I’ve never played Reigns before, but the idea of its signature card-swiping mechanic has always intrigued me. I can’t help but wonder what narrative depth is possible in a game where you only have two choices available to you. But it turns out the answer is: quite a lot. Card-swiping not only adds a wonderful deadpan comedy to decisions – where everything is resolved with yes or no – but it also adds an appealing simplicity, as you are swept along in the flow of events.
And this is something that perfectly fits the series’ newest installment, Reigns: Beyond, a sci-fi/rhythm game twist on the usual format. In the game you play as the captain of a starship who joins a band through slightly weird circumstances (you crush the lead guitarist) and sets out to tour the galaxy, finding fame and fortune which each new show you play, and deadly scrape you avoid.
It’s a happy-go-lucky narrative game, as you deal with crazy characters including Lord Shark, Gron the Space Bear, and your crew/bandmates who use the ship’s life support systems to huff pure oxygen a little too often.
It sounds a little crazy, but the actual gameplay is fairly simple. You spin the space compass and choose a section of the galaxy to travel through, dealing with a number of cards representing the duration of that trip. These could be anything from a battle with pirates, to eradicating a ship-borne alien infestation. It’s a surreal mixture of events, but Reign’s resource system is a key aspect of how you handle them.
There are four resource bars in the game: power, oxygen, people, and ship. Each decision you make on the journey affects these resources, and you can tell which by the lights that appear when you touch one of the choice cards. Say, for example, you tell your crew mate that Bear Lovers is a terrible band name – this is likely to lower your ‘people’ resource. Some choices are trades, such as the ship doctor saying “Hey, I can make vodka if you let me use the life support system!” The ‘people’ resource increases, but the oxygen lowers. Each journey in Beyond is a battle of survival, trying to keep these bars even until you reach your destination.
Accidents happen, though. Or, not so much accidents as stupidity. The first time I died was because I joined my crew in huffing oxygen from life support, and I honestly regret nothing. Reigns: Beyond is one of those rare exceptions where you often won’t care that you died, because the circumstances were so damn hilarious. It really fits with the game’s whole ‘live fast, die young’ attitude, as you recklessly run across the galaxy, doing things just because you want to see what happens.
The game actually reminds me a lot of Crying Suns. You manage a ship and resources in a very similar way, and it has the same roguelike component, where you are resurrected upon death. But while Crying Suns is all about survival, and has a fairly serious narrative, Reigns: Beyond feels like it just wants to mess around.
And there’s plenty to mess around with. Whether it’s changing your band name or style, gathering guitars, or just interacting with the hilarious cast of characters that you end up collecting. Another important component of the game are the rhythm-based sections, but honestly, I found these surprisingly lacklustre considering music is a big part of the narrative.
Each guitar you collect gives you a new song, for a total of nine altogether, but this does mean that you end up repeating songs a lot when you stop off on planets to play shows – especially early on. The actual rhythm game is on rails, as you hold the guitar to play, and use it to collect the hearts coming at you – imagine an easy version of Thumper. I understand that rhythm isn’t the main component of the game, but it can make the band aspect feel a little bolted on.
I think my groupie might be a spy…
But I don’t think it’s enough to detract from Beyond, and how generally hilarious it is. I haven’t laughed this much at a game in quite a long time. It’s also got an excellent soundtrack, and a really colourful art-style, which fits with the game’s craziness and vibrancy. Reigns’ card-swiping mechanic also works very well here, and lends itself perfectly to the random impulsive decisions that help make Beyond feel so fun. Despite very occasional frustrations with the repeat cards, or that somewhat lacking rhythm component, Reigns: Beyond more than makes for it with charm and humour.
You can find Reigns: Beyond on Apple Arcade.