top of page

Ethan Walton-Jones - Sergeant Llama

20 May 2023

Space Gladiators: Escaping Tartarus

Developed and published by Blobfish, Space Gladiators: Escaping Tartarus is a 2D hand-drawn roguelike game that blends difficulty, mechanics and precise movement to create a very enjoyable, albeit challenging, experience. Choose one of the captives and fight through seemingly endless hordes of increasingly difficult enemies, challenge strong bosses and expertly navigate complex traps and trials to survive and earn your freedom.

The first negative of any note in Space Gladiators is the story, or more precisely, the lack of one. There is almost no background to what is happening or why it is happening, so it can be a bit hard to connect with or root for your character. Other than that, you want to get the cute potato out of prison. Fortunately, the lack of story didn’t ruin the experience for me at all, and after a few runs, I forgot about it, as the game is hard and interesting enough to allow for total focus on the gameplay.


As with most roguelikes, progress can seem slow initially with Space Gladiators. However, it is very quickly apparent that this game has much to offer the player. Each run feels different from the last one, and the massive number of possible combinations of characters, items, enemies and bosses keep the game feeling fresh. There are over 50 different enemy types, eight unique characters that each have their own playstyles and stats, and over 300 items to be found in chests or stores, allowing for endless possibilities. The characters each have their basic attack, attacking up, down, left or right. You also have offensive powers that consume energy and can deal vast amounts of damage to single targets or take out a large group of enemies with a swift AOE attack. Energy can also be used to use defensive powers, such as shields that can block enemy attacks or even freeze them momentarily, allowing for a quick moment to catch your breath. Despite the 2D graphics, this game feels very souls-like in difficulty, and the tight controls and the precise dodging help reinforce this point. This game is challenging, and progress can feel slow. Still, as you learn the synergies and what works best with each character and item, you will find yourself getting further and better, with much higher consistency. Collecting gold in each run is important, as the gold directly leads to experience, and getting enough experience leads to levelling up your characters, providing them with passive buffs, such as more health or more damage with specific powers. Each standard fighting room has a difficulty allocated to it that can be seen on the map, so plan your route ahead to avoid as many more demanding rooms as possible unless you feel up for the challenge. Other than rooms with enemies and traps, there are a number of special rooms in each run that can provide bonuses such as permanent buffs to stats or new weapons or powers. Good news for the achievement hunters amongst us, as there are 110 steam achievements to be earned in Space Gladiators. The countless combinations of characters and items as well as the high amount of earnable achievements, help keep the replayability of Space Gladiators very high. It is very easy to jump in for a few runs when you have some free time.


After you are satisfied with your deck, head to the stagecoach to take you to one of the dungeons. There are six different dungeons to explore within the world of Dungeon Drafters, each having their own theme, ranging from deserts to forests to sunken ships. Each of the dungeons are free to explore instantly after completing the tutorial, so there is a lot of freedom handed to the player. However, it’s probably wise to steer clear of the tower initially, as it can be quite a bit more challenging just getting out of there compared to the other areas. Each dungeon has a randomly generated layout of rooms, with each room being different from the others. Other than the entrance and exit, the main rooms consist of basic rooms where you need to kill all the enemies to progress, puzzle rooms that offer up chests and shards (the main currency). If you can complete the puzzles whilst fending off attacks from enemies and challenge rooms, you may be offered a reward for completing a potentially tricky challenge. Upon entering one of these rooms, you draw up to a hand of five cards from your deck and gain three action points. Each movement, attack or use of a card uses one of these actions, after which it will switch over to the enemy’s turn. On your turn, make sure to check what the enemies will do, then move and play cards to avoid their attacks. Each use of a card will send it to the discard pile, where you won’t be able to use it again for a while, so try to avoid being wasteful. At the start of every subsequent turn, you draw another card from the deck unless you have five or more cards already in your hand, as well as refilling the action points back to 3. There are restrooms that allow for a quick heal and bring any discarded cards back into your deck via shrines. These shrines can sometimes be found in the exit areas, as these exit areas allow players to delve deeper into the more tricky parts of the dungeon. While exploring the dungeons, watch for shards and booster packs in chests and on the floor. If you manage to get out of the dungeon, these booster packs can be opened up and will present you with five more cards to use in your deck. The cycle of going into a dungeon, fighting things, and getting out again can feel a bit repetitive at times, but experimenting with different cards and trying to complete the various quests given to you can help keep the game feeling fresh each run.


Space Gladiators has very simple and intuitive controls, both on the mouse and keyboard and controller. I preferred the mouse and keyboard, but the game felt just as good on controllers, allowing for a good movement and combat experience no matter what your preferred control style is. The controls are also very precise and accurate, leading to timing the dodges and jumps to perfection feeling very satisfying. The only negative to the controls is that there is no way to cancel any dodge or use of power, so ensure that you dodge at the right time, in the right direction and not into a pit of ten enemies.

The graphics in Space Gladiators are very charming, with the 2D hand-drawn style used to perfection, creating the characters, enemies and settings to make each feel drastically unique to each other. The design for most of the enemies is done to give a general idea of how they might attack or how fast they may be, just by looking at their design and size. The 2D style also means this game has almost no requirements for the system it is running on graphics-wise. Heck, the steam page just says “128MB” next to the minimum graphics requirements, so this game can be run on almost anything. The music, designed by Aron’ Outer’ Arguello suits the art style very well. The simple, retro style of the music is a perfect match for the simple graphics and having unique music for the boss fights helps separate them from the fights against standard enemies. Each area also has its own soundtrack, and each feels well suited to its respective settings and themes. There is not really any responsive audio, and the main theme for each of the areas plays at all points in the area other than in boss fights, whether you are fighting off a large horde of enemies or just shopping.


Overall, Space Gladiators is the definition of a hidden gem. Its low price hides a game that offers a fun, addictive experience with almost endless possibilities that rewards creativity in the way you play. A successful run can be done with any character and almost any build. The more you play Space Gladiators, the more fun it becomes and the more rewarding it feels to get further and further before you finally beat it, just to jump right back in and do it all again.


The Bad

- Challenging and Rewarding Gameplay
- Precise, intuitive controls
- Charming art style
- It can probably run on a calculator (NOT TESTED)

- Initial progress can feel slow
- Lack of a story

The Good

bottom of page