Ring of Pain is a roguelite dungeon-crawler card game, and a surprisingly engaging one at that. The gameplay is fairly simple, but getting to the end is no mean feat. This game is very difficult.
Simply put, you wake up and see that you are part of a ring — think of this as your standard room in a dungeon crawler. Your exit is also a part of the ring, but between you and your goal lies a variety of different objects — treasures, potions, upgrades and enemies — each represented as a card. As you exit your first room, you realise that you are moving in a second, larger ring. The question is whether you are spiraling downwards or fighting your way up and into the light.
This is the crux of the story behind Ring of Pain. As far as I can tell, your character appears to be in a coma or dying of some unknown condition. This is all hinted at by a creepy bird thing called Owl and a mysterious shadow you sometimes happen upon when you leave a room. Both seem to be helping you, both speak in rhymes and riddles, and both seem to be at odds with one another. Neither wants you to work with the other.
What’s really happening will only be revealed once you exit the ring of pain.
This is a great premise that allows for some interesting gameplay. Imagine this: to your immediate left and right stand creatures that want to kill you. Do you attack the smaller enemy on the left, or do you try to sneak past the one on the right? Sneaking may fail, which means that although you move past the enemy, you will take a beating in the process, but on the other hand, attacking and killing the enemy will remove it from the ring, grant you some souls and bring whatever was behind your fallen foe one step closer.
These decisions are made easier by the game telling you what will happen if you attack or fail to sneak past an enemy — if the enemy is stronger or quicker than you, you will see how much health you’ll lose on the backswing. This, coupled with the turn-based design, turns the game into a deadly puzzle for you to solve.
What it doesn’t tell you, at least not at a quick glance, is what the enemies around you are doing.
There are multiple types of enemies to contend with. Some move aggressively towards you, hell bent on attacking you or blowing themselves up in your face. Others shoot you from afar, with others still flee towards the nearest exit with potential treasure. You can either sneak your way towards the exit or you can trudge your way through the ring, desperately picking up whatever loot you find on the way.
This loot comes in the form of base stat upgrades, an ability or a piece of equipment. Treasure is your mainstay here, as you can buy it with souls or receive it as a gift from Owl or the shadow. As with any game in this genre, what you find is entirely based on luck. As you play more, and die more — and you will die a lot — you unlock more and rarer items to find you along the way. With 180 items to unlock, this game will keep you going for hours.
The diversity of equipment adds a whole extra layer of complexity. Some will raise your attack and speed, whereas others will make you slower but give you more clarity, unlocking bonus souls on each kill. Some are more of a drawback on stats but have powerful passives, whereas others are just rubbish. At best, they seem like red herrings.
All of this compounds to give each decision you make — from whether you attack, sneak or simply change your armour — real and often immediate consequences.
Even the choice of exit has consequences. As you get further into each run, you come across rooms with multiple exits, and as you die more and more, you learn which dangers lie beyond which door and learn which strategies will help you survive this horrid place. Some, for example, will drop rocks on you as you move around them; others have puppies and potions in them.
Weirdly, not every room is fraught with peril and terror. There is, on occasion, an oasis in the desert, such as the aforementioned Companion room where you can slaughter puppies for easy souls (if you’re an absolute monster). There is also a room with Owl, who appears as an enemy card, and random shrines scattered about.
As with the equipment, none of your options are necessarily optimal, or even good. They’re just options and, as in life, you just have to hold your breath and hope for the best.
Annoyingly, the shrines are utterly useless. There are no tips or rhyming riddles telling you what to do with these, which means you often sacrifice your entire build hoping for a perk and die needlessly in the process. Or you simply pass them by, as thankful that there are no enemies in the room.
This is one of two really poor design choices let the game down. Your character dropping all of their max health points into a wishing well for no reason is basically the same as you walking into a church and banging your head on the altar in return for a potential gift from God. It makes no sense.
The second issue is a major one: the difficulty spike in the end. The game is challenging throughout, but the penultimate room ramps things up significantly before you face the veritable brick wall of difficulty that is the final boss, which has 500 HP and also spawns enemies to hunt you down. It is five times the max health of the next strongest enemy and, for context, my max HP was 29 at that time.
It’s extremely frustrating, because I genuinely want to know how it ends. Unless they reduce the spike to resemble something more feasible, I’ll just wait for someone else to finish it so I can watch the ending on YouTube.
Last, but not least, there is a second game mode for those who want something more standardised than pure RNG. The Dungeon of the Day is a curated dungeon where the cards are in a set order. This means that there is an optimal route from start to finish — how you fared will be revealed upon your death in the form your position on the global scoreboard. It’s a nice reprieve from the frustration, but there’s no real reason to do it other than to take a break and test your skills against other players.