This reviewer received a review copy of Temple of Yog for the purpose of this review.
Do you like 2D Zelda? Do you like dungeon crawlers with Rogue-lite elements, where you slowly become more powerful and capable of adventuring deeper into the dungeon and discover new enemies, new sights, and new things to do? Well, don’t go getting too excited. Temple of Yog promises the above at first glance, but unfortunately falls short of greatness by several steps.
Temple of Yog‘s premise is simple and perfectly functional: a nature-god that dwells on some other dimension across a portal on top of the Temple of Yog is demanding human sacrifices in exchange for technological progress. The neighboring civilization, still a pre-agricultural tribe, sends one human sacrifice at a time to explore the temple and send back some boon. Which kind of human is sent, and what he does, is in the hands of the player.
The way it actually plays out is this: you must choose one of four different characters (Priest, Mage, Warrior, and Thief) to “sacrifice” to the otherwordly Temple of Yog. You control this character to enter the procedurally generated temple (it is different each time you enter it), where you must kill enemies and progress through increasingly difficult “floors” to acquire boon. As your boon increases, you encounter larger rooms and more difficult enemies. You will most likely die, at which point your character’s remains are tossed out of the portal at the top of the Temple of Yog, along with your boon, and you must begin anew with a different character. At this point you can use the boon you accumulated to upgrade your characters and be stronger in your next attempt.
It sounds like such a simple game system that it would most likely have a solid execution, but like I said before, it falls short of that in significant ways. As you’ve read the previous paragraph, I’m sure you thought it was cool that you could select different classes, providing a variety of fighting styles that have different tools for progressing through the temple. Perhaps the Thief has to use a short dagger that makes him weak in combat, but is able to open locked doors that allow him to circumvent difficult enemies or reach powerful items? Well, there is no such thing going on in this game. All four characters attack with the exact same weapon: a nondescript ball of light that travels in a straight line across a specific distance to deal damage to an enemy it hits. The only differences your character selection have on this weapon are how fast and far it is shot, and how much damage it deals on hit. The other differences between the four characters are the amount of Health Points, Shadow Points (which I will explain later), and Magic Points. Magic points are used to activate unique class abilities (Priest heals himself, Mage puts up a magic barrier to nullify damage, Warrior goes Berserk to increase his damage, and Thief rolls around at a high speed) which don’t make much of a difference to your survivability. For example, you’d think the Priest is overpowered with his ability to heal himself, but his damage is so low that certain enemy types will kill him before he’s dealt half the damage needed to kill them.
In my experience, the result of this lack of variety among the classes meant that I was better off selecting the class with the higher HP and damage, the Warrior. His only shortcoming is that he wasn’t as fast as the Thief, but luckily I found a speed talisman which doubled my movement speed, and suddenly the Warrior had no competition among his peers. (A Priest with a damage talisman was still too weak to perform effectively against some enemies, in spite of his healing magic.)
One of Temple of Yog‘s feature points is the use of the Wii U Gamepad to provide an alternate “Shadow World” in which the player can move. The way this works is this: Two worlds are portrayed to the player, a Light and a Shadow World. Each has its unique layout and enemies. Though the player moves simultaneously on both the Light and Shadow Worlds, he is only active in one of them. By holding a button, he switches temporarily to the other world. This creates situations such as one in which the player is about to get killed by a Warg in the Light World, and he escapes to the Shadow World, where there are no immediate enemies. After repositioning himself to a safer angle, the player goes back to the Light World to finish off the Warg. This is another case where the game system sounds like fun, but the implementation leaves much to be desired.
The situation I presented above is actually not very common in the game. Most of the time, there are also enemies in the other world, which means that when you switch over to that world, you will be immediately attacked, possibly leaving you in a worse predicament. Furthermore, the fact that your ability to cross over to the other world is temporary (dependent on the Shadow Points I mentioned earlier, which can be increased slightly through upgrades at the town) means that crossing over is often unreliable, and you will be forced back to the Light World before you’ve been able to reposition yourself. I understand the point of this is to prevent the player from abusing the system by getting a free escape from any enemy, but this thinking is flawed, as the player is already unable to abuse the system in such a way by the dangerous enemies the player will likely encounter when crossing over to the other world. That’s because even though the player can see the other world simultaneously on their gamepad screen, this is difficult to do while in battle with enemies that can kill you in just a few seconds. These Shadow Points also mean that, when crossing over to the Shadow World to kill an enemy, the player might not have enough time to kill them before they are forced back to the Light World, leaving the player with some downtime while he waits for these Shadow Points to recover automatically. This happens frequently enough that you’ll wish the Shadow World wasn’t in the game at all.
Finally, Temple of Yog‘s last sin is its lack of content. Let me mention that the game is being released in a sort of “early access” model. Right now, only the “First Epoch: Age of the Wilderness” is released, at a price of USD $5.99. Throughout 2016, the Second, Third, and Final epochs will be released as free updates. The idea is that each one will have new enemies, environments, bosses, and character classes, enhancing the game’s value. I’m certainly willing to believe that the game will be much better once all the content has been released, that classes will feel more unique, enemy variety will make the game less tedious, there will be more balance to the enemies, and the procedural generation of floors will be more refined. However, Temple of Yog is available for purchase as of December 16th, so I can only review what I can play right now. And right now, the game is quick to become tedious due to the issues I just mentioned, even if it only lasted three-and-a-half hours of gameplay.
It’s true that Temple of Yog is ultimately relatively cheap, at about the price of a Jalapeño & Cheese Whataburger combo. But who wants cheap things when they are of low quality? If Temple of Yog had reached the potential it unfortunately fell short of, I would have had no problem dropping twice the money on it. When more content for the game releases, I will certainly give it a spin and see how it has improved. For now, it is what it is, and I would only recommend it to bored Wii U owners with spare money to burn.