Review: Golden Krone Hotel

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Golden Krone Hotel has this incredibly jaunty tune that plays when you die, and I cannot get enough of it. Seriously, it’s like a little festival breaks out as your character fades away and the restart options rise into view. It’s such a little thing but it takes nearly all the sting out of dying, which is huge in a game where you die as much as you will here. It’s also an excellent example of the care and attention put into crafting this roguelike adventure, and you can expect to find plenty more as you work your way through its twisting halls.

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You are Sorina Arobase, a renowned general and famed vampire killer. She’s on a mission of revenge against exiled vampire prince Fane, probably having something to do with how she tends to turn into a vampire from time to time. Her quest has brought her to the vast and looming Golden Krone Hotel, a mighty structure of many floors, chambers, and deadly inhabitants. Only by scrounging for gear and picking her battles will she eventually reach the dark object of her journey.

So yeah, she turns into a vampire sometimes. Golden Krone Hotel is very much a classic roguelike with its turn-based grid-based bump-based combat, but adorned with clever mechanics like bouts of vampirism. You generally start off in human form, with a meter that slowly fills over time. Once it’s full you turn pale and ravenous, changing not only your looks but your stats, your skills, and how you interact with enemies and the environment. The floors are full of humans and vampires alike, and when in a particular form you’ll only be attacked by those of the opposite species. Sunlight will burn you as a vampire and darkness will hide you, but as a human dark places limit your sight. And blood heals vampires, of course, but as a human you’ll need to find time to rest.

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The duality of your character is a major reason this title feels so fresh every time you start up a new character. You’ve always got to mind the meter as a human so that you don’t change while bathed in sunlight or surrounded by soldiers. And as a vampire you need to be lapping up blood whenever possible and carefully considering when to use your potions that restore you to human form. There’s a lot of strategy wrapped up in this system, enough to make floors feel completely different depending on which form you approach them in.

As if that wasn’t enough to consider, there are also twelve unlockable classes (disguises, they call them here) that start you off with different stats, skills, and forms. Skills can be learned from books you find but only in human form, and they provide powerful effects like invisibility and knockback. There’s also a unique potion system that starts with every vial you find unidentified, but shows three possibilities of what it could be. For once this makes IDing items fun because you almost always  have to test them to tell, which will land you in situations where you really needed an antidote and gulped a face-full of noodles instead.

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The rest of the structure is quite streamlined, with basic tiers of equipment that auto-equip if better than what you have and a simple leveling system with three familiar stats. This allows you to focus most of your attention on the unique systems and, of course, the challenge. Golden Krone Hotel is balanced around individual enemies being plenty deadly if you’re unprepared, and groups nearly impossible to overcome. You’ll need to make the most of your forms and your skills to survive more than just a few floors because the difficulty curve can feel like a brick wall until you really grok the strategy. The game has easy and normal difficulty modes but I’m still beating my head against the early stages of easy here.

It’s an unusual mix to be sure, a game with simple, unique systems and precipitous challenge. You would think the winning strategy would be obvious but it really isn’t, being heavily dependent on enemy composition and your form and conditions and the environment around you. The design gives you fresh new tools to overcome traditional roguelike challenges, and it produces a title that feels like a classic without becoming boring or familiar. It’s good for short sessions and silly deaths, or long marathons and serious focus, and manages to be fun either way.

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The crunchy pixel art is perfect for a retro-styled roguelike, and there’s even an option included to set it all the way back to ASCII. You already know what I think about the soundtrack but the effects and ambiance is top-notch as well, selling the gothic decay of the grand structure you find yourself in. It’s a little harder to hang with than most roguelikes you’ll find on Steam now, but the unique elements stand out more than enough to make it worth it. Golden Crone Hotel has the charm to keep me fighting its hordes of beasts and blood-suckers, and I don’t expect the uphill battle to get boring anytime soon.

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