Slay the Spire developer Mega Crit has released a new autobattler card game called Dancing Duelists. The game is available for free on itch.io and features a cast of different characters, all with their own decks, who you level up between dance-offs with new cards and abilities. It's way better than it has any right to be.
Don't get me wrong: this comes from a three-week game jam, and so the core is there but there's little wider structure, and I ran into one or two minor glitches over several runthroughs. But this is as good a proof-of-concept as you'll play, featuring 10 characters with unique deck styles, a range of power-ups you apply as you progress through the dance-offs, and the delicious trick of letting you get overpowered as hell.
My first attempt was with Disco Dan, whose key card is called spin: it only deals one damage, but then allows you to play another card. With enough of these in your deck, and specific cards that can buff it, you can spin and spin and spin: the only downside being that after a certain number of spins, Dan gets dizzy and the turn ends.
Even then that's a simplification of how you can build-out this character. But Disco Dan and I didn't quite mesh, and after getting absolutely walloped by some self-healing tree thing I decided to try out Boom Boxer. Now we were cooking with gas. This character is a heavy hitter with a vigor mechanic that can further buff the damage, and after winning a few dance-offs I'd added enough good cards and abilities to basically turn this thing into prime era Mike Tyson.
Boom Boxer lost one dance-off but was so overpowered by the end of the run it was almost comical. Even this was as nothing, however, next to the clown I picked next called Carnival Carry: all about playing multiple cards, my Slay the Spire knowledge meant I picked up the claw card early. And you know what? Claw is still law. I thought Boom Boxer had gotten too powerful but some lucky card picks made Carnival Carry a true terror that didn't lose a match. It couldn't lose a match.
This sense of being unbeatable, of having a deck that just works together almost too well, is the kind of feeling you're always chasing in deck builders. Dancing Duelists delivers a quickfire dose of this in every playthrough, with every character seemingly able to become ludicrously OP. Which I'm completely fine with: this is a fun experiment, not a competitive FPS.
Dancing Duelists has its origins in the recent and disastrous controversy over Unity's pricing structure. Mega Crit has been making its next game in Unity but, following the announcement of the changes, released the following statement in September:
"The Mega Crit team has been hard at work these past 2+ years on a new game. But unlike with Slay the Spire, the engine we have been developing it in is Unity.
"Despite the immense amount of time and effort our team has already poured into development on our new title, we will be migrating to a new engine unless the changes are completely reverted and TOS protections are put in place.
"We have never made a public statement before. That is how badly you fucked up."
Yowza. And Dancing Duellists is Mega Crit experimenting with the alternatives, coming from a three week game jam in the Godot engine. In fact, Mega Crit announces alongside this release that Godot is "our new official engine of choice!"