Rogue-likes (and lights) are all the rage these days. They are often praised for their challenging gameplay, and forgiving but compelling loops of going on procedurally generated runs, dying and losing all you have, and replaying that whole process over and over again. Normally, rogue-choices are known for depressing experiences, but Wildfrost manages to turn every run into casual, relaxing fun.
Billed as a deck-builder rogue-lite title, Wildfrost opts for a pretty wintry setting. There is snow everywhere, the travelers are frozen in ice; In most other games, this may sound terrifying and annoying, but Wildfrost goes the other direction and makes its entire world feel like Christmas. Not really Christmas, mind you, but from the cartoonish art and character designs to the ability to throw snowballs to slow enemies down, this game is a joy to watch and play.
At the start of each run, you’ll choose a character as your leader. Once your leader falls, the race is over and you have to reset. In the demo build I played, I had to defeat two mini-bosses and one final boss to complete a run. Each match starts with two lanes that you and your opponent can fill, and you’ll want to fill your lane with your leader card, and any other companion cards you may have collected along the way.
Some leaders come with unique abilities, such as the ability to counterattack when hit, or generate shields when hit. Companions also come with abilities, and the depths of Wildfrost begin to reveal themselves to the player as you uncover various buffs, debuffs, and modifiers to play with. Some companions will provide shields for their entire lane when hit, while others prefer to stay in the backline to offset your damage over time.
Image Source : Deadpan Games, Gaziter
Enemies themselves also come to deal with all sorts of excruciating abilities. Some will increase their attack every time they snowball, and others will continually block your attack and defense at every turn. The more companions you collect, the more important it becomes to really think about how they sync up with each other, and whether they’ll do more harm than good against specific enemies.
During a race, you’ll have the chance to collect charms (which serve as passive party-wide buffs), mates, and money. The enemies you face will change as well, and it helps to make each run feel a little different and fresh.
Battles are primarily turn-based, where you take turns positioning your leader and teammates on the field, playing cards to inflict damage on your enemies. Leaders and teammates also have turn counters at the bottom of their cards, and will execute their unique abilities whenever it’s their turn. While Wildfrost might look lovely on the surface, it quickly proved to be a daunting experience as I played.
I soon realized that managing turn counters is critical to success, as your characters typically have to go through three or four turns before being able to take action. During this time, you’ll also need to keep an eye on the enemy’s turn counter, and think carefully about whether your characters will have enough health to survive the next attack. It can be tempting to keep throwing snowballs at your enemies to slow them down, but again, this isn’t a strategy that will work every time because your enemies have ways to avoid it too.
Image Source : Deadpan Games, Gaziter
Being careless with my actions will result in a quick death for your teammates, and I’m not ashamed to admit (okay, maybe a little) that I failed my first 10 runs or so, more than that. Before that I eventually got lucky and learned how to maneuver around my enemies a little better. At any time during the battle, you can click and drag one of your character cards into the discard pocket to recover them. They will eventually return to your hand, but be aware that redeploying them will take another turn.
Thankfully, Wildfrost is a Rogue-lite, which means you get to keep some of your progress during each run. Gold doesn’t move, but you can hit certain milestones in all your runs to upgrade your village. Upgrading the village will unlock various features for you, allowing you to access more types of companions, as well as enchantments to help make the run a little easier.
Even with all these upgrades, Wildfrost is still a tough game to play, and you’ll have to be patient and ready to deal with a whole bunch dying before you see some improvement. While I’m not necessarily the most patient player, Wildfrost’s adorable aesthetic certainly helped me keep going. No matter how many times I died, facing off against witches and baby snowmen never got old, and it’s hard not to feel enthralled by the lovable character and enemy designs. Except for cute penguins instead of gross monsters, the art is very reminiscent of Grindstone and I’m all about it.
Wildfrost’s demo build was pretty short, and by the time I (finally) got to the end, I found myself wanting to see more games. Put me in front of a fireplace with a cozy blanket and wildfrost on my Switch in winter, and I’ll be ready for the end of the year.