Some games have an amazing story that draws you in and characters you don’t know how you managed to live without before. Others are brimming with drool worthy graphics and snappy dialogue. Then there are those that don’t fit into the above categories, the ones that just want to have fun. Dungeon Dashers is one of those games.
A 2D top-down turn-based dungeon crawler from Australian developers Jigxor, Dungeon Dashers is still in early access on Steam but looks promising. You control a pre-set party of four different classes, none of which are particularly original. There’s the pious knight, the grumpy wizard, the shadowy rogue and the token sassy female a la elven archer. And the story…well I can’t remember what it was so it’s probably not worth mentioning.
However, original characters and immersive story are not part of Jigxor’s agenda. This is a quick paced linear game, not an epic open world RPG where you spend the first hour designing your character (getting the right shape of eyes is important, it really is). Even though you can choose different paths through the levels, you’ll still finish at the same point. And there are no heavy moral choices to be made either. Dungeon Dashers has been designed, it seems, for the modern busy gamer. You could easily spend hours on it, especially as each dungeon is fairly quick to play through, meaning you’ll be glancing at your watch, thinking “I’ve got time for just one more.” Or, precisely because each dungeon is quick to play through, you could play for just ten minutes at a time.
The design is simple and inspired by table top RPG’s, right down to the way the characters move. They don’t have leg animations; they just simply hop across the tiles as though you’re moving them on a board. You’re introduced to each character one at a time and given a quick tutorial to get to grips with their unique abilities. The knight has a charge which can smash rocks and other obstacles, the wizard can do spells, the rogue is a sneak and the archer has a bow. Everything is pretty basic and easy to get the hang of. I’m a bit clumsy usually when it comes to keyboard controls but I had no problems with this game, probably because everything is simply laid out. There aren’t any ridiculous combinations for casting complex spells. The arrow keys and a few letters are all you need.
With the mechanics easily mastered, you are introduced to various environments and enemies. The developers have plans to increase the number of levels and different types of enemies so the final game will probably be longer and more challenging. Enemies usually appear when you enter a large, suspiciously empty looking, room and range from undead and bats to ogres and necromancers. Tactics are required here. This is where your characters abilities are utilised, with the wizard and the archer acting as long ranged attackers, and the knight and the rogue used for melee attacks. You have a limited number of action points when in combat, which you can use to either place your characters strategically or attack. Action points are infinite when not in combat so you can explore dungeons as much as you want and you can use the shift key to speed up enemy’s moves.
The combat is the most extensive part of the game; if you’re not into the whole turn-based thing you’re not going to get a lot of fun out of this. While there are basic puzzles to solve, usually involving positioning your characters on different squares or hitting things with arrows to remove obstacles, and plenty of treasure and upgrades to unlock, really it’s the combat that’s the star of the show.
Unlocking new items and abilities for your characters and using gold to buy consumables or upgrade items is a feature most RPG players will be used to. Like the rest of the game though this isn’t as in depth as other RPG’s. You won’t find yourself lost in a maze of convoluted menu’s trying to decide between spending your remaining point on constitution or dexterity. You’re more likely to have to choose between a big sword and a very big sword. Again it’s all about quickness and easiness – no faffing around, just get into the dungeon and kill some bad guys then get some loot. Job done.
The game looks and sounds like it was made in the early 90’s but in a good way. The pixel art is excellent with a lot of care taken over details, and everything runs smoothly. I certainly didn’t run into any glitches (though it can be hard to tell with pixel art; the game could have been full of them for all I know). The 8-bit music is phenomenal and very nostalgic. I found myself smiling through much of the game.
Character interactions and story exposition all take place through text but this doesn’t take anything away. In fact it works better for the game because dialogue can be skipped if you can’t be bothered with it and due to the lack of story or emotionally involving characters, you certainly won’t be missing anything. Everything is kept light-hearted and tongue in cheek.
Because the game is all about combat and, at the moment anyway, there aren’t too many variations in enemies and situations, it can feel a bit repetitive after a while. The challenges do increase steadily as you move through the levels but I found I needed to take break after a few dungeons. However it is addictive and I soon wanted to go back. You have the ability to replay previous dungeon’s to find treasure you might have missed and apparently online co-op mode will be available when the final game is released, which, if it works well, will be immense fun.
There’s still some work to be done but Dungeon Dashers is well on its way to becoming a mini classic in its own right. It’s not ground breaking in any way but it does take familiar tropes and use them to their best effect, resulting in a quick-paced light-hearted game that feeds off nostalgia and a genuine love for table top RPG’s. It’s fun, addictive and well worth your time.
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with an early access copy of Dungeon Dashers for preview purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.