The Nintendo Switch continues filling out its library of PC roguelite ports, and the recent Persian fantasy-influenced City of Brass has the added distinction of being that rarity in the genre: an FPS variation. It bears more than a passing similarity to modern roguelite bellwether Spelunky; the time limit is meager and the list of hazards is predictable yet positioned nefariously, with aesthetic inspirations largely drawn from a classic Hollywood tradition of action-adventure films. It’s more than a little uneven and unforgiving at its core, but City of Brass does deliver some worthy gameplay for fans of this challenging genre, despite the fact that the Switch platform struggles to house an effective FPS experience.
As an adventurer trying to reach the central treasures in a city of dangers, City of Brass grants you two essentials to contend with most obstacles and threats: a sword and a whip, with the latter as the game’s mightiest gameplay inclusion. A fierce-sounding multipurpose weapon, the whip can yank objects into your hands, disarm enemies, activate traps, and swing you across metal rings. It’s a satisfying and dynamic instrument for this type of game, and while it takes patience to master — there’s a distinct, prolonged delay between its trigger and action — once the timing for it is committed to muscle memory, you’ll wonder why a comparable weapon doesn’t appear in most games.
Aside from these armaments, City of Brass offers a mixture of armors, weapons, boosts, and items for purchase or discovery at random points in each level. It’s a nice assortment which ensures that exact loadouts between runs seem varied, even though the basics stay the same. There are whip upgrades that add a damage boost, powerful clubs and heavy swords, health increases, and other drops which distract some from the main issues at play here: the difficulty level, and how it relates to the control scheme.
City of Brass is a hard, occasionally frustrating and unforgiving game, which was originally the case when it debuted on PC back in 2017, but the Joy-Cons are a poor replacement for a keyboard-and-mouse control scheme. It’s fun to explore each surprisingly large level for secrets and gold, but player agency can’t help but feel hampered by the sluggishness of adapted WASD controls to the Switch’s main interface. The moments when you suffer damage most often relate to the resultant muddy, fiddly combat, which fails to come together time and again. There are sensitivity sliders in the settings for the X and Y axes, as well as a requisite aim assist, yet none of it ever feels quite right.
The problem, of course, is that combat represents the lion’s share of gameplay. Given enough hours, you’ll eventually learn to make the best of it, which usually requires waiting a second after moving the reticle over your quarry to give the auto-targeting enough time to kick in. It never totally gels, and while it’s potentially manageable, it feels like a shadow of the PC experience, where a quick mouse-look can zip you over to a metal ring, whip a skeleton below, then turn around to deal with a flying threat in a matter of seconds.
Speaking of skeletons, skeleton-lovers should rejoice: City of Brass’ bestiary is chock full of bony combatants with glowing fiery grins. Some of them are armed with weapons, others run right up to you or clamber over the floor as moving torsos, and all of them scream bloody murder with glee. They play very well into the overall aesthetic and design, although these assailants don’t reveal a lot of personality, and we’ve seen this enemy type in countless games before. Other enemies appear deeper into the game, along with helpful and harmful genies who all have considerably more charm, but none of it could be rightly described as unique character design, and feels somewhat rote.
So, in the end, how does City of Brass fare as a 3D Spelunky-like? Apart from the similarities explored in this review, the time limit seems integral to the homage. A depleting hourglass positioned in the top right corner of the screen drains down from the start of each level, inviting deadly will-’o’-the-wisp-like dervishes when empty. This injects an interesting balance between exploration and escape, and it’s common to be so drawn into a larger level’s treasure hoard that you don’t realize there are only 10 seconds left to find the exit. Luckily, an automatic compass always shows you the general direction of the way out, which gives these moments a fun, Indiana Jones-like escape quality, and arguably represents the peak of City of Brass’ design.
As a port, City of Brass on the Switch is left wanting. Gone is the leaderboard or any online features, including daily challenges — strangely, a leaderboard option is technically presented in the menu, but only collects your own run history. Details like this imply it as a rushed adaptation to the Switch, whose other roguelites (like Dead Cells) frequently include a daily challenge option. Fighting multiple enemies at once amplifies the myriad control issues, which compromises that tenuous roguelite seesaw of challenge which the game wants to wear proudly.
On the PC, City of Brass is a tough but fair experience that draws inspiration from some of the best games in the genre, but the Switch port pulls the shortest straw. It’s worth picking up, but mostly for City of Brass fans who will endure a hampered version of the game for portability’s sake.
City of Brass is out now on the Nintendo Switch. A digital code was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.