One Step From Eden makes absolutely no secret of its cribbing from Capcom's late, occasionally great Mega Man Battle Network series. It essentially lifts the ingenious battle system from the GBA cult classic wholesale, makes a series of tweaks and additions, then sets you to work. There's no gallivanting around the UnderNet here; all semblance of exploration has been stripped out, offering a pure combat experience that's both refreshingly focused and staggeringly demanding.
The real-time combat sees your player character (initially Saffron, with many more to unlock) moving around a 4x4 grid one square at a time, with your enemies holding a similar grid directly opposite you. Their own spells will (usually) be flagged on your grid before they land, giving you some warning to move out of the way of their increasingly complex and speedy attack patterns. Every battle is randomly generated, and victory moves you along a map with the occasional branching path allowing to decide where to go next. Dying kicks you back to the start, with your only prize being a gradually filling completion bar that grants you unlockables when you hit milestones – bonuses such as more powerful spells for future runs and (eventually) new characters and load-outs.
It's another roguelike, yes, but unlike any we've played before. Instead of the battlechips of Mega Man Battle Network, you'll be using spells, which cycle through your "deck", a rack of abilities which can be added to by conquering enemies in combat. These spells take on many different forms – there are ice and fire projectiles, lightning from above, slashing swords, laser beams and many, many more. Yes, there are over 200 of the things, and unfortunately, this feeds into the major problem we had with this game – it's just too hard. The sheer number of spells is daunting when so many of them are similar-looking, and the more you obtain the less likely you are to "draw" the spell you need for the next tough enemy.
Roguelikes are supposed to be hard, we know. But One Step From Eden, crucially, doesn't feel rewarding. The game gets insanely tricky as soon as the second boss battle, your grid being absolutely flooded with fast-moving, ludicrously demanding attacks that you can scarcely be expected to dodge reliably given just how much is going on. Most roguelikes of this nature will occasionally tip the scales in your favour with a particularly "broken" load-out and fortunate enemy drops, but that never happened during our time with One Step From Eden.
It was cruel death after cruel death, our identical-looking spells being dodged by fast-moving enemies, the killing blow administered by the vicious bosses after a snide one-liner, adding insult to injury. Some will relish this game's difficulty; we just found ourselves thinking that the optional battles with secret super-boss Bass in the Battle Network series were never as difficult as even the second boss of One Step From Eden. The unlockables are slow, too; we found it took an average of five failed runs before you'd unlock the next item, which would then be unceremoniously shuffled into the spell pool with little chance of spawning and even less chance of being useful if it ever turned up.
Thankfully, the frustration of the game's sky-high challenge is kept at bay by the simple fact that it's an enormous amount of fun. This really is a terrific battle system and it's a surprise that it's taken so long for a developer to outright copy it. In theory, all the pieces for you to be successful are there, but thrown into the randomised mix of fierce enemy combinations, potentially useless spells and the lack of opportunities to heal your character, it's simply an extremely challenging game that can often feel like a hopeless endeavour. Your skill will improve over time, but it's a very stark first few hours as you'll reach boss battles with good health only to be systematically dismantled by attacks that hit multiple times and never seem to disappear. There are shops you can visit during each game, but their perks are both expensive and rarely particularly game-changing.
It all looks superb, with gorgeous incidental art and wonderful pixels on the characters, their designs distinctive and likeable. The graphics are clear enough that your (many) deaths will always be your fault rather than that of screen clutter. The music and sound effects fit the action brilliantly and the UI is very easy to use. The maps between stages are gorgeous too; it's just rare that we ever saw past the second one.
One Step From Eden is an exceptionally well-made game with great combat and responsive controls. The whole thing is brilliantly slick and polished; it just feels like it could use a difficulty balancing patch to make it feel just that little bit fairer. We're sure many of you will be uttering the phrase 'git gud' right now, but there's no denying that One Step From Eden is just that little bit too unforgiving, and this will certainly cause many players to bounce right off it in those first few hours. However, those who stick with it will be handsomely rewarded; if you can stomach the challenge, it's a hearty recommendation.