If you're having trouble with beating this tough roguelike then here's a handy guide that's sure to give you a boost.
I gave City of Brass a solid 8 in my review but I noticed that other reviewers were much less positive. They universally noted that the game is too hard and while it's true that it's difficult, I don't think these gamers are as good at the game as they can be. So, I applied everything that I learned about City of Brass and completed it with no blessings and no portals. Looking at the leaderboards revealed that only two other players had done this. Maybe the other publications were right when they said it's too hard!
Instead of trying to argue why my review is right and the others are wrong, I decided to put together these tips to help others improve at the game. If I can complete the game with no blessings; you can, too (with some patience and dedication). Plus, there is one extremely useful aspect of City of Brass that's a huge help for completing it that isn't well explained: the wishes.
Use a wish on the health genie
Bhetun, the curative gives you a mere one heart in exchange for some gold. You might not know this but you can wish for him to restore your entire health pool instead. This wish (as with all wishes) persists throughout the entire playthrough meaning that every time you meet Bhetun, he'll still offer to restore all your health. This wish is pretty much mandatory for any serious complete playthrough.
Use a wish on the traps genie
I suggest using your second wish on Khashaz, the traps genie. For a price, he'll disable all the traps in the entire city which is amazing. If you're not using portals, try to save up gold in the first three stages to disable all the traps before entering stage four.
Don't worry about the time limit
I find that it's rare for me to reach the end of a level before my time runs out. Once the hourglass starts shaking (meaning your time is almost up), I'm almost always close enough to the end of the level that I can just run through the rest of the enemies without taking much damage. Even if you do run out of time, you can still avoid the hostile balls of energy pretty easily.
Stun dangerous foes before approaching them
Mages, spearmen, and many other enemies are able to attack from a distance. In order to approach safely, you need to stun them with the whip but I didn't need to say that because it's in the very basics of City of Brass, isn't it?
Aim for the legs or the head
Press L2 while aiming at an enemy's head or legs and they'll be stunned for a few seconds. If you hit the head, they'll grasp their head in pain and if you hit their legs, they'll be knocked off their feet. I usually hit the legs because they're bigger and easier to hit.
Don't walk out into the open
In other words, try to avoid going any place where enemies can approach from two directions. If possible, approach new areas in such a way that all the enemies are in front of you.
Kill enemies one or two at a time
If you're in danger, run back to safety. It's my belief that the best way to improve is to take on small numbers of enemies in controlled situations. That way, you can more or less take them on one at a time. It's far safer when there are fewer enemies attacking you. Plus, you can work on killing them the same way every time and you'll improve your skills in the process.
Try to see enemies before they see you
Every new room and courtyard is sure to have more ghostly enemies waiting for you so don't just rush in. Take stock of your situation first, then you can figure out how to take on the room.
One-shot enemies with explosives
Lanterns and bombs cover the floor in every level. Use them to bring the cursed to a swift end. Keep your distance, though!
Familiarise yourself with hidden controls
Double-tap circle to quickly jump backwards. Also, double-tapping circle while holding left or right makes you sidestep in that direction.
Running past enemies can be a good strategy
Remember, pressing circle while running forward lets you slide which is faster than walking. Also, you can slide past annoying traps instead of waiting for them. By the way, speedrunning stages becomes a lot easier once you've disabled all the traps in the city but I'll have more on that later. I wouldn't suggest a speedrunning strategy if you're just trying to make it past all the stages but if you're doing just three stages then I think it's a fine strategy.
Use chickens as a diversion
See those glowing chickens on the ground? They're decoys. Throw one at a group of enemies and they'll start chasing after it which allows you to get the first hit. Or, you can just run past them all.
Defeat bosses by throwing lanterns or explosives
All the bosses can be killed with bombs or lanterns which deal a lot more damage than your usual weapons. The Catacombs boss and the Palace boss are the easiest to take out with the bomb. However, the Grand Magus has a shield that needs to be lowered first and the archer boss in the Gardens summons copies of herself so you first need to stun her to find out which apparition is real.
