We open into a tale of a young wizard apprentice readying up to take the challenge of the Ziggurat, a rite of passage consisting of a series of tests inside a multi-floored labyrinth. As usual, many have tried but most have failed (and died in the process). Now it's your turn to prove your worth and earn the right to become one of the top wizardly folk in the land. Ziggurat is first person dungeon crawling shooter from Indie dev Milkstone Studios - previously released to a moderate amount of critical acclaim and success on rival platforms, the popular roguelite FPS hybrid is now available for Wii U via the Nintendo eShop.
Ziggurat's gameplay premise is simple - beat five floors of procedurally generated dungeons to win. Along the way you'll gather experience to unlock perks, level-up and become more powerful. Unfortunately death is final and you'll be back at the beginning should you fall foul to the Ziggurats' trappings.
As each new attempt is randomly generated you'll never be able to learn any map layouts; instead the skill comes through learning how to handle what's thrown at you. Make no mistake, this isn't a slow paced RPG – Ziggurat plays more akin to FPS games of yesteryear such as Serious Sam or classic Doom, albeit with a magical fantasy topping and a light dusting of RPG elements.
The individual floors are built up of connecting rooms and corridors, culminating in a boss battle. Much of the time you'll find yourself entering a room, the door behind slamming shut and an onslaught of enemies wading in. Clear the room and your passage can continue. If you're in luck you may wander into a room containing some goodies, or worse a few traps to negotiate. It pays to be extra careful in these cases as many of the traps mean instant death and back to square one, no matter how many floors you've previously defeated.
In terms of its RPG-lite credentials, Ziggurat doesn't get caught up in complex menu systems or inventory management; you kill enemies, level-up and choose a perk. Simple, and it works wonderfully well. You'll receive a choice of one of two random perks for every level-up, achieved by picking up knowledge gems dropped by fallen foes or by a discovery inside a secret room. These perks range from character altering states such as speed-ups or game altering states which generate more item drops, and so on. There's also a small selection of weapons and spells to be had with varying degrees of ammo use, power and fire rates that are picked up as you go; these are all welcome upgrades from the lowly magic wand you begin your quest with.
Additionally, at the beginning of each assault on the Ziggurat you are able to select from your available character roster. Beginning with only a male or female of average ability, further choices are unlocked with additional play-throughs and come with their own strengths and weaknesses and invariably different challenges to overcome. Ultimately there's a combination of character, perks and weaponry to fit even the most fussy of playstyles.
The fantasy setting is fairly typical of the genre, however it's fair to say some of the enemies you'll face are not so typical. A few clever twists on traditional demon designs provide some surprises, but nothing can prepare you for the moment a bunch of carrots-gone-bad come swarming in like rejects from a surreal South Park episode. This smattering of humour is welcome and it's nice to see a game of this type that doesn't take itself too seriously; the bug-ejecting beetle staff should also bring a smile to even the most serious of sorcerers.
Ziggurat's gameplay flies along at pace; once you have the mechanics down there's no letting up in the action. Should you wish to, you can quite literally run-and-gun the Ziggurat, if you're daring enough to not bother with levelling up it's possible to rush headlong into the boss battles and clear floors in a matter of minutes. (Although do bear in mind the perma-death feature when deciding if you're up to it). It's worth pointing out that the majority of floor bosses can be defeated through a judicious amount of circle-strafing, even when you're lacking firepower - as long you're skilled in movement and aiming, things shouldn't get too hairy.
Of course, a game of this ilk needs to be smooth and responsive and most of the time the Wii U handles the Unity-built game engine with aplomb. There are plenty of lovely graphical effects, all rendered with an eclectic colour palette, with the art style being in the vein of titles such as Fable or World of Warcraft. Unfortunately it seems the poor Wii U is feeling a little bit of pressure and as such there are regular frame-rate drops and skipping when the going gets tough. These moments pull you out of 'the zone' and are pretty jarring when in the midst of a particularly tense firefight. There are also a few weird graphical glitches which should really have been sorted prior to release, most noticeably in the (presumably) real time shadow effects.
Ziggurat for Wii U is pretty much a bare-bones conversion of the original game with no extra features or clever use of the GamePad (although off-tv play is supported). It's possible to run through all five floors in little over an hour, but you'll want to keep playing to unlock all the extra characters and access the different perks as it's a whole bunch of fun to do so - especially as no two floors are ever the same. Ziggurat is pure, unabashed pick-up-and-play fun and it's also fairly unique an experience in the Wii U library. It's recommended then - just take note of the slight technical issues which drag our overall score down a touch.