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Preview: Power Chord

13 Jun 2022
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First and foremost, I think it’s important to look at Power Chord as it presents itself compared to what Power Chord actually is. Because I believe that it’s easy to get swept up in the game’s presentation in such a way that you lose sight of the fact that the game itself is actually simpler than its initial presentation might suggest.

When you first see Power Chord the first thing you see are guitars, bassists, drums, vocalists, and all of the trappings you would expect to get from a game that is first and foremost a rhythm game or some sort of musical experience. And this is incorrect. Power Chord, when it launches on Steam (which is obviously the version played for this preview), is not a game with any rhythm elements or any parts of musical gameplay beyond the simple trappings. If you’re looking at it and hoping for something like Slay the Spire meets Guitar Hero, you’re only half right.

But is it a good game? Well, you’ll have to keep reading for that one.

All Along the Watchtower

The story of Power Chord is pretty basic. A long time ago, a bunch of demons got vomited out of a portal from Hell, but they got driven back by the power of a wicked sweet solo played on the most awesome guitar ever, sealing the portal and ensuring that the demons who had already made it through weren’t going to get any further. Now, though, it seems like the barrier is weakening, and that means your intrepid band has to make its way up the tower to ensure that no demons can get there.

There are, I promise you, more proper nouns along the way there, but that is far from the point. The point is that you are assembling your team of tough, battle-tested band members to take on the legions of demons that stand against you, and you will be doing so via a very physical battle of the bands along the way. This is where I mentioned that the presentation is just trapping. But it is an entertaining trapping. While there is not a material difference between having your party be more conventional adventurers, there’s the simple undeniable coolness of your rock band climbing a tower and defeating evil rock demons through the power of sweet riffs and sick drum fills, you know?

It is possible that this will not tickle you. It is also possible that you are an absolute square. Just calls ’em like I sees ’em, you dig?

Under Pressure

All right, so we have our setup. You’ve got your drummers, singers, guitarists, and bassists, who are functionally tanks, healers, DPS, and debuffers in order, but the reality is that all of this is a skin put on a pretty familiar set of mechanics. You draw cards, play them to help your team and hinder your enemies, and the last team left standing is the one that emerges victorious. So the real question is whether or not it works aside from the fun skin.

The answer, thankfully, is yes.

You start by staring at an adventure map, going along a linear path of points of interest split between enemies, elite enemies, rest stops, shops, and treasure chests. Enemies are by far the most common thing you’ll encounter, and you deal with them like you’d expect, via a battle of the bands that is much more of an actual battle. Armor recovers between fights, but health only recovers at rest stops. After each battle, you get money and you get to choose a card to add to your deck.

At the start of each turn, you have four energy to use cards and a small hand to choose between. Use your cards, click end turn when you’re done, watch the enemy take actions. Rinse and repeat.

A number of subtle touches make things work more effectively, however. The first is that each character starts with a default piece of gear that has a notable effect upon their skills, provides them with an extra arsenal, or whatever. You can, however, pick up more gear along the way to further enhance your team. (This is especially useful since you lose access to the cards of a team member who has been knocked out – so you would prefer that not to happen.) Even though your role in the band is the role, there’s clearly space for a lot of different tank builds or DPS builds or whatever.

What also helps, though, is that the battle system effectively leverages a simple system that interacts with itself. Most of the individual cards have pretty simple and straightforward effects, but gear is important, and multiple cards synergize with one another well. So your DPS might pick up the Bloodlust stance, which increases their Berserk damage each time they hit something… but that stance ends the moment they take health damage, so you need your drummer to keep them protected. Or you might pick up Light Show for your bassist, which deals more damage each turn every time your team attacks, and so you prioritize attacks that hit multiple times for multiple activations. So on and so forth.

It’s also feeling pretty well-tuned. Normal enemies and even elite enemies aren’t huge threats, you can probably deal with them pretty efficiently, but they’re also entirely capable of stacking up the hurt if you aren’t playing smart and paying attention. Bosses have some tough mechanics to deal with, so you need to really focus your tactics and use your best synergies to take them out. It’s not easy, exactly, but it’s comfortable if you understand the tactics, and few things feel pointless or weak.

If anything, the one thing I wanted from the preview were more characters to play around with. (More are planned for the full launch.) Each character plays differently and different random cards will lead to different experiences going through that. It’s a good feeling.

My First Punk Song

Obviously, this is not a game that has licensed a large number of classic rock tunes to play as you’re rocking your way through the gameplay, but that’s honestly all right. The music that’s there is memorable, fun, clean, and catchy while feeling appropriate. It’s neither overly driving nor repetitious, which mixes in well with the thwacks and riffs of battle and the sound effects as your team goes to town on their enemies. I would have liked a little more voice acting for the singers, but I suppose that might have been too much to ask. (The voice acting which is there is good.)

Graphically, the game is made up of two halves. The first are the 3D models, which are thick and chunky with sharp outlines and a nice detail to them. They animate well and look fun and distinct, always a plus in a game about visually identifying with your band of weirdos, especially the very tactile feel of the stage lights as you move from arena to arena.

The 2D artwork, though, is downright excellent – memorable, distinct, and intensely crisp. I don’t just mean the UI, the card artwork is great and instantly memorable, character pictures are well-drawn and distinctive, and so forth. It is, all told, a great game to look at top to bottom and a lot of fun visually and audibly.

Devour

The down side of this particular game is that if I was looking for a roguelike deckbuilding rhythm game, I am going to remain looking, because this is not that. It is mechanically mostly “roguelike deckbuilding” while wearing music as a skin, something to differentiate itself from fantasy games going along the same basic mechanics.

And to that I say – hey, that’s awesome. It’s something to make you stand apart, you just need to follow that up with some actual engaging gameplay. And the game does exactly that, proving that the developers have focused first and foremost on making a good game while giving it a memorable look and feel to go that extra mile.

So yeah, this is one to keep an eye on. It looks like it’s going to be gangbusters, and I’m excited from what I’ve seen in the previews. Keep your ears open for when the album drops, it’s going to destroy the charts righteously.


Preview copy provided courtesy of Big Blue Bubble for purposes of review. All screenshots courtesy of Big Blue Bubble.