Play as a sheep with a Cloud Strife Buster sword in this fast and fluid action roguelike
Steam Next Fest may be over for another few months, but dozens of demos are still alive and kicking, it seems – which is good news for me, who still has a good half dozen on my to do list, and also good news for you, as it means you still have time to check out the really quite good demo for Stand-Alone, a fast, 2D hack and slasher where you play as a robot-powered sheep packing a very large sword. Wolves have broken into your home and murdered all your friends, but you play as the one sheep who got away – or rather, a sheep that’s been fused with a surprisingly powerful robot capable of producing a honking great greatsword to make their escape with. Thus begins the wolves’ hot pursuit – not least because this robot also seems to be kind of sleeper agent for them – and your roguelike-shaped quest to avenge your fallen friends.
The demo for Stand-Alone gives you a fair amount to sink your teeth into. Initially, you’re merely ploughing through combat zone after combat zone, following a straight line on the map screen as you get to grips with its controls. In 15-20 minutes or so, you come to the end of the line and end up fighting a giant wolf monster in a factory – that big lad up in the header there. I ended up dying about half-way through during this section (as I suspect is intended given what happened next), and after a striking resurrection scene in an apocalyptic-looking field with dozens of lambs pinned to futuristic-looking crucifixes, I was thrust into the revenge quest proper, with myriad different roguelike paths to take on its branching map as I made my way back to my wolf boss nemesis.
Combat feels wonderful under the thumbs. The animation is fast, fluid and beautiful to look at, and dodge-rolling through bullet fire and enemy sword swipes feels quick and responsive. This is one nimble little sheep, especially with his large double-jump and mountain goat-like wall-hopping, and he reminded me a lot of Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown’s hero Sargon. Alas, most of your attacks are limited to just the horizontal plane at the moment, which can make bounding around its large platform arenas feel just a teeny bit finnicky when you’re dealing with so many enemies – what I wouldn’t give for a meaty downstab, for example, or an upwards sword lift?
Image credit: Lifuel
Still, as you progress through a run, you’ll soon start upgrading your moveset to really start chewing through your enemies. Shops let you buy new moves that can be mapped to your trigger and bumper buttons on a controller, but you’ll also run into dedicated upgrade terminals that let you beef these moves up with extra passive effects and combo skills.
Early on, for example, I bought a four-hit Flame Rush attack, and I spent my (strangely syringe-shaped) currency on a combo skill for it that added another powerful strike to it as well as a shield. I must admit, I was also tempted by the Acid Beam, which added two more hits as well as Vulnerable and Drained debuffs to the mix, but maybe I’ll add that on next time I run into an upgrade terminal, as you can add two combo skills and two passives per ability, giving it a Dead Cells-y and almost deck-building-like quality to how you bulk out your moveset over time.
I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it when it comes to Steam later this year, though after a quick trawl through developers Lifuel’s Xwitter feed, it does sadden (and worry) me to see boasts of “100-hour work weeks for three years” dated from as recently as January this year to help bring this game to fruition. On January 31st, they also Xweeted about ‘Why developing 100 hours a week works‘, suggesting that not all that time has been spent “directly linked to [making] content”, but even so. Normalising crunch is not healthy, developers, please take better care of yourselves!