PC, Switch, iOS, Android
With a name that seemed so deliberately designed to evoke both the wonderful Legends Of Grimrock and Dungeons Of Dredmor, I felt a combination of concern and interest in Dungeons Of Dreadrock. It then completely threw me by being apparently nothing to do with either – a top-down tile-based real-time puzzle game set across one hundred floors of a dungeon. And then, the more I played, the more the allusions began to make sense.
The set-up here is lovely. You’re a young girl who is waiting outside a dungeon entrance, after her brother has entered to face some sort of village ritual trial. Every year a young man is sent into the dungeons on a quest, but none has ever returned. Except, this girl isn’t willing to sit around, helplessly waiting, and when she hears strange noises, she’s right in there.
What follows are screen-based puzzles, in which you generally need to reach the exit door. Between you and it are monsters, switches, trapdoors and puzzles, which despite the tiles all move about in real-time. It took me a moment to adjust to this, that the monsters weren’t waiting their turn to take a step, but just tile-hopping toward me at their will. But it’s an excellent choice, given it makes the game’s rudimentary combat a lot more lively.
Some floors will be a straight puzzle, figuring out how to arrange switches and teleports to direct a thrown rock toward a pressure plate and… OH WAIT A SECOND! Yes, exactly! That’s Grimrock, isn’t it! (And yes, of course Dungeon Master and everything else besides.) Other levels are more monster-focused, having you arrange your position on the tiles to be able to get into melee or ranged positions to attack, so you… OH MY GOODNESS! Yes, that’s Dredmor! Sure, Dredmor has the monsters move in step with you, but as I’ve already said: livelier. And the title starts to make a whole bunch more sense.
And it all works! This plucking of ideas from dungeon-crawlers is very smart, and the result is a sizeable but approachable puzzler that has no intention of punishing you for failure. Make a mistake, fall down a pit, get rammed by a minotaur, shot by an arrow, burned up by a fireball, or just have fouled up the puzzle beyond return, and you can instantly restart the room. Still get stuck, and there’s a hint system that’ll provide you with progressively less subtle nudges toward the solution.
I’ve had a great time with this, and am currently somewhere in the mid-60s of floors. The farther I’ve progressed, the more lovely details have slipped in, bits of storytelling either through prophetic dreams at campfires, or from overhearing conversations among the enemies. And the puzzles keep getting smarter too. There are lovely twists, sections where returning to the previous floor becomes necessary to progress further down, or moments to recognise how you can amend the next floor before you get there.
I’ve been playing this on Switch, but it’s also on mobile and PC. The Switch is a good home for it, but it needs a bit of tidying up on the controllers. The analogue sticks are waaaaaaaaay over-sensitive, meaning you have to play on the Switch’s odd d-pad, and the default button arrangements are arse-backward. I’m told fixes for this are coming soon. It could also do with an overhaul of a very crude options menu and UI, looking like what I suspect they are – leftovers from the phone version’s touchscreen – but these don’t play an important role as you play.
The only thing I really need to take this game to task for is the price. It’s far too low! Out now and under £3 on Steam, £2 on mobile (understandably, mobile is a horror show), and due to launch on Switch in a couple of weeks at half off its ten bucks tag. There are hours of this, and it’s easily worth a tenner. What a silly-billy lone-developer Prof. Dr. Christoph Minnameier must be!
So obviously grab this. It’s a ton of game for a daft price, packed with wit and surprises, and a comfortably Amiga-esque aesthetic. I can’t wait to see what the last 30-something floors have in store.