Diehard Dungeon is the latest entry in our coverage of the 2012 Indie Games Uprising event. Drawing comparisons to The Legend of Zelda games of old, this dungeon-crawling, roguelike mishmash, from developer tricktale, is an absolute treat to play. It is firmly, in my mind at least, part of the upper echelon of Xbox Live Indie Games, not just as part of the Uprising event, but in the marketplace as a whole.
There’s not much in the way of an introduction to Diehard Dungeon when the main character wakes up within a dungeon cell. After a couple of minutes spent in two or three different rooms, players learn that they must travel from room to room to escape. To proceed, each room has a hidden key or goal that will open up the barred gate to the next area. The main character is accompanied by a sentient treasure chest that holds all money collected and can eventually attack the enemies that mill about. The action unfolds through an isometric view, only further leading to a Zelda-like feeling.
As the game progresses, players will rely heavily on their trusty sword and a few other obtainable weapons to defeat a variety of enemies and bash open about a million containers (some of which contain money or other items). In another likening to the Zelda series, a life meter sits atop the left corner of the screen and is represented by hearts. The life meter is extended by collecting hearts that appear within containers or by defeating enemies. In true roguelike fashion, when your life meter hits zero the game is over. There are no retries or continues, only permadeath, which seems to be getting increasingly more popular among the hardcore players. After a few attempts navigating the dungeon, players will likely be familiar enough with the enemy types, the traps, and the weapons that health will rarely be a concern. That’s not to say the game is easy, it’s just manageable with a bit of patience.
There are a couple of ways to beef up your character, which I really liked. For instance, treasure chests are periodically found that offer players a chance to win zero to three spins on a slot machine. Each spin on the slot machine has a completely random chance at earning the player a stat boost, a special combat or defense ability, extra loot, and more. Occasionally it can mean the difference between life and death when the player is low on health, or it can make a strong player powerful enough to wreak havoc. The chests are also spaced out enough during the game that it doesn’t make things too easy for the player. At one point in each level, the player is presented with a maze mini-game in which they play as the treasure chest. Players must collect 100 flames spread along the paths of the maze without being touched by one or more roving enemy treasure chests. The more flames the player collects, the faster the enemy chests move. Reaching the flame goal causes an item to appear on the map. If reached, it adds an extra ability to the sword attack. While not vital, obtaining one of the three possible abilities can make combat less of a slugfest for the player.
As with many roguelikes, randomness plays a key role in how Diehard Dungeon unfolds. The map layouts, enemy and object placement. and loot drops change with each playthrough. Because the game is relatively short, this dynamic is an absolute necessity to keep players coming back even if they’ve already made it through the dungeon alive. Branching paths offer up slightly different environments and boss encounters. There’s also a bonus goal of collecting 10 hidden golden keys in order to unlock a different ending. Completing the bonus goal also allows players to have an impact on the games played by other players, but I won’t ruin the surprise. There’s nothing really revolutionary in terms of the structure of the game, but it’s really well done. It never gets frustrating, the power-ups and weapon upgrades make the game even more fun, and it’s just long enough that players can get good at it without getting bored.
As enjoyable as the initial game is, tricktale has also included a second game mode: Mayhem. While tricktale admits this unlockable mode is a work in progress, I actually found it to be almost as engaging as the main adventure. In Mayhem mode, the player takes on the role of the treasure chest, fully packing an unlimited amount of spikes to shoot. Over the course of three minutes, the player needs to take out as many spawning enemies as he or she can while avoiding enemy attacks. The longer the player can keep the killing going without taking a hit, the higher the point values that will be earned for each kill. It plays very much like a twin-stick shooter with one analog stick for movement and the other for directional firing. The reward at the end of the three minutes is a chance to make it onto a global leaderboard. Thank you, tricktale, for including the leaderboard. It’s such a fantastic addition and has me itching to see if I can climb up the ranks. The guys from theXBLIG.com and Clearance Bin Review still have me beat! It’ll be interesting to see how this mode changes over time with updates, but I feel like it warrants the purchase price even by itself.
Diehard Dungeon is a downright fun time waiting to be had, even for players who aren’t necessarily fans of dungeon crawlers or roguelikes. The game is short enough that the combat doesn’t get repetative, but with a random factor that will likely entice players to give the game another go if they didn’t experience all of the potential endings. There’s even a secondary mode for the competitor in all of us that allows players to see how they stack up against friends and the rest of the world. Diehard Dungeon is a polished package, a fantastic flagbearer for the Indie Games Uprising event, and a must-buy for 80 MSP ($1). Check out our video review below, then go try it.
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