Lovecraftian horror has found itself a loyal and dedicated fanbase ever since its creation by H.P. Lovecraft back in the 1920s. Likewise, roguelite video games also have a very dedicated following, granted they do have a much briefer history. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a developer decided to mesh the two genres together, which is exactly what Carry Castle have done with Source of Madness.
A side-scrolling dark action roguelite, Source of Madness puts you in control of an acolyte as you set off to uncover the dark secrets of the moon and fight Lovecraftian monstrosities. It’s certainly an interesting premise and the two concepts do make a great combination. The real question is, how well does Source of Madness execute this vision?
To start off, Source of Madness has a wonderfully built out progression system. Attacks are dictated by the rings that your acolyte is wearing. These range from a close combat slash, to ranged attacks that shoot out fire, bamboo shoots, and more. Certain attacks can be charged up to give them more range and power, while others are quicker but have a lower average damage output.
Rings can be dropped by enemies and as you make it farther in the run, these rings can be higher quality with more buffs and damage. Your life, damage, speed, and other attributes can also be improved by equipping different accessories or hoods that enemies drop. All of these come together to allow for a rather varied combat style.
There are also skill trees which unlock new items, new starting traits, and other buffs. For example, there is a dash mechanic that allows you to teleport through enemies. This can be upgraded to provide more dashes and increase your mobility. Overall, there is plenty of variety when it comes to character generation and overall gameplay.
In fact, it seems that variety was a main focus when creating Source of Madness, because the enemy generation is also done procedurally so every enemy looks different. Now, variety is normally a good thing, but quality comes first and there are a few flaws with the enemy generation in Source of Madness.
Every foe may look different, but because each one is a writhing mess of tentacles and grotesque body parts, these differences aren’t really noticeable unless you’re paying very close attention to each. It doesn’t help that the color palettes and lighting cause a lot of the backgrounds and characters to blend together.
It also doesn’t help that almost every enemy moves and attacks in virtually the same way. They bounce towards you, while swinging tentacles or limbs at you. It looks awkward and certainly doesn’t invoke the sense of cosmic horror that Lovecraft was famous for.
And sadly, most of the game suffers from lackluster visuals. Buildings and landscapes are awkwardly fitted together and the scale of everything is weirdly off. When enemies die they fall apart into multiple pieces and the blood animation looks more like your tattered cape than the blood of an eldritch horror. Fire animations are just pasted over the top of objects and your character’s arm just flops around like a piece of paper when you attack.
I would’ve preferred the game to focus less on visual variety and instead polish the systems that are in place. As I said, the progression system is well built out and the combat mechanics are varied enough to create enough different playstyles to keep playthroughs feeling unique. However, Source of Madness suffers from wanting to do too much at a scale that isn’t practical.
The hub-world is a great example of this. At the beginning of each playthrough you start out in a massive cathedral. It’s so huge that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of where everything is and what you’ve already explored. A well-built out starting hub is essential in roguelite games, and games like Hades or Rogue Legacy 2 do a great job of building theirs out in a way that makes sense for the game. Source of Madness seems to have just gone for as big a hub as possible.
Difficulty scaling is an interesting issue when playing as well. After the first area, enemy difficulty spikes unexpectedly. Their health is much higher and it’s a lot more frustrating trying to kill them. However, once I unlocked the ability to heal myself once per area in a playthrough, I was able to make it all the way through the run without much trouble. I didn’t really encounter any weird difficulty spikes after the second area either.
I have been torn when playing Source of Madness. It is built out with some very solid mechanics for the progression and combat, but the poor enemy variety and AI, coupled with overbearing visuals, ensures it is very hard to enjoy those mechanics.
Source of Madness is downloadable from the Xbox Store