Battle Planet – Judgement Day perfectly illustrates a problem with ‘roguelikes’

Despite its slick looks, Battle Planet – Judgement Day is not looking like a good video game. It has repetitive gameplay and somewhat broken mechanics. It suffers from “Look at all that juice” syndrome, where characters repeat a single voice line endlessly for no reason. There’s a crippling lack of gameplay variety throughout each run. Beyond all that, the game’s biggest problem is its supposed genre. Advertised as a “rogue-lite top-down shooter,” Battle Planet is the perfect example of overstretching “roguelikes” and “roguelites” to their breaking point. The overzealous use of “roguelite” here seemingly steered the design in directions that just made everything worse.

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Battle Planet Shotgun Gameplay

Battle Planet has three playable characters as of now. They have mostly superficial differences, with some varied stats and a unique movement option. You only start with just a single character unlocked. The other two show up as bosses you need to defeat in order to use them. Sensible enough so far. The problem comes in what you do before that point. There’s a set stage order that’s always two rounds of disarming bombs and one round of either outgunning or outrunning a wave of enemies. Just the fact that these gameplay variants come up in a predictable order already starts to reveal Battle Planet‘s problems.

As you might guess from the name, you play on a small spheroid space rock. It’s like if Super Mario Galaxy had a lot more guns and viscera. That concept is one of the best aspects of the game, stretching out a typical top-down shooter map into a rotating sphere. However, when you think roguelike, you think unpredictable rooms, locked doors, or some sort of dungeon to crawl through. The procedural generation here just places rocks in a different order, but that’s supremely inconsequential to the run and gun gameplay. I never found myself truly boxed in, and the pre-boss rounds felt trivial because of it.

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Battle Planet Official Screenshot 1

Instead of maps to navigate, Battle Planet seems to want the deterioration of the planet to be a big factor. If you fail to disarm the bombs during that specific round, they’ll explode and leave patches of lava you can’t navigate. The game even tells you what percentage of the planet is intact after each round but the issue is that only the bomb rounds feed into this percentage, at least in the early game. Also, it’s ridiculously easy to disarm them once you know what you’re doing. Much like the random rock placement, it feels like a mechanic that’s lying there inactive, refusing to contribute to the overall design.

Another way that roguelikes typically keep players looping through content over and over is weapon and enemy variety. In my time with Battle Planet, I found five types of enemies (if I’m being generous) and a single additional weapon. Said weapon (a pretty weak shotgun) had just six slugs before you returned to your standard peashooter. In-game powerups are nonexistent, you instead need to buy upgrades after each run using your collected currency. Of course, the upgrades quickly became so expensive that I went several runs without the ability to buy anything; another potential vector for variety lost.

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Battle Planet Official Screenshot 2

When combined together, Battle Planet becomes a repetitive treadmill. It’s a game that expects you to enjoy slogging through the same content over and over. This doesn’t sound different than the typical roguelike/roguelite experience, but there’s a big catch. From what I played, Battle Planet doesn’t do enough to qualify as a roguelike. Your character isn’t growing or changing abilities during your run. Each level has a similar layout due to the “planet” gimmick. Enemies and weapons never change, and neither do your objectives. This is a confused arcade shooter trying to fit inside of a roguelike’s shoes without understanding what makes that genre tick.

If Battle Planet were to make an honest attempt to be a rogue-type experience, it would have to immediately have way more random elements to keep things fresh. Instead of a grand total of three objectives, there should be upwards of 10 that cycle every round. The shotgun you pick up should be one of at least a dozen varieties of weapons. The enemies should draw from a pool of many different designs. You should never see everything a given level has to offer your first time through. It’s definitely a lot of extra effort, but it’s a formula that has worked wonders for everything from Dungeons of Dredmor all the way to Void Bastards.

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Battle Planet Character Mugshot Gameplay

While that would be great, it doesn’t seem that this is the way that Battle Planet wants to go. Despite its own protests to the contrary, Battle Planet is an arcadey wave shooter and it should embrace that. The developers at Threaks have captured a great visual style as the characters look unique up-close and the environments pop off the screen. Looking at what’s here, some sort of high score survival mode seems like the best way forward. Landing on a rock and staving off enemies as you try to keep the planet alive as long as possible just makes sense. It’s certainly more logical than constantly jetting off onto other worlds after a boss fight and slowly grinding out currency to upgrade your movement speed.

As this is ultimately a preview, it’s worth keeping an eye on what Battle Planet looks like for its final release next month. With some infusions of content and expedited progression in the early game, the developers could really turn this around. Despite the game’s internal identity crisis, there’s a real spark of something novel here and hopefully that spark eventually gets to shine through.

GameRevolution previewed Battle Planet – Judgement Day on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.