Slay The Spire Review
The Spire, chock-full of enemies, treasures, and decisions to be made has just arrived on the Nintendo Switch. Coming from critical acclaim on PC, Slay the Spire asks you, the adventurer, to conquer this tower by utilizing deck building mechanics, coupled with roguelike gameplay and a risk & reward system that’s genre leading. Will the Spire have the same solid foundation on this platform as it’s seen on its predecessors? The short answer is a resounding yes. But, please read on to find out why!
Slay the Spire is a highly dynamic game featuring turn-based combat, deck building and card mechanics, a choose-your-own path system, and many elements that are randomly generated. While in a single sentence this may sound intimidating, I found the game far more accessible and fluid than I could have ever imagined, and quickly saw the hours fly by as I did runs in the Spire. The game has many interlocking systems, each with strategies to be determined on the fly, making each play session exciting.
When you elect to enter your first run, you’ll take the role of The Ironclad, the default available character in the beginning. He’s a traditional warrior type with an ability to heal a bit after a round of combat. As you progress in the game, you’ll unlock two more playable characters: The Silent, who is more along the lines of a rogue and has the ability to draw two extra cards, and The Defect, a robot wizard that utilizes a magic system channeling spells in combat. Each of the three characters possesses their own unique decks of action cards, as well as abilities and other unlockables through an XP system. During my time with all three classes, I found The Defect a lot of fun, but also a lot more challenging to create strategies with and manage the cards I was receiving. The Ironclad definitely felt the most introductory, but still far from easy to reach the top of the Spire with.
When you’ve selected your character, you’ll then be presented with the first floor of the Spire, which is actually comprised of a multitude of branching paths that link upwards. You’re able to select your own route upwards, and each point is indicated with an icon representing what you’ll encounter. There are the typical normal monster rooms, mini-boss rooms with more challenging opponents, treasure rooms, travelling merchant spots (which allow you to purchase consumables, new cards, or remove unwanted cards from your deck), and rest points, which allow you to replenish some health, upgrade a card, or perform additional abilities. The Spire itself is comprised of three floors, and it’s certainly not tackled with ease. Every new run you start, the paths and encounters within a floor are randomized, making every run and path decision entirely unique.
When entering into a monster battle the heart of the game experience comes to life, along with how you’ll build your deck, strategize in combat, and plan out your future movements inside the Spire. Facing off against foes is turn-based, but unlike many games in that genre, an early notable thing I found was that you’ll know precisely what the enemy is going to do against you before they perform their turn. If an attack is coming your way, you’ll see the red sword icon and exactly how much damage you’ll be dealt. The same goes for buffs or debuffs as well. At first, I thought this was a bit peculiar by not having any RNG (random number generation) here like I would see in an XCOM game, for example. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize this aided in strategizing how to use the hand of cards I was being dealt.
Which leads me to the deck building aspect of Slay the Spire. As you might have surmised, our combat is always performed using a hand of cards from your deck. Each of the three characters has a starting deck that’s tailored to their abilities. When you enter combat, the cards will be displayed cascaded along the bottom of your screen. It’s completely up to you the order and number of cards you play, but characters are limited in how many actions they can take per turn, which correlates to card costs. Early in the game you’ll have three action points per turn to use, and many of the beginner cards cost one each, allowing you to play three cards. These values change fairly drastically as you move along during a run.
This is where the deck building experience quickly evolves and really opens up for some truly dynamic and fun gameplay. With successful conclusions of many of the encounter types, you’ll be rewarded, and generally with the option of selecting a new card for your deck if you choose. The further through the Spire you go, and the harder enemies you defeat, the better your rewards will be and the strongest cards will be made available for you during that run. This becomes one of the most critical decisions you’ll make during a run in the spire. Do you choose easier paths with fewer rewards and lesser powerful cards to select from, or take more challenging routes risking defeat to earn the more damaging and powerful cards to collect?
The cards you collect range in ability. From direct attack cards and direct defense cards to complicated multi-tier ability cards. Much akin to real world games like Magic the Gathering, the more advanced cards you’ll learn can be stacked or utilized in a specific order in combat to take full advantage of their complex abilities. Now as I said earlier, and I reiterate, I never felt truly overwhelmed at what any of the cards’ base abilities could do. There’s a ton of strategy here by all means, but it’s easy enough to onboard yourself with each of the characters’ skills and deck constructions.
While the dynamic deck building is certainly a key element to Slay the Spire, two other features support the ever-changing gameplay and create even more strategizing opportunities. The first comes in consumables. Players can hold a total of three consumables at a time and there are many found throughout the Spire. These consumables are used in one-off fashion, but can be earned or bought at market points on the map.
