Power Chord review

Power Chord review

We’re all wearing the cover band t-shirt

Vegas can be a lot of fun. The last time I was there (maybe it was during a CES?) we ended up spending one of the nights walking through Fremont Street, observing the patrons and acts along its borders. It just so happened that a stage was set up for live music, and one of the many Queen cover bands was playing a very loud set. It was the centerpiece of the street fest, so the crowd was a pretty decent size. This must have been a well known musical group because many of the fans were wearing the band’s t-shirts.

Let me reiterate: They were wearing the cover band’s t-shirt.

As I was trying to explain BigBlueBubble’s Power Chord to the the rest of the SideQuesting team on a recent episode, this memory stuck out in my head. It’s perhaps a great analogy for what the game actually is: Power Chord plays the hits, it wears the outfits, it even sounds like the original crew, but as good as it is to experience it’s ultimately not the original band.

Power Chord sets out to add a layer of punk styling to the traditional deck-building RPG. It asks us the question, “if every aspect of this game had a rock music analogy, what would it be?” Could you, quite literally, make everything “more metal”? The answer is, yes.

The game features a “battle of the bands” punk rock aesthetic in which members of our party are themed as musicians in a band. The singer is a support, the guitarist provides attacks, and the drummer, bassist, etc etc each have unique roles as well. It’s definitely the class-based RPG team that we know, but wearing spiked shoulder pads and waving a microphone instead of a sorcerer’s wand. If we’ve seen a rock band on TV before, it feels familiar.

It’s a competent turn-based deck-building RPG. We can collect a ton of cards, each of which have varying effects and attacks associated with either our bandmates or the general play of the game, and build up decks that we feel will help us win fights. Do we want a hard offense focused deck? Sure. I tend to lean on this direction early, alongside some the support cards that grant an extra or stronger attack. Enemies, like our bandmates, have a health bar that can be ticked away, whether our guitarist does it in bunches or we use the pseudo poison-style attacks that inflict short bursts of pain. The cards aren’t overly complex either, which is a good direction to take to help onboard fans into the genre who may just be joining for the aforementioned rock RPG. It’s familiar card battling.

And, the rogue-lite aspect of the game is a satisfying loop. The overworld is a linear series of venues that we run along, taking on different and more powerful enemies. When we come across splits we can choose to go for loot or take on more battles to increase our experience. We can keep plugging along, collecting and upgrading cards, before we fail because we’re not strong enough — starting the loop over. It’s as familiar as rogue-lites get.

All of these aspects work. Every bullet point hits. It’s very satisfying to play. And very, well, familiar.

But at the same time, there’s not enough to make me wanna stage dive. Though musical ideas are oozing out of its pores, the game seems to only use that as a decorative wrapping and not something imbued inside of it. Could attacks have been timed to the music? Could the music in battles change depending on who is in our party? Could our party have interactions, egos, and the push & pull of the inner workings of every band? But it doesn’t have any of that.

That’s not to say that the game isn’t good or isn’t enjoyable; in fact it’s completely consistent in quality and a nice ride with good devil-horn throwing jams (and it works so well on a Steam Deck, too). But at the same time it sure feels like it’s being held back. I want to know that the cover band’s drummer is about to go off, and I want to see the drummer go off, but the drummer never goes off because the cover band has source material to strictly stick to. And while the source material is great (Queen is still real good, y’all) and the band is wearing the right costumes and mustaches and the singer even sounds and moves like Freddie Mercury, we can tell that the band isn’t about to start dropping their own hits any time soon. Power Chord is that solid cover band. We know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into when we go to see them, and maybe we’ll even buy their t-shirt, but we won’t tell everyone that we actually saw Queen.

This review is based on a Steam code sent to SideQuesting by the publisher. Images and video courtesy BigBlueBubble. It originally appeared on the January 25th, 2023 episode of The SideQuest.