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Most adventures that send you slicing and spell-flinging through pixelated dungeons lead you along the path by dangling some form of juicy carrot, whether it's a quest to save the world or amass a trove of cool gear. Wayward Souls buries its carrot under a foot of concrete and suggests you dig for it with your bare hands. This brutal retro “roguelike” game walks a fine line between the grueling and fun sides of intense challenge, often robbing you of your life just when you feel like you're making good progress. The real question, then, is what is it about this brawler that’ll keep you pushing onward, death after death?
Wayward Souls gives you an initial choice of three familiar hero classes—warrior, wizard, or rogue—before dumping you into danger. Your futile quest for survival begins with your character locked away deep inside a dungeon. Don't expect to get very far in your first few attempts at fighting your way out through the increasingly tougher mobs of inventive foes. Death is permanent, and it comes frequently, punting you back to the beginning to start all over again with any character of your choice. No doubt about it: this game will kick you in your angry button. The consolation is a smart progression system that lets you can gradually stack permanent enhancement on your characters over time, though it's a slow process.
Loose controls are the biggest culprit leading to frustration here. Wayward Souls sports a slew of interesting foes that throw lots of curveballs at you. That's great, except the controls just aren't as precise or responsive as they need to be to let you keep up with the steady barrage. Trying to turn, move, and aim in different directions just doesn’t feel sharp enough to deal with the swarming mobs, and you’ll wind up taking extra hits that you feel like you should’ve been able to dodge.
The depth of each character class, including the three heroes you can unlock by earning achievements along the way, provides the other part of the game's saving grace. Each hero has its own set of skills, powers, weapons, and strengths to set him or her apart, whether it's slick spells, superior stamina, or sneaky backstab attacks. You can bolster their abilities at hotspots, and spending in-game coins you pick up through repeat runs lets you permanently boost stats and improve your chances of pushing deeper with each new attempt.
The bottom line. Wayward Souls is teeth-grindingly hard, thanks to some loose controls and punishing perma-death, but high replayability and a smart progression system tease you back into the fray.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 5.0 or later
Cumulative progression system urges you to stick with it. Cool art style. Foes are unique and diverse.
Controls could use some tightening. Incredibly hard and punishing.