In my time playing Dungeoneer, I asked myself, at what point does a game stop being a stepping stone towards better, more complex games of its genre, and instead devolves into one devoid of style, depth, and worth? How can one differentiate between the two? As someone who has little experience with the first-person RPG dungeon crawler, I looked forward to playing Dungeoneer, as it would give me a taste of the genre and prepare me in going forward. Things went smoothly at first, as I bought some basic gear at the town and easily fought my way through the first floor of the dungeon, all while a catchy but generic and unfitting tune played in the background. But after ascending through the game’s advertised ten floors, its overly simplistic nature started to show itself, and all interest waned.
For one, character customization is limited. In contrast to other games of its genre such as the fairly recent Legend of Grimrock, you control only one character, and specialization is non-existent. As you level up, you are given a skill point to put into one of four stats: strength, vitality, intelligence, and agility. The issue is that you are expected to put points into each stat, as this is the only way to survive. The only exception being intelligence, since there are a limited amount of offensive spells, but a variety of weapon upgrades that can either be bought or found in chests, thus making intelligence useless in comparison. A party of characters would allow for a dedicated healer, a dedicated offensive tank, and a dedicated mage, each using their strengths to make up for the weaknesses of others. This synergy is missing from Dungeoneer, and every time you start a new game, it is guaranteed that you will play the exact way you did in a previous run.
The level design bears the same flaw; each floor consisting of the same gray brick tile set, and no theme to tie any floor together. The only exception being the 6th floor, which housed flying enemies. Fighting them however, required no strategy different than the one you would use to fight a snake. As you would expect in a game whose environments are indistinguishable, getting lost is a common occurrence, particularly in the later floors that have an abundance of dead ends. The map helps in this regard, but it is bad design if you need to have the map up at all times to know where you’re going. Normally I would sympathize with the environment designer, whose work would have to be unseen in a situation like this, but with the bland, copy-pasted levels, nothing is being lost.
If any area of Dungeoneer deserves praise, it’s the enemy design, as each enemy is highly detailed and sprinkled with personality. But this is ultimately superficial, as there are really only two types of enemies, ones that heal themselves, and ones that do not. Then there are the boss fights who normally guard the door to the next floor. In a truly backwards bit of game design, they are significantly easier than the standard enemies, often taking very few hits to go down, leaving you feeling unsatisfied when you finally clear a floor.
Much of the game feels as if it used its status as a cheap mobile title to excuse itself from providing the excitement one would hope for playing an RPG. The death penalty is a lie, as at first each death costs gold to bring you back to town, but as soon as you are lacking in currency, the cost to revive is free. And to circumvent having to go through the whole dungeon again, there is a warp that you can buy and use indefinitely, teleporting you back to the floor you died in. I understand that a level of leniency is required when assessing a small mobile RPG, and you should not expect the level of complexity that say, a PC RPG would have. But if a mobile game is designed to get you to keep coming back for small periods of play, than Dungeoneer fails. If you are looking for something to pick up and play on your way to work or school every day, then once you have already beaten it, you will find that you have to force yourself to get to the next floor, and the commute won’t be so pleasant.
Is it Hardcore?
Dungeoneer is functional at best, tedious at worst. It may be worth the cheap price if you’re ok with playing a game for two hours and then never thinking about it again.