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The Dungeon Review: A fast-paced roguelike

The Dungeon, by Half-Bit Software, is yet another entry in the iPhone’s increasingly strong line-up of roguelikes. Despite having pixel graphics reminiscent of dungeon-crawlers from the days of DOS and VGA monitors, The Dungeon is deceptively modern.

For those not already in the know, the roguelike is a genre of role-playing games typified by randomization for replayability, permanent character death, turn-based movement, dungeon crawling, looting and a high degree of difficulty. The progenitor of the genre is the 1980 computer game Rogue, and the genre is most recently represented on the iPhone by titles such as 100 Rogues, Sword of Fargoal and Rogue Touch, to name but a few.

To begin, the player chooses from among seven character classes — Knight, Fighter, Wizard, Sage, Alchemist, Jeweler and Jones (an Indiana Jones inspired character) — each with individual strengths and weaknesses. From there, players delve into the dungeon, a 40-floor network of randomized maps, enemy encounters and loot.

Unlike most roguelikes, however, The Dungeon is not a slow-paced, one-turn-at-a-time dungeon crawler. The game is turn-based, but allows you to take multiple turns at once by tapping further away from your character. The result might be termed a “dungeon dasher”, as your character zooms through the dungeons halls, rushes opponents and clears floors in record time. And while this mechanic is certainly unconventional for a roguelike, it makes The Dungeon much easier to pick-up and play on the go than some of its more plodding brethren.

In most roguelikes, dungeon floors are comprised of open rooms connected by narrow corridors. The Dungeon has neither, its floors being made of wide halls. Most of the game is spent out in the open, and players must be careful not to allow themselves to be surrounded by enemies.

Despite its many departures from formula, The Dungeon takes a fairly traditional approach to loot. Scattered throughout the dungeon, players will find weapons, armor pieces, accessories, potions, wands, scrolls and food. Those items which may be worn often carry enchantments, though items much first be identified using scrolls before their effects are known. Some enchantments are favorable and increase the character’s strength, while others are cursed and will weaken the character.

In every new game, potion, wand and scroll names are randomized. The only way to know the effect of any given item is to use it and to observe the outcome. Once known in this way, all items of that type will be known to the character — having once cast a Tin Wand, all Tin Wands subsequently collected will be named according to their effect; Wand of Sleep, for example. Some of these items are helpful and others harmful, with the former to be used on the character and the latter to be used on enemies. Possible effects include healing, poisoning, teleportation, transformation, sleep and more.

Likes:

Fast-pace: While I often enjoy the slower pace of many roguelikes, it often makes them difficult to play when time is short. The Dungeon is great for quick, casual sessions.

Interface: Tap anywhere to move. One button for equipment, and one for inventory, from which your items may be used. The game’s interface is clean, simple and easy to use — all important factors for an iPhone game. And when you consider the clutter of roguelikes such as Rogue Touch or POWDER, it’s easy to appreciate the ease with which The Dungeon is played.

Graphics: The Dungeon definitely has an old-school visual motif, but I find that the graphics are actually very attractive. They’re all still tiles, though, so be aware that there are no animations.

Music: Quirky electronica, somehow fits. I dig it.

Coming Soon: While none of it is in the game yet, the developer promises high scores, achievements, universal iPad/iPhone support, Retina display graphics and more coming soon. All of this should make The Dungeon a game to watch!

Dislikes:

Lack of Strategy: The Dungeon is relatively straight-forward, and while there are several character classes from which to choose, your choice will not much change the way in which you play the game. The differences are more akin to perks than they are true strategic advantages. And because of the game’s fast-pace and “zoom” movement, The Dungeon is essentially a run-and-gun roguelike. At times, however, that can definitely be a good thing; and when you want a slower paced roguelike, there are more than a few options in the app store.

If you have only one roguelike on your device, it shouldn’t be The Dungeon. But I’m of the opinion that having only one roguelike is like having only one shirt hanging in your closet. The Dungeon is perfect for quick forays, and a great semi-traditional roguelike for when you have a little time to kill, rather than having set time aside to play.

The Dungeon, by Half-Bit Software, retails for $2.99. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 4.



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