Let's start with the basics: Chenso Club is a roguelike platformer brawler. For those not versed in the lingo of modern video games, this means that your avatar must pass through a series of randomly selected rooms, collecting powerups while systematically destroying everything that moves. You do this again and again while the difficulty curve goes parabolic until, inevitably, you make some little mistake and die.
There's a bit more to it than that, though. Chenso Club has a few interesting quirks not seen among the other titles in the recent roguelike explosion. Ultimately, those distinctions are what put it a cut above a lot of more forgettable titles.
As with many classic titles from the olden days, Chenso Club begins with an alien invasion. The attack is led by Big Brain Brian, an entity of unknown motivation who is perhaps the most chill planetary conqueror ever seen in fiction. While clearing out a laboratory, the aliens crack open a containment tube and awaken its inhabitant - a chainsaw-wielding superhuman gynoid known only as "Blue."
The ensuing rampage doesn't go unnoticed - Blue quickly earns a following for her heroic struggle against the alien menace. Thus begins the titular "Chenso Club," a collection of heroes rescued and recruited by Blue, all being guided by a mysterious mustached man who is obsessed with the blood of his enemies and is definitely not a villain. The story is basic but the presentation is interesting, with the plot unfolding through comic book panels between the levels.
The heart of Chenso Club is its combat. There isn't a lot of technical platforming here - each area is a little arena that remains sealed off until every enemy is dead. And as a brawler, most of the combat is going to be up close and personal. It's a type of gameplay that has appeared in a lot of recent popular titles such as Dead Cells and Blasphemous, but I find it far more reminiscent of Guacamelee in terms of style.
Blue has a pretty wide range of attacks - everything from a standard combo to a series of elaborate air attacks that the player will need to master. All of the attacks can be deployed using two buttons and the control pad. The control system is intuitive and the controls are tight enough to handle the action.
But you're not restricted to Blue. The player can unlock more characters by defeating bosses, ending the game with a roster of five. These characters aren't just Blue with different stats, either - they have completely different movesets. Some characters (such as the maul-wielding Carmine, my personal favorite) are essentially similar to Blue, but others (such as Molly, a late-game unlock with a rare ranged attack) bring completely new mechanics to the table.
Chenso Club contains five main stages, each of which is split into two phases and then further into three levels with three screens each. There's a fair amount of variety to be found on these screens. Each stage has a unique set of enemies, and there are many special screens featuring unique challenges - anything from a not-so-subtle ambush to an NPC offering a reward in exchange for making the rest of the level harder.
Completing these challenges is one way to earn powerups, and as with any roguelike game, powerups are absolutely critical. Other than bonus challenges, the main way of earning powerups is to buy them from a shop that has a random chance to appear after clearing a screen. You won't find money lying around in Chenso Club, though - Blue and co. have to buy powerups with their life force. Each bonus lowers the player's current HP, so there is a definite risk/reward balance at play.
The player can also unlock more powerups and add them into the mix, and this is where "Chirp" - the game's inevitable social media parody - comes into play. Blue and co. can get Chirp friends by interacting with NPCs, each of whom makes new powerups available. The player can unlock these powerups between levels using a special currency earned by gaining followers for the Chenso Club. And, of course, one gains followers by doing awesome things - beating bosses, clearing special screens, and showing off for the paparazzi in a between-stage bonus challenge.
Chenso Club is a challenging game, but not quite as punitive as some roguelike titles. It's possible to finish the game with a less-than-ideal set of powerups, so bad luck won't hold the player back too much. The player can start a run at any stage they've reached and once the final boss is unlocked - which takes one complete run through all five stages - the player can go to the battle at almost any time. While it's none too wise, one can try and tackle the endgame from the very first screen.
A complete, standard run of the game will take around 1.5-2 hours. With five characters, four difficulty settings, a fair amount of unlockable content, and an endless loop that keeps getting harder and harder, there is some replay value beyond that first successful run. However, those runs aren't going to be dramatically different as they would be in a game like The Binding of Isaac.
Any fan of action platformers is sure to find something they like in Chenso Club. While there are certainly some rough edges, the central gameplay is solid and the overall package is pretty substantial. Recommended for anyone who appreciates a mix of old-school action and modern flair.
Chenso Club is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, XBox and on PC via Steam. This review was based on the Steam version.
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