Players of Dungelot, Red Winter Software’s casual, roguelike dungeon crawler, follow basic dungeoneering adventure goals as they explore: Kill monsters! Get loot! Don’t die! Each level is a grid of square rooms, just waiting to be explored by your hero, and each room randomly contains monsters, chests of rewards, traps, or power-ups, creating an exciting dungeon-crawler Minesweeper. Completing each level requires finding the key to unlock the door to the next level, and the very real potential for death creates tension when deciding whether to keep exploring for more possible loot or to hurry through the levels to preserve your hero’s health as long as possible.
Since Dungelot is described as a roguelike, I’d expected the usual endless player deaths, punishing difficulty (especially through bad luck), and a lot of mind-numbingly repetitive replay. The game opens with a warning about just how often players will meet death in the dungeons, and, yes, there is a certain amount of hero death in the dungeons, but I was pleasantly surprised with how delightfully replayable Dungelot was. Was it the cute monsters? Goofy distilled missions? The addiction of finding magical items? I kept promising myself I’d start taking some notes after just one more run.
Heroic stats are distilled to their simplest form in this minimalist dungeon adventure. Red hearts represent health, little daggers represent attack power. Find hearts in the dungeons, spend coins on hearts, trade spells for hearts, and otherwise acquire more of these essential red hearts to keep from dying. Between poison traps and damage from enemies, you’ll run through these way too quickly.
Dungeon monsters are cartoony versions of geekdom favorites, like a translucent green slime-monster, a brain-hungry zombie, and a round, red, bird-hating piggie. Don’t let the cuteness distract you from the room-clearing and treasure gathering, though. These enemies are tough, and death is serious.
Besides monsters, rooms can contain riches, friends, power-ups, and poison traps. Barrels require smashing, of course, to get at the possible loot or danger within, and chests can be tapped open to reveal their magical loot. A knight appears to protect your hero from the next three attacks or a wizard can appear and buff your health. My favorite random visitor was the Red Mage, both for his adorable, familiar style and his helpful attack on all visible enemies. Occasionally, mean doors demand a fee, such as 15 coins, or check a condition, such as holding an item, before offering the chest they’ve been guarding. Each level is randomized, so the difficulty can vary pretty dramatically between playthroughs.
Sometimes, your hero will be presented with a dungeon-crawling mission, distilled down to its most basic elements. Kill the goblin boss. Find three villagers. Find your corpse from last time. (Did I mention there’s a lot of death in Dungelot?)
After each death, you can spend acquired coins on special powers and advantages for
your hero… Er, or on a clone of your hero. I’ve never been too clear on rebirths in roguelikes. Strategy fans will enjoy weighing a 4% increase in the chance for a critical strike against a 5% chance to stun the target, but casual players can simply choose a character class and increase stats without the recreational math aspect. Players begin as a paladin, and can unlock a playable vampire, dwarven brewer, and an assassin by reaching new levels of the dungeon.
All the deaths didn’t bother me, but my wall-punching frustration came when I minimized the game without pausing, losing all of my levels. Learn from my mistake, and ignore whoever is talking to you until you have paused the game. No matter what they want or how much you love them.
Facebook and Twitter share icons are such a constant that it’s hardly worth mentioning that the iOs build of Dungelot supports social sharing, and this is in the works for the Droid version as well. I can’t think of the last time I was motivated to share my game scores, but Dungelot’s difficulty made me so proud of my successes that I actually really wanted to tell my friends about my dungeoneering skills.
Overall, the roguelike die-and-start-over element added just enough tension to bring excitement to this very casual dungeon crawl. Dungelot successfully blends the ease of entry in casual games with dungeon adventure, adorable art, and nail-biting exploration choices.