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Demon’s Mirror Preview – Stack The Deck, Stack Some Gems

Mirror mirror, on the wall – cards and gems, and that aint all

The document introducing me to Demon’s Mirror did a great job of filling me with both excitement and dread. It just managed to name two properties that elicit very unique reactions on my part; Slay the Spire meets Puzzle Quest – one game that intimidates the heck out of me, and one that devoured literally hundreds of hours of my life. You’d likely be surprised which was which.

Cards and tile-matching mechanics feel like they are somewhat cut from the same cloth, but seeing them stitched together into such a fine dinner jacket had me incredibly curious whether a look could be pulled off. I felt intimidated but hungry to get in and match tiles again, that I finally pushed myself to properly engage with the card-based battle system so many had urged me to try. And you know what? It bloody works.

The preview’s rapid-fire tutorial was enough to get me toddling off on my two wobbly feet, but man, there was a meaty amount of buttons and doodads to sink my teeth into. Impressively, the game does a lot to make sure you know what is going on. Cards will make mention of specific keywords and terms, with a tooltip happily expanding to tell you what each means when you mouse over. This did a lot to take the paralysing density out of the moment-to-moment, because everything has a live translation of Demon’s Mirror-nese to English. From here you then need to balance the myriad of options that are available at any given moment – managing your energy resource to tap into the puzzle board and your cards in equal measure. It can be daunting at first, but with no time limit on taking your turn and the familiar Spire-like ability to see what each enemy intends to do, you can chin scratch at your leisure.

Matching that many swords means some big hurt is about to land

Weaving your turns between card trickery and puzzle board shenanigans makes you feel like a mad chemist, brewing up all manner of buffoonery. Match sword icons to inflict damage, match shields to gain an effective health shield – match Willpower gems for a stacking effect or match Essence energy to bank a secondary resource. Okay, so far so good. The demo character, Draga, came packing a groovy little gimmick that reduced the cost of a card in my hand by (1) whenever I completed a puzzle board chain, so each turn would often start with a quick look at what the baddies had cooking up, before turning my attention to the puzzle board. Given the early game nature of the demo, the majority of my cards were cheap to play – so this trick would often net me a free card play per turn. Another fantastic gimmick in Draga’s arsenal was inflicting ’Influence’ on enemies – effectively a stacking buff that would eventually ‘convince’ an enemy to leave the battle if you stacked enough influence to match their HP. Quite often I found the bounties of the board and card effects to offer me more Influence based output than raw damage, so I quickly came to appreciate Draga’s push for diplomacy.

From here the balancing act came down to how I would manage my mana resources to best capitalise on cards and tiles. If my hand was rich in Influence cards, nabbing some Essence would boost their effect. If the enemies were prepping for a big hit, matching Shields may also reduce the cost of a blocking card to weather their blows. Progression between fights pushes you across hexes in a very Spire-like way, and if I had been fortunate enough to encounter a few extra cards, I may have a big swinger of a card that will supercharge my turn and really get sparks flying.

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I always had a subtle hint of worry that having so many facets all dependent on luck would mean that eventually all my gameplay planets would align and I’d just have to eat shit for a turn (like any card game), but in practice it actually came to feel that having all these different systems speaking to each other actually created a much richer opportunity for bad luck to just piss right off. If you have a lacklustre hand, the puzzle board beckons and vice versa. With generic card options letting you mill the puzzle board of yucky tiles and Willpower tiles giving you an easy option for some battle swinging effects, you’d need a monumental pile of bad luck to truly achieve nothing in a turn. If all else fails, reach into your scroll pouch and you’ll likely have something up your sleeve to keep things moving in a positive direction.

The unnerving visage of the shopkeeper – not helped by his unnerving words

Once you traverse the map and its foibles a boss awaits you – and the kid gloves come off. Fighting one of these more involved encounters will see a few more twists to the standard formula, including unique turn telegraphs and likely a ton of yucky board spam. Y’see, some enemies will throw trash on to your puzzle board, blocking your more epic combos or creating a ticking time bomb of a tile that will enact an effect when the turn timer hits zero. You can often influence these by chaining tiles through them or using the same mill cards that reduce or remove tiles – but when the big swingers come, it’s a full on investment to avoid its incoming danger. With only 60 maximum health in the demo, seeing two of these tiles thriving on your board, each offering a shocking 30 damage upon detonation, really amps up the stakes and shifts your strategic perspective. One card will actually let you deal damage based on the current lifetime of enemy titles that are looming on your puzzle board – with the amazing card name of Counter Argument. While ferociously specific, it’s a magnificent gambit if you can somehow whip it out at the right time to omegaslam a baddy that is polluting your playspace.

Either thanks to my emerging strategic skill, or to the credit of the game for being so intuitive, I managed to squeak through this run of the map with more victories than losses and salivated at the super cool prize cards and trinkets that would be offered upon defeating a boss. Sadly, the demo experience ends here so I could only imagine the wondrous card-based bullshittery that awaits. But the desire to know more, and achieve more was firmly within me.

Gotta grab all that Essence, because three heads is just too much to deal with

Really, my only concern would be how the scope will expand when the game fully releases. Immediately the preview build suggests that the game has at least three playable characters, much like Slay the Spires classes – and it does look that each of these characters will have a unique deck to them, at least if the example of Draga appearing in basically all of the card artwork is to be an indication. The stacking mechanical depth of each deck, plus match-puzzle management, PLUS deck building, PLUS scroll and trinket detail – for many it will either be a banquet or a barrage to the senses. In the grander scheme of things, I leave the preview feeling more confident than anything – what has been shown to me so far shows a very tight grasp on what makes for a fun experience. I doubt the crew at Be-Rad Entertainment are planning to fumble their killer app any time soon.

Fantastically, you can get your hands on the very build I was enjoying as part of the Steam Next Fest on June 10 – so please take Draga for a spin and see how it all comes together. Those gems aren’t going to match themselves, y’know?

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A Demo for Demon’s Mirror is currently available via Steam.

Previewed on PC // Preview code supplied by publisher

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Written By Ash Wayling

Known throughout the interwebs simply as M0D3Rn, Ash is bad at video games. An old guard gamer who suffers from being generally opinionated, it comes as no surprise that he is both brutally loyal and yet, fiercely whimsical about all things electronic. On occasion will make a youtube video that actually gets views. Follow him on YouTube @Bad at Video Games

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