Demon’s Mirror – Hands-on Preview

Demon’s Mirror is an upcoming ‘roguelike deckbuilder’ described by its developer as “Slay the Spire meets Puzzle Quest”. While Slay the Spire was critically acclaimed and enjoyed by many, I never dipped my toes in – deckbuilders aren’t usually my thing. But given I worked as a writer on Puzzle Quest 3, the latest game in the long-running series, it felt appropriate for me to wade into Demon’s Mirror to take a look at just how deep that inspiration runs. 

At first glance, the premise is perfectly fitting for a roguelike – you, the hero, are drawn to a magical mirror in the forest that has long been said to force those who look upon it to relive the same nightmare-filled day over and over. Transported to your own version of the nightmare world where this day takes place, you are soon forced to face an ever-changing landscape of enemies as you make your way through a grid-based board, making your way to the boss in the hope that defeating it will make the nightmare end. 

Demon's Mirror screenshot

Though I might not go so far as describing them as nightmarish, the creatures in this world are certainly unsettling. From the somewhat absurdist foes you’ll fight on the battlefield, to the shopkeeper who sells you new cards and trinkets for your travels, each new character I met made something of an impression. Some of them are classic fantasy creatures, with the Puzzle Quest inspiration showing itself early in the mages and beasts of the early game, and some of them are just weird, like the guy who seems to only be half a body, or the sentient stone tower who also looks like he could be made of clay. The game has a striking art style that really brings out the mildly surreal nature of a lot of these creatures, almost as if they’re illustrations in a particularly scary children’s book.

The whole game, in fact, feels like something of a storybook adventure, with each new game tile offering a different kind of experience. Stepping onto some tiles will simply propel you into battle, and some will let you rest at a campfire in order to restore some of your health, but there are others that present you with a random encounter – a largely single-frame scene that presents you with a decision that can affect your run. You might meet a character who can assist you in upgrading or shuffling your deck, or be confronted by a danger that is equally able to harm and help you. I found myself going out of my way to step on these tiles just to enjoy these moments, often with little regard for what mechanical benefits they might offer me but an excitement that I might get to meet another weird little guy on my journey. 

Demon's Mirror screenshot
Demon's Mirror screenshot

Most of the tiles you’ll cross will put enemies in your path, and you’ll experience the interesting fusion of genres that the main combat mechanic provides. You’re presented with a hand of cards – the main arsenal that you’ll be upgrading and using to formulate a strategy – and a match-3 style board filled with icons that allow you to take actions like building a shield, attacking enemies, or collecting resources that will ultimately allow you to better utilise the cards in your hand. It’s a juggling act between the cards available to you and the board, and knowing when to hold ‘em, fold ‘em, or use your action points to make elaborate links across a board seems to be the key to success at Demon’s Mirror. 

It doesn’t take long to get into a groove with your card usage and match-making, but it similarly doesn’t take long to realise that sometimes the odds just aren’t in your favour and a group of enemies is going to bring you down. It was hard to get much of a sense of how this roguelike element will hold up over time in a demo that only took me two attempts at the boss to complete, but I see the potential – a board that kills you in one run may look entirely different on the next, and a well-placed campfire can make all the difference. 

Demon's Mirror screenshot

Demon’s Mirror’s main gameplay loop has a uniqueness to it that I’m sure will pull an audience, providing its own take on roguelike, deckbuilding and match-3 experiences. That it takes inspiration from other properties is clear, but its equally clear that it tries to use them in fresh ways to offer its own experience. From the preview I played, it’s hard to know whether these fresh ways will continue to feel fresh for more than a few hours, but I hope they do. There’s a clear base for what could be quite a deep system here, and I’m interested to see how its handled.

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