Relics, on the other hand, provide powerful run-changing permanent abilities that can influence many aspects of how gameplay will unfold. Relics are categorized into a few selections. Starter relics are what your character’s main ability is. You can acquire common relics that are weak as well as uncommon relics that are a bit stronger. Rare relics, which are much harder to come by, can really come in handy and are usually awarded after successfully completing mini-boss rooms. On the other hand, Boss relics are some of the best, but generally earned by defeating a floor-boss of the Spire. Event relics are gained by making certain decisions in the choose-your-own adventure styled micro quests often found in the “?” points along the map. Shop relics are those that can be purchased when entering the market points on your map.
Now if that wasn’t a dizzying amount of information on relics, the incredibly wild thing is that players are able to stack relics together. There’s no managing these, and they simply become permanently affixed for as long as you’re alive in a run. I recall at one point I had 8 or 9 relics active at once before perishing, each offering unique and transformative abilities to the structure of the game. It’s worth noting again that just like cards and really anything else you can acquire, it’s always up to you whether or not you decide to take it. Depending on the strategy for a run you’re building, you may decline to keep a relic that you’ve earned or is being given to you. The choice, just like this game, is entirely dynamic and open.
Combining all of these elements together: the cards, deck building, consumables, and the relic collecting, creates one of the most versatile roguelike experiences I’ve ever played, in particular because this is a deck building game and not your more common hack and slash dungeon crawler. It’s also highly versatile because it can be accessible to many player types. If you’re the kind of person that wants to pine over precisely what card you’ll keep and play, and which relics are fully suited to your character’s ability, all to maximize the effectiveness of a run, you certainly can. On the other side of the spectrum, and where I found myself in several runs, I just went “with the flow” and took every relic offered to me, opted to always pick a new card expanding my deck out, and just played the cards as they came the best I thought I could. I found this to be a totally casual and accessible way to play some of the runs, and just see how everything would pan out. Sometimes I made it further than I had before, while other run attempts ended on the first floor in disaster.
Slay the Spire as a roguelike experience means death is usually permanent, and your run will end, wiping out anything you collected during that time. However, a few nice carrots keep the meta progression well and alive. The first is, each of your characters gains XP based on how well you did during a run. XP gained will unlock items/cards for each of the three characters when you play them. You’ll also unlock more Compendiums of the entire card library, which is composed of hundreds of total cards that can be utilized, as well as the dozens of relics. If you’re a stats fanatic, there’s an entire menu that lets you view character stats as well as any character specific accolades you’ve accomplished for them. Leaderboards let you compete against friends or globally, and a very comprehensive Run History menu details many of the specifics about your last several runs. I was particularly impressed by the amount of information here to review if so desired.
If or when you tire of the Standard Game mode, players will also be able to partake in a Daily Climb. This is a predetermined set of modifiers and your character is chosen for you. This is particularly fun if you want a fresh randomized experience each day, and depending on how well you perform, you’ll also be displayed on that day’s leaderboard.
Finally, there is also a Custom mode in which you choose all of the run’s settings. This mode is incredibly interesting as there are dozens of game rule modifiers that can be toggled on or off, all ranging in difficulty allowing you to create a phenomenally wild and unique run. From something as seemingly simple as enabling a “Sealed Draft”, which again to fans of CCGs (Collectible Card Games) this will be very familiar in that you must craft a deck from a pre-set amount of cards, to absolutely insane rules such as the Certain Future rule, where players are only given one path on the map. For every custom rule setup that you create, a game seed is given out so that you can share this to friends or save it for yourself later again if wanted.
With so many mechanics and robust game modes under the hood, Slay the Spire handles itself quite well on the platform. Since the graphics aren’t too intense and there’s definitely not a ton of action happening at once on screen, performance never seemed to be an issue in handheld mode where I played around 50% of my time in. Touch screen is supported here, but this was a mixed bag for me honestly. I found many of the UI elements very small in the same way I would expect to see them on PC, and so touch points were more finicky than I would have maybe liked, but not unplayable. Joy-Cons are probably the best way to play.
Slay the Spire has become one of my new staple must-play Nintendo Switch games. It’s a game that will permanently reside on my system going forward. The dynamic experience that can be had over and over again, even when you’ve conquered the Spire, is really unprecedented. Every run can be tailored to something refreshing and can be as challenging – or not – as desired. Couple that with the immense amount of strategy that this game offers when you start diving into all of its interlocking mechanics, and you have a winner. Tackling the Spire each time is rewarding and fulfilling even when I perish, and it’s easily one of my favorite games thus far on the Switch.
Slay the Spire Review
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 9/109/10
- Gameplay - 9.5/109.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 10/1010/10
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
Slay the Spire combines deck building with turn-based combat in a roguelike form like none other. Satisfying gameplay with so many player-driven actions makes for a completely fulfilling experience every run you take at the Spire – even when you perish. This is the type of game that will stay on my Switch for years to come.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.