Last week I shared my initial impressions of a Paper Mario fan game called The Black Pit. In this game, Mario tumbles into an underground pit and is trapped inside along with familiar faces like Cheatoh, Fishmail, and Oaklie. The only way to escape is to battle his way through the Pit’s many floors, but the coins it will take to purchase upgrades and badges are best collected during a particular challenge: the Roguelike Pit.
In the Roguelike Pit, there are a number of rule changes to the standard mechanics of Paper Mario. For one, no enemies have a defense value, allowing you to do your full damage to any opponent you attack regardless of their vanilla stats. But in exchange, Mario always starts in the Roguelike Pit with no upgrades whatsoever. Even if you’ve purchased your jump or hammer abilities for the Classic Pit, the Roguelike Pit strips them away and leaves you with your basic abilities. Badges also function differently in the Roguelike Pit: instead of managing BP, Mario automatically equips any badge he picks up, meaning that there’s no limit to the badges you can hold but also no choice in what you do or don’t want to use.
Structurally, each floor of the Roguelike Pit features a battle that must be completed in order to open the pipe to the next floor. In addition to that, there will be one or more small puzzles with a prize locked behind them: a badge, an item, coins or keys, or even a permanent weapon upgrade or partner upgrade. Every tenth floor contains a large chest which contains a random partner and a random badge. These floors will also have Rawf, who sells items, along with a helper character who will offer shadier services to help you along. This could be a dark Toad that reduces a stat in exchange for a badge, or a duplighost that prevents your partner from attacking in exchange for a coin modifier. The hundredth floor of course has a final boss for the Pit – defeat them and you win the run.
Every ten floors has a different set of enemies to pull from based roughly on the base game’s chapter order. So floors 1-9, for example, primarily consist of Goombas and Koopas from chapter one. But once you hit 11-20, you’re dealing with chapter two enemies as well as a little something thrown in from chapter three for good measure. However, the pool is limited and the enemies seem to be intentionally chosen to create a more difficult environment and skip some of the weaker enemies from any given chapter. This leads to a pretty noticeable boost in difficulty between floors, though some jumps inevitably feel more difficulty than others. For example, if you try to hit floor 21 without any kind of defensive boost or extra HP, chances are good you’re not making much more progress in your run courtesy of the piranha plants, hyper Goombas, and hyper clefts that make their homes there.
The way you get stronger in the Roguelike Pit is essentially luck-based. If you have the resources to solve a floor puzzle, you can get tools to help your run along. If you get really lucky, you’ll get something essential and not just something convenient. It’s nice to have Happy Flower, for example, but FP Plus is generally better. And while a Thunder Rage is a great item, having a Super Hammer to increase your damage and expand your puzzle solving capabilities is vastly preferable. There’s technically no particular resource that is “required” to finish a run, but if you’re not steadily building HP, FP, damage, and defense, you’re looking at a run that probably won’t go very far.
Lots of different types of puzzles can block your prize on a floor. There are multiple types of padlocks that can appear on a springpad that stops it from functioning. Blue locks require coins, gold locks require keys, and red locks require HP in order to open. Springpads can also be locked by the need for a specific partner like Goombario or Watt, or an enemy can be protecting it. The steepness of a cost is generally a good indication of the value of the prize – expect to pay hundreds of coins for a partner or weapon upgrade. A powerful enemy like a white clubba standing in front of a spring hints at something useful, while a Koopa is probably just protecting a mushroom or low-cost badge. Other rooms may have puzzles navigated by a specific partner’s abilities, like gaps for Parakarry to fly across or water for Sushi to swim through.
The ultimate purpose of the Roguelike Pit is to collect coins and star points. Coins work much like in the base Paper Mario game – you win them for winning battles and can also find them in bulk in treasure chests. Star points though are connected not to battles but to challenges, which are essentially The Black Pit’s version of achievements. Completing the Roguelike Pit for the first time, for example, is worth a good chunk of star points, but then there are additional rewards for playing it on harder difficulties or with self-imposed conditions like never buying items. You can then spend these resources on benefits to help you complete the Classic Pit and finish the main game. It’s an interesting setup where the heavily RNG-based roguelike mode serves as grinding for the more traditional Pit of 100 Trials experience.
To give you an example of how impactful the Roguelike Pit can be in your main run, I’ll talk a bit about my experiences with it. Generally my runs either die by the 20th floor or make it all the way to the end; at the time of writing, I’ve played the Roguelike Pit five times and beaten it two of those times. The resources you get early have a huge influence on how viable your run is going to be – a strong early build is essential to pushing through the initial difficulty spikes. As you go on and get more partners, it gets easier and easier to access the rewards on each floor, so once your momentum gets going it isn’t too challenging to carry that momentum through to the finale. Each time I’ve beaten the Roguelike Pit I’ve walked out with a little over 2000 coins. This has been enough (with some extra tossed in from my losses as well as from the Classic Pit) for me to buy the full versions of the hammer and jump abilities for Mario. That’s it. Two completed runs and I barely have any meaningful resources to make it through Classic – just getting to floor 30 to unlock Bombette so I could start using star powers was a trial.
Like most roguelike games, finishing one run is just the tip of the iceberg. Once I beat the Roguelike Pit I unlocked a whole new area, the Maze, which is the region of the Black Pit where you farm star pieces. I don’t actually know what star pieces do yet but given that I already have access to the mechanics for partner upgrades, star spirits, badges, as well as furniture and skins, my guess is that star pieces are probably the tool I need to increase Mario’s HP and FP. I tried to run the Maze once or twice but the enemies there are circa chapter seven, which makes them pretty challenging to deal with when I only have 10 HP and 5 FP. I’m going to need more partner upgrades and badges to be able to hold my own in the Maze, and since I’ve hit a wall in Classic too, that means I’ll be heading back into the Roguelike Pit once again despite having finished it twice already.
I’m enjoying the Black Pit so far. The degree of challenge feels appropriate for my skill and experience with Paper Mario, though I am definitely not confident enough just yet to start bumping up the difficulty. It’s fun to try to make the best of limited resources during a run and being pushed to use abilities or partners that I might normally put to the side in the main game. I do wish the Roguelike Pit was slightly less RNG based; games like Hades and Slay the Spire strike a good balance in my mind by giving you random rewards but also letting you make a choice of what reward you want, allowing you to build towards a certain strategy rather than relying completely on good luck to sail through a run. Runs are also longer compared to those games – 91 battles in a turn-based RPG is pretty time consuming, plus factoring in time for item purchases and puzzle solving means that a single run of the Roguelike Pit can feel pretty exhausting if it actually lasts all the way to end. I’d like to push through though and see if I can make enough progress to be able to tackle the Maze – I feel like if I can get just upgraded enough to go in there and start accomplishing some things, that will really make a difference in my ability to push into the Classic Pit.