Siralim Ultimate (Sniper)
Genre: RPG
Developer: Thylacine Studios
Publisher: Thylacine Studios

Siralim Ultimate's hundreds of creature portraits portray everything from elven archers to blood sucking leeches to volcanic rock monsters. They are scaled up during battle, and the "chunky pixel" look is pleasant. Like all such art these drawings strive to be as evocative as, let's say, the monsters from Sega's Genesis "Phantasy Star" games, but fall quite a bit short of that high standard. The player navigates through tiled dungeons, and perspective, scrolling, and gradual exposure of the various tile sets-- swamps, forests, bloody wastelands-- is very reminiscent of the Game Gear title "Dragon Crystal". The menus are well laid out, with a readable font choice. Siralim Ultimate's utilitarian visual style is clearly meant to serve its gameplay master, but not much more.

Joshua Queen provides the music, and by contemporary video game standards it's quite good. You get some light piano music with synth faux-vocals, some guitar rock-metal fusion, some ambient keyboard tracks, and everything in between. By a mile the highlight is the song "Purgatory", which is like neo-classical Mozart rock-- it's one of the best video game songs of the past fifteen years. The battle tunes are fast paced and catchy. The game doesn't have much in the way of sound effects-- just various character attack growls, and a tasteful menu chime.

Imagine Pokemon, but where every creature has rule-bending passives. From there you "fuse" the monsters together, combining their passives. Then you equip and level up spells, giving those passives. After that, you do the same with equipment. And oh yeah, the player character has a perk system, which throws more rules onto the battlefield. It's exactly like "Magic the Gathering" deck building: "What kinds of insane combinations can I come up with?" The amount of ludonarratively hilarious things which can occur is staggering. The fact that it all feels so balanced is even more staggering.

One-man army Zack Bertok has been cranking out these Siralim monster catching games for the past seven years, and with all of that time to tweak, to experiment, and to get the balance just right, this rendition really does deserve the "Ultimate" moniker. The visuals are simple, clean, and readable; the soundtrack is interesting and has high production values; and the number of features crammed into the game, including full-on macro support and combat automation, makes it feel like the hardcore simulation games on DOS in the 1980s. It's not the end-all in terms of atmosphere or anything, but for a fun, novel feeling pixel art dungeon crawler with monster catching, look no further.

Sniper's verdict: