Developer: Carry Castle
Genre: Action Adventure
Reviewed For: Nintendo Switch
It’s important to remember that, despite being in the category of “next gen system,” the Nintendo Switch is simply underpowered in comparison to the other behemoths of the current run. The PS5 is an amazingly beautiful beast, and the newer Xbox series are, to put it frankly, almost scary in design and output. They both compete for the space of showcasing the most gorgeous graphics and the best in futuristic response, so we hold them to very high standards. We cannot simply overlook the Switch and say “oh, it’s alright, it’s not strong enough,” because then we have to move the Switch into a subcategory of gaming. Having said that, the Switch is now over five years old, so it’s not like the specs are being sprung on developers without warning.
I can see that developer Carry Castle had some truly grim and exciting ideas when it came to creating the dark roguelite Source of Madness. A sprawling game set in a gothic horror landscape, the concept is cool and exciting. As an acolyte for a cursed church, you set out to discover the true root of the evil that has gripped the land, infecting the people with cosmic horror and eldritch nightmares that literally seem to spawn out of nowhere. Reincarnating time and again as another would-be hero, you progressively become more powerful through rituals, discoveries and victories over the evils that infect every inch of the land you once loved. It’s engaging and exciting, and I cannot believe that it took me as long as it did just to get a good feel for this game.
Let me set the stage: I received my copy of Source of Madness nearly a month ago, and I’ve been playing on and off this whole time, usually at least a half hour a day. In that time, I’ve come to know the game fairly well. I know that, despite the roguelite moniker, there’s a lot about the game that is pretty straightforward and even predictable. Though the landscape can be altered, it follows the same general layout with each replay, including where and what kind of enemies will spawn. I know that the close combat style of might and magic means that there isn’t a ton of variety in the approach, only in how successful it’ll be. That is to say, despite having a good amount of different magics (poisons, fires, ice, etc.), your best bet is to button mash each and every time, because you need to rely on the speed of your acolyte to get the job not, not necessarily the tools that he or she is equipped with. Lastly, the game really opens up once you’re able to get a few runs in: once you better understand the equipment layout and what’s expected of you (it’s more of a looter than a crawler, if that makes sense) you get a grip on the Source of Madness appeal.
And let’s be totally clear, the game is wildly appealing. The amount of equipment you’re able to find from enemy drops, various stores and discovered treasure chests is immensely satisfying. For someone who grew up with Diablo as a touchstone, I completely get the enticement to keep finding new equipment, better gear, and also the terror of knowing you might die and lose that beautiful Flame Lance Ring II, forcing you to respawn back inside and impossibly large cathedral where it takes a couple of minutes to even get out and into the town to start the run. Again, Source of Madness is ambitious to say the very least, and the sprawling nature of both the closed and open environments showcases an amazing goal that the developers set out to achieve. From what I’ve seen of video of the PC version of the game, I’d say it was successful, and it looks absolutely gorgeous…on something besides the Nintendo Switch.
The problem is that I reviewed this game on the Nintendo Switch, a quaint and dainty system in comparison to what the market has to offer, and I get the feeling that this was an attempt to simply prove that something can be done, not that it should. The immediate problem is that Source of Madness looks quite ugly on the Switch, both docked and in handheld mode. The sprites are rough, scaled down and chunky, like you’ve ran them through a retro filter or else were trying to draw things from memory. It immediately takes away the achievement of the game when it looks like a Playstation 3 era indie title that was hastily ported over after the success of an XBox 360 release. This would normally be an issue, but it’s compounded even deeper when you factor in that Source of Madness is inherently dark, so the polarizing effect of the lightning and graphics can not just make things murky, but indecipherable, which can be lethal in the cave areas where shadowy figures blend too seamlessly into the walls and floors. God forbid your Switch gets hit by a beam of direct sunlight: the instant loss of vision will result in your death, as Carry Castle has unabashedly compared the game to Dark Souls. Meaning that cheap kills are not only probable, but expected.
Yet the worst part is the chugging, stuttering mess that players have to deal with on the regular. You only need to play five minutes of the game before encountering a fight that causes everything to slow down to single digits in framerate, an inexcusable moment of frustration and anger. Should you survive past this moment, Source of Madness is able to return to normal for a bit, but will hit you time and again with moments of overwhelming slowdown, making you feel like you’re streaming the game over dialup Internet. It takes everything that’s great about gaming on the Switch – the portability, the instant gratification – and hurls it, screaming, off a cliff. The result was a dread that came from booting it up each time.
It took me this long to review Source of Madness because I kept hoping a patch was coming. Sadly, either the developers don’t know the secret sauce to fix the problem, no one has played it enough to get their attention, or it’s simply taking longer than normal to get the ducks in a row. In any case, this wonderfully gothic piece of Lovecraftian game world is only fit for PC consumption, not the Switch. Avoid it at all cost unless a patch comes through. Otherwise, the only horror you’ll experience is watching a game writhe in pain from simply trying to exist.
Source of Madness
A painfully lost opportunity, Source of Madness promises something that the Switch cannot deliver.