Trouble Thinking

December 2, 2010

Winter Uprising Review: Epic Dungeon

Epic Dungeon is a fun game for fun people.

It’s an incredibly simple game, even for a roguelike. There are four classes with minor differences (Gambler, Tinker, Berserker, Shaman). You move and attack with the left stick, and you use your skills with the face buttons (A B X and Y). It lends a strange air to the experience, as you get used to the idea that you don’t need to frantically click anything to make those monsters explode in viscera. It feels more like driving than fighting, pushing your little character around until he runs into a monster and then ramming it to death. It works surprisingly well, emphasizing momentum and eliminating some of the sensation of grind that comes with being forced to clickclickclick.

The dungeon levels are small enough that at maximum zoom you should be able to see the whole area most of the time, but they hide little secrets, shops, treasure, and random encounters enough to make each one a fun bit of exploration. They also switch up a surprising amount. Though I wasn’t keeping exact track, in the course of 27 levels (the deepest I managed to get), I saw wide-open caves and claustrophobic corridors, evil spiders and goblin grandpas.

While the stat system is easy to grasp and provides some interesting choice, it did strike me that the different classes had no real reason to desire different stats. The Gambler, for instance, doesn’t receive any sort of special bonus from Luck. That’s a moderate disappointment in that it makes different playthroughs less decision-oriented as you feel your way through to the best stat layout.

However, the equally simple skill system manages to produce a surprisingly different experience with each character. While each character has access to all four of the skills main skills -poison, frenzy, freeze, and orb- plus health regeneration, each has a “tagged” skill that they can grow twice as quickly. The Tag skills mean that you have a good reason to focus on one skill, but you’re not prevented from exploring others. In addition, each skill has a distinct timing component. Every time you use a skill, you need to wait for it to recharge, which takes a few seconds. But if you time it right, you can re-use the skill faster by tapping it again a few second or so later to “chain” the attack, with the interval varying by skill. The higher the level of the skill, the more times in a row you can repeat it.

In my hour and a half of playing the game, I died 4 times, and each time I switched classes. The most distinct difference was switching from a Berserker with most points in Frenzy to a Tinker with most points in Orb. The Berskerker never stopped moving forward, a combination of high damage and Frenzy’s quickly recharging and easily chained attack allowing him to cut swathes through the monsters. The Tinker, on the other hand was an exercise in positioning. So long as I managed to maneuver so that the Orb was blocking a door or hallway, all I needed to do was sit back and cackle.

During each playthrough at a certain point, you feel like you’ve basically seen what the game has to offer, and you’re just going through the motions because wow these are some simple monsters. About 10 seconds later, you die and vow to get deeper because that was just a stupid mistake and shouldn’t even count and dammit!

A nice touch is that every time you die, your character leaves a little grave behind that subsequent adventurers can loot for items and a feeling of shame.

For a game that cost less than a can of soda, this was a surprisingly engaging experience. I heartily recommend you buy it instead of soda!

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