Listen, Hell, The Dungeon, we need to talk. The thing is, I’m having second thoughts about our relationship. I can forgive the comma in your title. I can forgive the poorly rendered drawing of the huntress on the title screen, whose cleavage and lazy eye compete to see which is more distracting. I can even forgive your shoddy translations, if only because I laugh every time I’m told, “CONGRATULATIONS. YOU DEAD.” But here’s what I cannot forgive: A game that promises to lower barriers of entry to the roguelike genre while still pleasing old-school fans with an added hardcore mode—but instead turns out a product that’s confusing for first-timers and boring for veterans.
Despite the impression you might form based on the title screen, there are three classes of characters to choose from: the cleric, the huntress, and the berserk[er]. I chose the cleric to start off with. No sooner did I tap the cleric’s head than I was dropped into the first level of the dungeon. There’s no story, which I think was a wise choice: just leave out the shoehorned plot and bring on the fearsome monsters, please. In theory, I’m also a fan of the fact that there’s no tutorial or help screen. I like the idea of connecting the character’s sense of being helpless and scared in an unknown environment with the player’s state of mind. However, if that’s how the game is designed, then trial-and-error should inform the player of everything he or she needs to know. That’s the only way to keep things fair.
So how does Hell, The Dungeon do in this regard? Not great! For example, there’s no way for an inexperienced gamer to discern the difference between a weapon that deals 1D6 damage and one that deals 2D3 damage. The explanation is perfectly simple: The damage is random based on the possible outcomes from rolling one six-sided die versus two three-sided dice. But who’s going to be able to intuit that? Something else difficult to intuit is how attributes affect combat. For example, what does the intelligence characteristic actually affect? On the class selection page it says that intelligence improves the damage of the cleric’s attacks and his resistance to enemy attacks. But what about the other two classes of characters? Similarly, it’s obvious that agility is important for the huntress, but what does it do for the cleric? Does it just increase his dodge percentage? If that’s the case, is it better to equip him with an item that increases his dodge percentage by 5 percent or with one that gives him +2 agility? Beats the heck outta me.
Since we’re on the subject of items, gentle readers, I am compelled to inform you of their blahness. Aside from range, none of the weapons really allow you to perform different types of attacks. So while you’re free to switch between swords in the middle of combat, there isn’t any meaningful way to tailor attacks against your enemies. The other frustrating thing about items is that any gear incompatible with your chosen character class is totally useless for the duration of the game. You can’t barter or sell anything, or place items strategically for another character to pick up later, since going up or down a stairwell re-randomizes each level. As a result, my first few times playing as the cleric I found nothing but bows and daggers, and by level five I had nothing but a dinky little starter wand with which to defend myself. CONGRATULATIONS. YOU DEAD.
I wish I could at least say that the game looks cool, but gentle readers, it totally doesn’t. The 8-bit aesthetic is coming back and some Android games use it with style. Gurk III, for example! Or Legends of Yore—a game HTD clearly tried and failed to rip off. Details in the environment, like cobwebs and old skulls, just look like navel fuzzies. The huntress’s armor and the warrior’s armor are practically indistinguishable, so if you wander into enemy territory to pick up some shiny new chainmail, there’s a 50 percent chance it won’t fit. Some of the dungeon bosses look interesting enough—but who cares, because I never actually had to employ any strategy to beat them! Once I had acquired some skills (with descriptors like, “Weakens the monster. Upgrade increases time the use of”), I tapped them all off in succession (using skills and potions don’t count as turns), and then mindlessly tapped the boss to dust. I was able to beat the final boss in under 10 attacks. And boy was I proud!
Looking back, HTD, I’ve come to realize that at the beginning things weren’t so bad between us. The ambient music you played for me was pretty good, a lot better than some mixed CDs I’ve gotten over the years. And your mechanics always worked nicely. Wherever I pressed, you were quick to respond. I appreciate the initial thrill you gave me, wondering if I was ready to take the next staircase, to go even deeper. But frankly, Hell, I can’t forgive you where it counts. I can’t forgive your bad graphics, I can’t forgive your vague character stats and skills, and I can’t forgive your dull combat. I know we’ve only known each other for about a week but I think we both know it’s time to uninstall. I’ve got to make some more room in my life for Gurk.