The first thing you notice in Ring of Pain is the style. The initial loading screen features an intricate frog, a cute blob of a creature that promises a world that Ring of Pain has no intention of delivering. You endure in a void, fighting monsters that act real but exist on cards. Various creatures speak in riddles as they offer you armor, skirts, and a mask that poisons your foes. It's like an echo of a whole genre, a game that reminds you of so many things you've played before, but coalesces them into a whole you don't recognize. After your twenty-minute journey through the demo is over, you'll know. This one is special.
As unique as Ring of Pain's gameplay is, it's still overshadowed by the distinct art style that permeates the entire package. Every creature you encounter consists of jagged edges and dark tones of shadow. These aren't realistic horrors, but their animated existence doesn't take away from the dread you feel whenever they dodge your strike or notice you sneaking past. It's as if a nightmarish beastiary escaped from some hypothetical late-night cartoon that even Adult Swim wouldn't air. Even if everything else about this package was mediocre, Ring of Pain would probably still work thanks to this unique vision.
When you're making a roguelike, you have to strike a difficult balance. Your content needs to seem endless, either through sheer variety alone or from the promise of limitless combination. Ring of Pain achieves this not only through a large number of equippable items but by how it combines everything into one simple interface. Each dungeon is a simple ring of cards representing monsters, treasures, and an eventual exit. Each move involves combat, whether you're trying to sneak past creatures or attacking them directly. Playing the game is as simple as something like Reigns, but calculating each move and upping your chance for survival makes it all the more satisfying.
Ring of Pain isn't merely a roguelike either. The game could be considered a deckbuilder, even if there aren't any decks you're drawing cards from. It uses the flavor of deckbuilding when it comes to loot, presenting helmets and weapons as cards you draw between monster fights. Healing potions and stat boosts are the same way, existing on the same flat map as your enemies and everything else. Explosive blobs can crawl up towards you around the circle, blocking you from a vital pickup that could otherwise let you live. The whole setup makes everything feel high stakes, even once you start to ramp up your power.
Maybe it's just my love of damage numbers and percentages, but Ring of Pain's interface also intrigued me greatly. There were so many stats, so many variables to each encounter, each with clear percentages on what's going to happen if you commit. In that sense, it reminds me a bit of a darker Into The Breach, Only you're seeing the battlefield in first person instead of from an isometric viewpoint. The game encourages you to blaze through decisions because of the way its style gets under your skin, but these numbers all facilitate smart play even at a quicker pace.
Ring of Pain Preview | Final Thoughts
The only real issue with the version of Ring of Pain I played is that it offers such a short experience. The demo lasted me twenty minutes, in which time I played multiple runs and just barely got a hold of the mechanics. There is some luck in getting that far due to the random item distribution, but it still felt like a natural progression. The demo did its job and made me want to play hours more as soon as possible. I feel like no other roguelike is going to poke the darkest parts of my mind's eye until then.
TechRaptor previewed Ring of Pain on PC as part of the Steam Game Festival. It's aiming for a final release in Fall 2020.