Gemcraft: Enemies

The Gemcraft series is pretty minimalist about its creeps. It uses just three archetypes: normal enemies called “reavers”, weak but fast and numerous “swarmlings”, and tough but slow “giants”. Any wave will consist of just one enemy type, with their appearance randomized from wave to wave, probably to help justify their increasing stats. Sometimes a wave will have randomly-assigned special powers. And that’s it, for regular enemies.

But there are also special monsters. Gemcraft: Labyrinth, the third game, had various special bosses like Arcane Guardians on key levels: you’d think you’re done because the last numbered wave is over, but then something large and glowing and very hard to kill would start making its way very slowly down the path. The final level was protected by a Shadow, a creature made of particle effects that moves outside the paths and has a fairly complicated repertoire of behavior. Also floating free from the paths were the ghostly Apparitions, which are kind of like the saucers in Space Invaders: they don’t attack at all, but you can shoot them down for a bonus. Apparitions aren’t bosses. They just appear at random from time to time.

And it’s these random appearances that Chasing Shadows adopted as the basis for all of its special monsters! There are no bosses per se here: special challenge levels are instead done by giving you special tasks, like destroying locks or activating ancient devices. But we get random appearances from boss-like creatures. In particular, the Shadow from Labyrinth, toned down a bit, becomes just another thing that happens once in a while.

The most interesting randomly-appearing boss-like enemy is the Forgotten. A demon that manifests sometimes as a tentacle monster and sometimes as a woman with skeletal arms, the Forgotten is the main antagonist of the series, but doesn’t appear in the game levels until about halfway through Chasing Shadows. In fact, she arguably doesn’t appear in the game levels even then. She appears to be in some way outside of the game, like the player. When she appears, you just see her silhouette on the screen, as if she’s passing in front of a movie projector, which would place her in the player’s physical space.

Because the Forgotten isn’t inside the scene where your gems and spells have their effects, she cannot be fought. When she shows up, she just takes a semi-fourth-wall-breaking action and leaves. Sometimes she enrages some of the upcoming waves, making them tougher to beat, which frankly never seemed all that bad to me — as I noted previously, I was enraging most waves myself by the end, so when the Forgotten does it for me, all she’s really doing is sparing me a little effort and expense. Ah, but the other thing she can do is fearsome: sometimes she takes control away from the player. For about the duration of a single wave, all the controls are simply removed from the screen and all you can do is sit and watch events unfold. Which you normally spend a lot of time doing anyway, but you usually at least have the ability to spring into action if there’s a sudden need, and she temporarily takes that away.

All special monsters, including the Forgotten, are heralded at least a wave in advance by glitches and flickers, as if their eldritch presence is interfering with the magic you’re using to view the scene. So you at least get some warning when the Forgotten is about to show up and mess with your plans, a trick that the game uses to make you blame yourself for the outcome.

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