Buy the Pads of Silence and Talisman of Confusion
The Pads of Silence lets you walk up close to enemies before they see you and the Talisman of Confusion makes enemies confused for a good two seconds where they would otherwise chase after you. If you have these items, you can sneak up and surprise your enemies whereas otherwise, enemies would sneak up on you!
Lure enemies into traps
The bad guys are too smart to walk into spike pits but there are other traps that they aren't wary of like darts and sand traps. Placing one between yourself and your enemies can save you a lot of hassle.
Don't use the Blade of Cleaving
It makes all of your attacks swing slower for a bit of a range boost which makes weaker enemies a lot more annoying to kill.
Turn on all the blessings if you want to practice
If you're stuck (particularly on a boss), just start a new run with all the blessings turned on, jump into a portal, and run past all the monsters until you reach said boss. It won't be too difficult, I promise. You'll get some much-needed practice, too.
How to fight magi
For these last few tips, I wanted to offer some pointers against some of the more difficult enemies that you'll encounter in City of Brass. Anyway, Magi are found in every area except the Palace and they have different characteristics in each zone but they all attack by shooting magical projectiles at you. The safest method is to wait for them to shoot at you and use your whip to deflect it back at them. You can also stun them with your whip then attack but they use their energy to push you back, making you stunned and having to run forward again. You don't want to run needlessly and attract the attention of other enemies.
How to fight archers
Archers can be found in the Abandoned Outskirts and the Gardens. They'll shoot at you from a distance but they're really not that scary. Just skirt to the left or right a bit and their arrows will fly right past you then whip their face or legs before approaching. You can also whip their bow, making them defenceless. Remember: use L2, not L1.
How to fight wardens
Wardens are encountered in the Gardens. They attack fast with their long-range glove, do a lot of damage, and pull you toward them. Use the same tactic that you use against archers: whip their legs and get close for a hit. These monsters take five hits with the default weapon, making them a huge chore. If you know what you're doing, you can side-step around them while hitting them five times. First, whip their legs so it's safe to approach them for the first hit. Then, start walking circles around them after they get up again.
How to fight silent effigies
Silent effigies are found in the Catacombs and look like Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. They only move when you're not looking at them. When you look at them, they turn to stone thus making themselves invincible. The only way to kill them is by throwing a bomb at them. Luckily, there are plenty of bombs in the Catacombs. You can either pick them up off the ground or grab them off an unstable salitar enemy with your whip. Instead, you could just lure them back to the starting area so they don't bother you again.
How to fight shielded guardians
The shields on these guys are huge and repel most attacks. However, there is a formula for killing them: pull the shield with L1, whip their legs with L2, then attack. That's just one hit but you'll need three hits to kill one with the default sword.
How to fight hazardous gladiators
Appearing only in the Palace, these are some of the most annoying baddies in City of Brass. They throw grenades with a huge radius and they'll teleport if you approach them when they're not stunned. There's no way to know where they'll teleport next so you have to watch your back at all times. Just whip their legs and strike them; the same method you use to kill most enemies. It helps to dash in any direction to avoid a bomb's blast radius. Gladiators take three hits to dispatch normally.
How to deal with Etol the Hurler
I suggest using a wish to convert him to your side. Assuming you use your first wish on the health genie and the second on the traps genie, you should have one more to use on this annoying fellow. You can also stun the genie for a while by using the whip to intercept his fireballs. That should give you enough time to run to the next area and out of his reach.
How to deal with Dhuake the Traitorous
If you use your three wishes on Bhetun, Khashaz, and Etol, you won't have another for Dhuake unless you're clearing the Gardens for the first time, I imagine. Luckily, his skeletons aren't a threat. They're weak and die in one hit. Your best bet is probably to kill the more threatening enemies as normal. You may want to lure them to a safer area where these annoying skeletons aren't trying to kill you.
I hope these tips help you improve your skills! My play style might not be the fastest or the most exciting but these tips will help you stay safe and minimise the amount of health lost. Hopefully after reading this, you'll join me in the online rankings!