Deep Dungeons of Doom

Stripping a genre down to its core has become a bit of a thing over the recent years. Half-Minute Hero, Divekick, and One Finger Death Punch all took their respective genres (RPG, fighter, brawler) and threw out the vast majority of the fluff in an effort to give you a streamlined experience containing all the fun of the large budget AAA games with fewer calories. Sometimes we end up with an experience we didn’t think possible with such a simple representation of what we’ve come to know and expect. Other times the developer’s diet version of its bigger brethren discards too much of the formula, leaving us with something that not only removes itself from its genre, it also removes itself from being able to be called “fun”. Deep Dungeons of Doom, though still somewhat fun, is not without its flaws in its effort to deliver a more focused dungeon-crawler.

Deep Dungeons of Doom (called DDD from here on out because I’m lazy) is a dungeon-crawler that has one focus and one focus only: combat. Exploration? Nope? Movement? Nada. Hoarding mountains of treasure? Not today, kid. You pick one of your three characters, go into a dungeon, kill some monsters, earn some gold along the way, kill a boss, and get the hell out. Combat is a timing and reaction affair, as your options only consist of attacking, defending, and using your one item you’re allowed to carry. Each monster has its own patterns and gorgeous pixel-art animations, which you react to with either the attack button or the defend button at the proper time. There are a few other things to combat, such as holding your attack button for a character-specific action or launching an attack right as the monster is performing an action so that you do extra damage, but that’s what you’ll be doing from the first dungeon to the last boss.

Everything in this game is beautifully animated. I'd say "on the level of Symphony of the Night", but I think I'd get fired.

All the pixel art in this game is beautifully animated. I’d say “on the level of Symphony of the Night” but I think I’d get fired.

As far as leveling, well, you get stronger as you go deeper into each dungeon, but it’s not permanent; your stats reset the moment you step back out into the world. You can purchase skills for each character, but don’t expect to grind out an overpowered character within a few hours as gold is somewhat time consuming to build up. You can also hit up one of the two shops in the game and buy equipment or find some along the way, of which you can only have one equipped at a time. Unfortunately, if you want to keep any equipment you find along the way, you have to ditch whatever you’re wearing, meaning that you can’t actually GAIN any equipment if you already have something on. Oh, and you lose your equipment if you die (and all but 10% of your gold that you’ve gained in the dungeon), which makes bringing anything with you into a dungeon a high risk situation if said equipment is expensive or rare. Your only way of keeping your equipment upon death is, one, a roll of the dice that may or may not help you out or, two, using purchasable revive tokens and continuing your march through the doom-filled dungeon.

So, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been throwing out a few hints that the game is somewhat unforgiving. In truth, it needs to be. DDD is one of the rare games with RPG-like elements that can be beaten without upgrading your character at all. You could purchase no skills, equip no items, and still run through the entire game, willing that you know the patterns and animations for each monster and have solid execution and reactions. I stress that last part because, as someone who plays fighters competitively and has solid reflexes, even I had a bit of trouble with a few of the quicker enemies. Which usually resulted in me spending revive tokens in the hopes I’d finish the dungeon this time or losing my equipment I’d grown attached to and leaving with more lost than gained.

And I think that’s one of the two biggest things this game has going against it. Failing in DDD not only causes you to lose nearly everything you gained in that dungeon, but also anything you brought with you. Heck, there’s even room for losing more than that if you purchase any items during your crawl using gold you’d built up from other areas in the game. What I’d said before about DDD being beatable with zero character progression also works the other way: you could hypothetically keep spending money, losing your equipment along the way, and gain little to nothing from all your time and resources spent. There’s a bit more sting to this knowing that you can spend real money on in-game gold with the same results as, yes, DDD has an in-game shop where you can drop your 9-to-5 earnings on fake money. That you can use to buy items. That you can lose by dying. Harsh even by my masochistic gaming standards.

The other aspect of DDD that may turn players off is that, as it’s a crawler stripped down to timing-based button-pressing combat and nothing else, there’s a good chance that people will find it too repetitive. Especially since failure is so punishing. It also doesn’t help that the only instructions come in the form of in-game tutorials and occasional rooms where you’re given the option of learning something that would’ve come in handy about two dungeons earlier. For example, I went through a full three dungeons before coming across a room teaching me about character-specific charge attacks (one of the things that turns DDD into less of a drawn-out mini-game and more of a full gaming experience). The Witch will regain magic with hers, which is the only way she can deal proper damage and is otherwise strictly worse than the other two characters. Giving me the option of finding this out via selectable instructions would’ve been a kind gesture. Hoping I get far enough in the game that I could learn a vital technique? That’s just mean, guys. That’s just mean.

In fact, the more I think about this game, the more I’m afraid to play it. I finished the game, minus secrets and a post-ending dungeon, but I don’t want to lose the only two powerful items I have left. Or spend my hard-earned gold on other items only to lose them. I can’t think of any other game I’ve been afraid to play outside of, you know, games specifically designed to make me crap my pants. Deep Dungeons of Doom is not designed to make me crap my pants. It’s designed to steal them. And considering how much I value my pants, it makes it difficult to recommend this crawl.

I have a giant soft spot for gorgeous pixel art, and this game is packed with it.

Deep Dungeons of Doom was developed by Bossa Studios and Miniboss.

$4.99 was in my wallet when my pants were stolen during the making of this review.

One Response to Deep Dungeons of Doom

  1. Gryzor says:

    An OUYA review, cool! 🙂

    I really dig the atmosphere of this game. The art, the music, the animation, and small touches like the spooky messages you get from altars are all really cool and set a foreboding mood very well. The unforgiving difficulty only heightens the sense that this world is a genuinely dangerous place, too, which I definitely approve of.

    That said, I do agree that it’s probably *too* stripped down and simplified for it’s own good. Let’s be honest, being pitched a big, scary game dungeon and then finding out you can’t explore it beyond putting one foot in front of the other frankly sucks. Even the most bare-bones, luck-based, board game style level navigation would’ve added some much needed sense of exploration. No matter what might be going on under the game’s hood to mix up your next enemy encounter, it always feels like you’re just walking in a straight line. Disappointing, especially when this can be circumvented by just the slightest amount of audiovisual trickery.

    Jumping straight from one fight to the next doesn’t do much to build tension, either. Considering how challenging and potentially lethal a single enemy can be in this game, that’s also somewhat of a waste.

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