Alina of the Arena Review
Developer PINIX Games’ Alina of the Arena was met with a very positive reception upon its release onto Steam in 2022. Now, this roguelike deckbuilder is making its way to consoles and looks to be a little more in-depth than your standard tactical card battler. But does it transition well to consoles? Was it even that great to begin with? Let’s see…
The premise of Alina of the Arena sees you playing as Alina (obviously) a gladiator who must fight for survival in front of a crowd of bloodthirsty spectators. Although you won’t find a detailed narrative here, the games it draws inspiration from — such as Slay the Spire and Into the Breach — prove that you don’t always need an engaging story to create an utterly addictive title. And before getting into the details, Alina of the Arena has done just that, as I am absolutely hooked!
So, what is it about this game that keeps me coming back for more? The simplicity of progressing through each stage and the pick-up-and-play nature, combined with some clever mechanics and a good amount of depth, are the main draws for me. What looks like a generic deckbuilder at first glance, Alina of the Arena has a lot of customisation to really let players craft not only a unique deck but also Alina herself.
Let’s start off by talking about the basics, then. The aim of the game is to win a select number of fights to be able to face that arena's boss monster. The menu allows players to pick and choose which encounter they’d like to take on next, including regular or Elite level enemies, a shop to buy new cards or items, a rest stop that allows Alina to recover some health, and so on. Upon selecting a fight, you’ll be placed into battle with six cards selected at random from your deck. From a standard attack to fireball spells that can cause burn damage, there’s a decent amount of variety to the offensive and defensive cards that will all factor in when altering your strategies each turn. Each card costs a set number of energy, with the default energy being set at three. Once exhausted, it’s time to end the turn and face enemy retaliation.
Now, there’s a lot going on that makes Alina of the Arena more exciting than a simple “pick the highest damage-dealing card to win” style of game. Enemies will attack from every angle, but you’ll always know how and where they’re going to strike. Playing cards that can shift your position (or the enemies) on the grid-based arena map will be crucial to avoid taking damage and staying alive. Then you have the addition of weapons and items, some of which can be scavenged from the battlefield or earned as rewards tossed into the arena from the crowd. Items are often only good for one use and will usually offer the chance to heal mid-battle or inflict a status ailment on an opponent. Weapons are, unsurprisingly, more about dealing direct damage. There are two slots to equip weapons with, each having their own unique properties — such as a crossbow allowing for long-range attacks at the cost of an additional card to reload — and with a decent variety of them to find, purchase, or earn, it was fun to mix and match, experimenting with which combinations worked best with the deck I had built.
Visually, the simplistic pixel art isn’t anything majorly impressive, with the arenas in particular looking fairly bland. Our main character’s sprite is also rather basic-looking, although having her weapon change depending on the one equipped was a nice touch, even down to which hand is holding it! The enemy designs, though, stand out as the most visually appealing aspect of the game. With a wide variety of sword-wielding thugs and grotesque monsters, Alina of the Arena has an impressive range of foes to battle against!
Much like the visuals, the audio doesn’t do much to excite. The generic battle music and menu themes will quickly wear thin, and there’s next to no variety, so get ready to hear the same two songs over and over again. Despite this, the effects played during attacks or any other battlefield actions are serviceable, although again, I do wish there was more diversity in the sounds.
The game doesn’t feel particularly well-optimised for consoles, at least when talking about using a controller, with some fiddly right stick menu selections and having to navigate around the screen just to do something as simple as swap weapons. It’s not a huge pain — and would be much more infuriating if the action unfolded in real-time — but it would be difficult to recommend buying this on console rather than the mouse and keyboard precision of a PC, despite me eventually getting used to the somewhat awkward navigation.
I enjoyed my time with Alina of the Arena quite a lot. Although basic on a surface level, the level of replayability and customisation more than makes up for this. With multiple classes to play as, tonnes of cards to collect, and just the right amount of challenge, this is a roguelike deckbuilder that will more than likely have you itching for one more run, rather than throwing it in the discard pile.
Alina of the Arena (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
A simple-looking yet mechanically rich title, Alina of the Arena’s addictive gameplay always felt rewarding no matter how long I played, and it always felt like there was a new card just waiting to be found.