Review: Ananias

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Not every game has to break the mold. There’s a certain comfort to fighting familiar orcs and ghosts with familiar swords and scrolls. But a fundamentally simple game still has to get the fundamentals right, and Ananias does just that. It doesn’t aspire to be much more than a basic fantasy roguelike, but does so with solid mechanics and accessible gameplay. And just when you think you’ve seen what it has to offer, it might manage to surprise you with the few curveballs it does throw.

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A great evil (this time a serpent) has descended on the good and decent folk and fucked everything up for them. A great hero (that’s you) has scoured the land for the Ring of Ananias, a relic of a powerful king that contains the power to save the world. The trail leads to a labyrinth of ancient secrets and vile creatures which you must conquer if the land is to know peace once more. With your trusty animal companion by your side, you’ll collect gear, battle monsters, and worship deities all in the name of reaching the magical macguffin of salvation.

Doubtless you’ve heard all this before, and I’m confident you’re already familiar with the mechanics behind it, too. Ananias is built in the image of genre classics like NetHack where every move around the gridded, randomized maps is a turn and you bump enemies to death. In a slight departure from the classics, though, each floor of the dungeon is divided into rooms that you tackle one at a time. Enemies can move to and from adjacent rooms but you can’t see what’s in the next until you move there yourself. Conveniently-placed arrows let you scoot right to the connecting hallway if you’ve finished clearing the enemies out, too.

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Convenience is a major design pillar of Ananias, evidenced by how the entire interface is driven with single mouse clicks. You can leave your numpad behind on this one, because all you have to do to move, attack, or grab items is click. It’s honestly a clean and intuitive system that makes the game more inviting than ones where you need to learn a dozen different buttons or commands. This does limit the interaction potential, though, as you won’t have multiple options for using your different items or weapons. A lack of variety tends to plague the combat, even with ten different classes and different animal companions to bring along for the ride. Most of the time you’ll be doing the standard bump melee or single-target ranged attacks to whittle down foes, unless you really focus on special skills.

Active skills like shooting ice and raising skeletons are learned between dungeon levels when you’re given the opportunity to worship a deity or pick up a new skill. Deities provide permanent bonuses like combat stats or inventory slots, so while fresh spells might be appealing you won’t want to neglect your gods. You’ll also find single-use scrolls with varied effects like charming monsters and summoning pillars of flame, and ingredients for mixing potions that can heal, boost, or explode in your face. Equipment tends to be simple stat increases, perhaps because every sword and shield and glove wears out over time and needs to be replaced. It’s certainly a departure from other roguelikes but doesn’t feel like a worthwhile trade for more interesting gear.

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With clean graphics and understated sound effects, Ananias looks the part of a rote, user-friendly fantasy romp. The intuitive mouse controls make it easy to get started squashing centipedes and whacking wargs, and just when you think you’re getting tired of it you’ll find a new potion concoction or an NPC with another bit of the story for you. There’s just enough variety and innovation to hold your attention, whether it be using your pet to outmaneuver a gaggle of foes or turning the tables with a well-timed scroll. I can’t say there’s much you haven’t seen before here, but I can say it’s usually not presented in such an inviting way. Ananias would make a great first roguelike or coffee-break diversion, giving it a place in any adventurer’s library.

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