Nyu Media is a prolific small publisher focused on bringing Doujins, the Japanese equivalent to indie games, to a worldwide audience. Whenever they release something new, I usually buy it sight unseen. Nyu Media certainly know what they are doing when picking the cherries from that big pile of untapped Japanese indie potential. Their latest Steam release, Croixleur Sigma, is actually a refined version of Croixleur, a hack and slash game by small Doujin developer souvenir circ. which was originally released early last year. With all the extra care and attention, Croixleur should shine like a little, exotic gemstone, right? It does, but it is still has a few dull edges that warrant closer examination.
Let’s get this out of the way first: if you don’t like Japanese anime aesthetics or their different approach to storytelling, you’ll be hard-pressed to get any enjoyment out of Croixleur. It’s Japanese through and through. This is of course understandable, but other doujin games don’t wear their heritage on their sleeves just as ostentatiously. In any case, Croixleur has it all: the big eyes, the schoolgirl costumes, ambivalent allusions to shared bathing fun (the game is still safe for all ages, though), and a flimsy plot that doesn’t make too much sense. To call the game’s story perfunctory would actually be generous. There’s much talking, but little is actually said. The basic premise is that two rival factions vie for control in the kingdom of Ilance. Two young sword sorceresses in training are sent into a tower chock full of monsters. Whoever reaches the top floor first wins the game, and that’s essentially all there is to it. Luckily, dialogue can be skipped, which throws you right into the thick of things.
Croixleur is at its very core an unassuming hack & slash game. Each floor of the tower is an identical, circular arena, filled with a certain number of monsters. Enemy variation is moderate, with only three kinds of basic foes and stronger variants thereof, as well as two miniboss monsters and one final boss. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes until you’ve experienced everything the game has to offer. As one of two playable characters, you’ll hack, slash, and dash through the monster masses until they are vanquished and a path to the next stage opens up.
Branching paths offer the illusion of variety, when in truth every stage is just a harder version of the previous one with tiny variations in enemy combinations. The different weapons that you’ll automatically collect along the way offer some special attacks and can be leveled up to be slightly stronger in subsequent playthroughs. Those special attacks, as well as dashing, drain your stamina, which slowly recharges on its own. There is no direct way to defend yourself, but you won’t take any damage while dashing and enemy attacks can be countered with perfect timing. This adds a bit of strategy to the fighting, but you’re never really in danger of running out of stamina. You also have a limited amount of invincible attacks at your disposal. When surrounded by enemies, letting loose one of those devastating attacks clears the immediate area and gets you out of many a tight spot.
Fighting large groups of monsters is quite enjoyable, and it takes a few playthroughs until you’re entirely comfortable with enemy attack patterns, special attacks, and the right approach to any given situation. Croixleur is not a terribly hard game, but that’s probably what makes it fun in the first place. It probably helps that you’re hunting those monsters on a timer. If you take longer than 15 minutes, it’s automatically game over for you, which adds exactly the right amount of tension to all that hacking and slashing. In my first few games, I reached the final boss without problems, but I took just a few seconds too long and had to retry while paying closer attention to the timer. Eventually, that time limit won’t pose much of a threat anymore. Luckily, there’s a hidden ending and an extra boss fight that can be triggered if you manage to beat the game in less than 10 minutes. Now that’s a proper challenge!
Croixleur hands out rewards left and right in order to stretch that short play time. The second character needs to be unlocked, there’s ten weapons to collect for each fighter, as well as extra challenge, time attack, and survival modes, and a ton of achievements to boot. However, the real draw is entirely intrinsic. Beating your own record, figuring out the most effective strategy without relying on those all too powerful invincible attacks, getting better at the game one short playthrough at a time; this is what keeps you coming back for more.
On the technical side, playing with a gamepad is highly recommended. Keyboard controls are serviceable, but special attacks seem to be a tiny bit harder to pull off just right. While the keys are rebindable, pressing multiple buttons concurrently just feels better with a gamepad. There is local co-op for two players, but I had issues properly setting it up. When using a controller for player 1 and the keyboard for player 2, the keyboard controls were interfering with the gamepad input so that key presses actually moved both characters at once. When I had player 1 using the keyboard and player 2 the controller, the game refused to register all gamepad input, making it impossible to even start a co-op game. Local co-op might still work flawlessly with two gamepads, but I wasn’t able to test this.
Performance-wise, Croixleur is well-optimised. Extensive graphical options are missing, but the game looks well enough without any additional bells and whistles. With anti-aliasing disabled, the game manages to maintain a framerate of 60fps even on slow machines, which is somewhat impressive. Enabling anti-aliasing led to a hefty speed loss on the laptop, but didn’t affect performance on the desktop computer (Intel Q8200@2.33GHz, 4GB RAM, GeForce GTX650).
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Croixleur Sigma serves as a quick, action-filled gaming snack. The time limit keeps the gameplay from getting all too repetitive and boring, and unlockables as well as additional game modes offer some long-term value. Even if it lacks depth, I can only recommend it as a fun “pick up and play” experience, and sometimes that’s all you need. It’s also laudable that souvenir circ. went the extra mile and further refined the game for its Steam release. I feel that the $7.99 price tag is entirely justified, as long as you’re not buying the game for its co-op experience. In any case, I recommend that you check out the demo first to see if Croixleur can wow you with its diverting, Japanese-flavored charms.
- Time Played – 4 Hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- Resolution Played – 1280×720
- Windowed Mode – Yes
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
- Control Scheme – Gamepad, Keyboard
- DRM: Steam, DRM Free
- System Specs – i5-4200U@1.60GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon HD8670M 1GB
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Official Site, Steam, Desura, Gamersgate
- Demo – Yes
- Saved Game Location – SteamApps\common\Croixleur