Indie Review: Powder

I'm going to level with you: I don't particularly like RPGs. While I can totally appreciate why a lot of people love them, I've just never got on with sprawling story arcs, random battles, item collection and all of the other aspects one would generally associate with the genre. I'm also totally aware that there are many, many sub-genres within this particular channel of gaming and that to say I don't like RPGs is probably a little bit short sighted on my part. I mean, I really enjoyed Link's Awakening on the Game Boy and Ocarina of Time on the N64, have battled through all of the Mass Effect games and even got pretty far into Virtual Hydlide on the Saturn before the desire to vomit explosively enveloped me...but those aren't really the kinds of game I'm talking about.

I'm talking about learning spells, calculating hit points and wading through loads of text. Frankly, I just find traditional RPGs boring. That's just my (admittedly ignorant) opinion and I totally respect that people reading this may have just spat either cornflakes or a Pot Noodle (or both?) all over their computer or phone screen, but I haven't even attempted to play Skies of Arcadia yet because I just know what I'm going to get in that particular package; and I spent about 8 minutes playing Final Fantasy 7 before I removed it from my PlayStation and stuck Alien Trilogy back in. You can take a horse (me) to water (RPGs), but you can't make it drink (play them). Brackets were used in that last metaphor to clarify what I was trying to convey with my cack-handed grasp of wurds and stuff. Keeping that last sentence at the forefront of your cerebellum, allow me to explain that very recently I was made aware of a home brew roguelike RPG that has been ported to the Dreamcast and can be played using an SD Reader.

Powder started life as a Game Boy Advance project and is the brainchild of programmer Jeff Lait. Writing on the Powder website, Jeff explains that the game was borne out of his desire to play a roguelike RPG on his handheld:

"I created POWDER for one simple reason: I wanted a roguelike on my GBA. The standard RPGs were annoying me with endless battle screens against weak enemies to unfold a drug induced plotline. I wanted a game I could just jump into, and start killing things. Having had more hours than I'd care to log playing Nethack, ADOM, and the Diablos, I knew the exact type of game I wanted. The problem was I didn't see anyone publishing it any time soon."

Since the GBA original, Powder has been ported to various other formats including the Nintendo DS, Windows, Macintosh and Linux. Recently though, forum admin Indiket successfully translated the source over to the Dreamcast and the source has - rather helpfully - been turned into an SD Reader-compatible ISO file by DCeric so that morons like me can get involved and begin dungeon crawling.

The first thing I noticed when playing Powder was just how helpful the game is - even a complete n00b like yours truly was up and running within a few minutes. The story is presented via a few screens of text (you must descend through 25 levels of an underground dungeon and slay an almighty daemon known as "He who the author cannot spell consistently," or simply Baezl'bub. You can tell from that description alone that Powder is also a game that revels in having a fantastic sense of humour. Played from a top-down perspective, you must control your hero or heroine through the dank halls, opening stuck doors, finding weapons, potions and spell books and doing battle with all manner of hideous beasts and monsters (and eating the odd corpse along the way). The controls are - like the visual style - extremely basic and easy to pick up; but don't be fooled - there is a lot going on in Powder.

The sheer volume of lore and literature within the game is stunning and what's equally impressive is that it's so well written and humorous. Not laugh-out-loud ROFL funny...just very dry., almost Discworld-esque in places. There's a whole wealth of items and weapons that can be equipped, Gods to pray to and secrets and puzzles to beat. Going back to my opening gambit (where I said I didn't like RPGs, remember?), I have to say that after half an hour of playing Powder I'd totally forgotten that I don't like RPGs. Granted, I was on my second play session having been defeated in battle by a giant rat the first time round (permadeath is alive and kicking here, folks!) but Powder just makes you want to keep playing to see what's though the next door or down the next ladder. There was no sound at all in the version I played but this didn't really detract from the overall experience: I was playing a totally free game and dammit, I was enjoying it.
In the next hour I spent playing Powder I didn't get very far (only about 5 levels down into the dungeon before being killed), but I can attest that it is a pretty interesting and enjoyable game. There's levelling up aplenty and the dungeon changes with each new game so you'll never see the same layout twice...meaning lots of longevity if this is your type of game. Has it changed my overall impression of RPGs? Not really - but for a free, downloadable home-brew game there's a lot worse out there.

If you want to give Powder a go, head over to either or The Iso Zone for more information. Also be sure to check out Jeff Lait's incredibly detailed guides to the game at the official Powder website here. Special thanks to DCeric for creating the ISO for me and also to Indiket for the conversion work.
Take heed, neophytes.


Mongroovy said...

This intrigues me, is there any multiplayer? And will there be sound added to the Dreamcast version?

Tom Charnock said...

Hi Mongroovy. Not really sure about the sound question but there's no multiplayer in the game I played. I don't think it's intended as a multiplayer game though - just something you can sit and while away a few hours with.

Indiket said...

Hi guys!

This game has no music or sound in any version, so its not a Dreamcast faulty :)

Robert Jones said...

Nice article Tom. I think this homebrew aspect of the Dreamcast scene is great. Plus, I gotta say, I like a good roguelike.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks for clearing that up Indiket - and thanks for porting the game! Cheers Rob, yeah the home-brew scene on the DC is awesome. Sega missed a trick with the open nature of the console. Instead of trying to discourage home-brew, they should have embraced it!