasons, the immediate and most obvious reason being the gorgeous view through the main viewer in the background. It takes up nearly the whole screen and while in some sense it might seem wasted space, it carries the game in a lot of ways. Each new system, each new planet, each encounter begins with an incredible visual introduction to the situation. One of my first encounters in the game was just coming out of the transition in front of a large red star, a scene that immediately reminded me of a similarly powerful visual from Doctor Who episode “The End of the World.” The scene in which Rose and the Doctor watch through the large window as the remains of Earth float past, highlighted by the red giant in that background was emotionally powerful.
A small touch many others have missed is the subtle change of the light as you travel system to system. Some are more red, others more blue, but it all impacts the bridge with a slight tint. It’s a touch of drama that combines well with the rest of the game to create ambiance that supports the story very well.
The star map and local system UIs follow a similarly simplistic aesthetic, but they still show all the relevant information. I found each to be very additive to the experience and neither really felt like a feature that was just thrown in to move the story from one location to the other. I’m not versed enough in the science of aesthetics to explain how they managed to be so expressive with such a minimalist design, but it worked and allows very simple graphics to feel far more high tech than they really are.
Battles Are Interesting
The battle UI again follows that same minimalistic theme while supporting some pretty cool game mechanics. What I liked about the battles were that they’re a really interesting combination of hex-based and real-time strategy. You have the option to pause the battle at any time, and you will, but orders are given on a hex basis. Ships are ordered to go to a hex, engage other craft on a hex, or you order your main weapons to fire on a hex. Everything moves and abilities charge in time, but the orders are all given hex by hex.
The battlefields become increasingly complex and are populated with a range of features from asteroids to EMP generators to various types of turrets. Features on the map can be hostile to the player, the NPC, both, or even neither in some cases. You have to start each battle with a moment to consider the environment and the compliment of ships your enemy is showing. Each fight will be different from the last, and that’s something that I think will keep me coming back to Crying Suns.
Enemy ships seem to be randomly equipped and use a variety of strategies, and since your own strategy is based on the unique upgrades you’ve given your own ship and specific compliment of deployable craft you have available, every battle is completely different from others. I’ve had battles where I had to use my fighters and drones defensively while I hammered at their ship with my main weapons, and battles that went just the opposite.
One thing that I’ve started to notice is that going deep in one direction at the start seems to be a good idea. There’s still that element of luck because you could find the one battle combination that counters you easily, but focusing on a specific strategy early and optimizing it has given be the best results. Whether that path is focusing on a carrier-like strategy that emphasizes use of deployed craft or one in which I mostly use my main guns to pound the opposing ship into submission, picking one and going deep has proven the most effective so far. The choice frankly revolves around the first few battles in the first sector. If I can pickup a great weapon or upgraded ships early, then I start building my strategy around supporting that lucky break.
Characters and Dialogue
Another component of the game that I really liked a lot was the collection and use of bridge officers, which also happens to show off more of the really intelligent UI design in Crying Suns. The initial officers you can select from are randomized, as well as those you find while playing, so it contributes to the dynamic nature, and thus replay value, of the game a great deal.
Officers are probably the most defining component of your strategy, in large part because they come into play all through the game. Their obvious functionality is in the bonuses they bring to combat. Officers will either bring specific abilities such as applying a shield to each unshielded ship component over time, improve something such as the speed of weapon recharges, or some other specifically useful bonus or ability.
Otherwise, officers are critical in combat because they repair damaged components. When a section of your ship takes a certain amount of damage, that component fails, which will prevent your main weapon from charging or keep you from being able to launch any additional strike craft, for example. Officers repair damage when slotted in the effected section, and moving them from one to the other takes time. Thus, you’ll likely want to put a spare officer in any available slot whether they have bonuses that help or not.
Officers also have a pair of skills, or three if their bonus is an extra skill. These skills are used on planetary missions, and it’s how the success of the mission is calculated, along with how many of your supporting marines are killed or wounded. Each mission includes a number of resource opportunities and dangers, and each of those is assigned a basic true-false check against a skill. If the supporting bridge officer has a given skill, then the check passes. If not, then either that resource is not collected or a semi-random number of marines take damage. Marines damaged once are wounded and recover at the end of the mission. Marines already wounded and taking additional damage are killed.
Bridge officers also can often impact interactions with NPCs through those same skills. Sometimes a pirate can be talked down by an officer skilled in persuasion, or another with experience in engineering can help make an emergency repair. Because Crying Suns is a roguelite game and each battle is a chance to take damage, collecting resources without the risk is typically the ideal move. Thus, a bridge officer with three skills may seem to be weak, but because those skills matter in two key areas of the game, it’s often the better bonus.
This game is an easy buy for me. That said, it has a demo and you ought to try that out first just to make sure it really is a game that you’d like. For me, the game was simple in interface and complex in content. That’s a winning combination that I want to support, and the fact that the team had the intestinal fortitude to offer a free demo made it a no brainer to my mind.
The game is relatively easy to get into, but the complexity of how encounters are put together makes it one you’ll get to spend a lot of time getting past basic familiarity and to anything resembling expertise. That dynamic nature also lends a distinct level of replay value to Crying Suns that extends the life of the game.
While the dev studio is new, the frequency of updates and impressively intelligent UI design suggest this game has serious long-term viability. I easily see them patching any problems quickly and wouldn’t be surprised to see expansions or content updates released moving forward with some regularity.
That all combines to make the game an easy recommendation for me, and I also look forward to following these devs to see what they come up with next. Cool studios with cool ideas are worth supporting, and if they go for this minimalist type of game and then offer a free demo, then I feel like they’ve already earned my money. The fact that Crying Suns is also an interesting game with a lot of really smart design ideas and a great story means it’s a game I want to share with you all and make sure it’s on your radar. If you haven’t tried the game, give the demo a go and let me know what you think below.
I’m specifically interested to hear from you all what you think about the demo being offered in the first place. Demos aren’t common anymore, but I’d really like to see them make a comeback. This is definitely the sort of game I see making a really good case for the return of the demo. Let me know what you think!