Ring around the Rosie, a pocket full of posies…Wait. No, wrong rhyming ring. Observe the Ring and strategize. Learn, adapt, or face demise. Yes, that’s the tagline for Ring of Pain, a fast-paced, strategic card game from publisher Humble Bundle and developer Twice Different. So, what are rhymes and card battles doing together? Find out in this review to see their tether!
Casual roguelike styled card games have certainly found their place on the Nintendo platform over the past few years, and Ring of Pain continues the trend. Unlike typical heavier collectible card games like Magic the Gathering, or Pokémon, games in this category typically aim for short play sessions, super accessible mechanics, a strong RNG (Random Number Generator) element, and offer nearly infinite replay. It’s no surprise they’re a promising fit for a handheld-centric platform.
Gameplay starts with a nice rhyming and brooding intro to the artistic theme of the game, followed by your entry into the first area. You’ll be presented with a ring of cards, but two will be in the forefront for you to select or attempt to sneak by or skip. Your goal is simple: reach the randomly placed door card(s) in each section to move onto the next. It’s precisely this simple overarching goal that makes this title immediately engaging. Similar to games like Slay the Spire, or even Super Battle Cards, in each area that you enter the cards that will be presented to you as well as the path forward is procedurally generated and thus what makes games like these top contenders for replayability.
The premise of progression is simple. Select either the left or right card, and perform the necessary actions with them. More often than not, you’ll encounter an enemy to face in a duel, which strictly means back and forth combat hits based on your attack damage and theirs. Health potions show up that you can use to replenish your life, as do special doors that lead to interesting intermediary rooms, and then there are mimics that present you with a risk/reward gamble of a choice, and finally, one of the game’s seemingly character leads, an owl-looking creature that brings gifts and stories when interacted with.
I really enjoy the simplicity of the game’s core mechanics, and it takes only a very brief tutorial to really understand where the advanced strategies can potentially come into play. I’ve enjoyed mobile games like Card Crawl that offer very similar roguelike simple card combat mechanics like this, and they’re typically a treat to play for a few sessions at a time, venturing as far as possible before being killed off by something absurd or a boss.
The biggest drawback to Ring of Pain still is the RNG aspect. While skill does come into play based on if you want to take on an encounter with an enemy card, attempt to sneak past them, or go a different way around the ring towards your next door, it’s still entirely based on what cards are drawn at any given time. This means that in practice you can start a new game and just spam randomly and “see what happens”, but chances are you won’t get as far as if you would had you planned out your path forward. Still, sometimes my runs had horrible early stages, causing me to barely make it to the third official area before being wiped out by a mob of enemies I couldn’t overcome.
The dynamic of any given run is further expanded on by the extraordinary amount of equipment/item and ability slots you’re allowed to have. 15 slots in total allow for gear to be found, earned and equipped each run, and unlike other games, you’ll find the perks can actually have a hefty influence on your run performance. Thus, selecting complementing equipment as it’s presented can often times be a mid to more hardcore strategy.
Within a given area’s ring, there’s also the chance of chain-linking actions that’ll influence cards that aren’t immediately presented to you yet in the front selection spot. This can help if you have multiple enemy cards in the way of your next door, but have a way to create a multi-card chain explosion, or say poison potion that damages adjoining cards. Again, this is for more advanced strategies and those that want to experiment with their abilities.
The roguelike nature is pretty lightweight here unfortunately. If you die, that’s it, and the game ends. You’re given a collection to view via the main menu that outlines all of the cards you’ve seen from the total 180 card pool, but I think the weakest element this game is that it doesn’t offer any ‘next-game’ incentives or meta progressions typically seen in competing titles of this genre. There’s still a daily puzzle mode that can be unlocked (I hadn’t unlocked it yet as of the time of this writing), but I wish there was a bit more earned potential while playing the game.
Visually, the art is very clean, almost geometric with the style, and is portrayed very dark and dramatic, with a touch of macabre to it all. The soundtrack sets a reasonable mood, and with subtle card animations and some floaty particles, the game isn’t entirely devoid of life, but I wish there was a bit more happening on screen. Meanwhile the game supports both Joy-Con controls and touch screen for playing, however I did find the touch screen controls to be a bit clunkier than I would have expected for such a rather simple interface. For example, I couldn’t utilize the card info mechanic while solely trying touch as it would just automatically use the card I attempted to swipe or touch on to review said info.
Ring of Pain strikes many of the right points for a casual, quick, card game. Extra polish, and an unlockable reward system should be the developers’ next aim. There’s much to like, including the art, style and rhyme. And certainly, I found this game quite enjoyable around bedtime!
Ring of Pain Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 6/106/10
- Gameplay - 6.5/106.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Ring of Pain is an artistic blend of casual card combat, procedural dungeon running, with some roguelike mechanics. Its strengths are in the short play sessions, and dynamic outcomes that can be had, along with the more advanced strategy that’s possible. Shortcomings include a heavily RNG based system, where sometimes the cards just won’t be in your favor. Additionally, a lack of really any meta unlockable carry-thru content was a strong disappointment for me. Still, I can see myself jamming on a run or two over a lunch break for the foreseeable future without feeling burned out, which says a lot for this genre.