Dungeon Crawlers, by Drowning Monkeys (with Ayopa Games and Unity): a Review and a Guide


Dungeon Crawlers, by Drowning Monkeys (with Ayopa Games and Unity)

 by Tobias D. Robison tobyr21@gmail.com 



January, 2012


Dungeon Crawlers (“DC”) is an imaginative, different, amusing and challenging RPG that stands the usual genre on its head. Aspects of RPG games that are usually disadvantages become advantages in DC.

First, the turn-based combat in DC is incredibly varied. In most RPGs, you will kill a few hundred enemies using exactly the same sequence of moves, over and over, before the milieu or your character’s capabilities change. In DC, almost every combat is different, requiring you to plan different methods of defense and offense every time.

Second, in most RPG’s, the shortcomings of the monster AI just gets more and more annoying. In DC, understanding exactly what each monster can and cannot do is the pleasurable key to waging successful battles. You would not want a DC monster to become more intelligent, any more than you would want a chess piece to move illegally to make captures.

DC sets a series of combat challenges that increase in complexity and variety. That makes the game very linear, but linearity is not much of an issue, since, from room to room, there is so much variety.

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There are a few fiendish puzzles in DC. I personally HATE puzzle games. But I have enjoyed wrestling with DC’s puzzles, because the game is generally so much fun.

The game challenges you to keep your eyes peeled between combats. You must watch for the rare levers. (Levers look a bit like wall lights that are not shining.) You must notice tiny, shiny objects. And you must search big objects in the rooms to find potions and some of the weapons and armor. (I think this is a correct hint: you can click on, say, a desk you are not next to, and if the desk is interesting, the game will offer to move you to it.)

At the end of each dungeon level, you are treated to a screen of statistics. The last line of the screen may say something like this:

   Secrets unearthed: 0/1

“0/1” means that there was something very special for you to find on the level, and you didn’t find it. And now it’s too late.

The game’s narrative, which is nicely silly, is told with good humor, and there are many amusing touches in the game. (Watch carefully for the moment when one of your characters can improve his armor by replacing his tattered loincloth with a cloth of loining.)

The game can be played “Easy,” “Medium,” or “Hard.” By the time I had gotten to the first difficult battle – the Goblin  King – I was telling myself, “Medium? Hard? Impossible!” But having completed the current game at Easy level, I am actually finding it easier to play Medium, because of my increased combat skill.

You start the game with a team of three characters. Payter is a “tank.” He hits weakly but can absorb a lot of damage. Aegon has poor armor but can do immense damage. Roy is a healer, and you better keep him safe. But Roy can do damage, too, and sometimes you will bring him in for the kill.

As the characters level up, they gain abilities. Payter eventually gets the ability to “Taunt,” which does no damage at all. And yet, if you fail to understand the value of Taunt, you will never survive some of DC’s battles.

After a while you get a fourth team member named Failston, who also has poor armor. At first he isn’t much on offense, but his abilities improve.

It’s not easy for Roy to keep your entire team healthy, so you will also rely on the potions and objects such as the False Teeth of Unstunning that you collect on your journey. These potions and amelioratives are precious, and you must resist the temptation to use them routinely. (I understand that a future upgrade of the game will let us buy more potions.)

I will give you a taste of the combat procedures:

Your team has entered a new room. The entrance door has slammed shut behind you, there’s no retreat. You are outnumbered, facing two banshees, three goblin archers, a few mummies, and a few fearless goblin soldiers. Every one of these creatures has its own particular AI, its own movement, and its own attack and defense. A banshee’s scream can stun a character so that it loses its next turn, unless Roy can cast “Recover” on it. (But Roy may have to heal wounds instead; each character does one action per turn, in addition to moving.)

You would like Aegon to cast a magic missile at the first Banshee, but Aegon is behind Payter and Failston in a narrow hallway. You must count steps, considering how far each of your characters can move. If Payter and Failston get out of Aegon’s way, and Aegon moves far enough forward to attack the Banshee, will he be able to move back behind Payter again, or will Aegon remain exposed to the goblin archers’ arrows? You decide that you can afford to move Aegon ahead for this attack, but wait! Before he moves, you better have Roy cast “Protection” on him, because after he moves, Aegon will be too far from Roy for Roy’s spell to work.

But wait! Since Roy can protect Aegon, maybe he should move even farther forward. He can stand right next to the two goblin soldiers, and he might be able to kill both of them with a single “Shockwave” instead of a magic missile. It’s great to have two fewer enemies to deal with, but the ability of those Banshees to Stun is very dangerous. Which should you deal with first? Etc., Etc.

One of the trickiest aspects of combat – I can never remember to take it into account – is the way characters level up. The whole team gets XP credit for each kill. You can check the player’s stats and see how close each one is to leveling up. When a player does level up, it not only gets better stats; it also heals completely. You want to avoid having Roy waste a precious turn healing Aegon if Aegon is going to level up this very turn.

If one of your characters dies, I believe you lose him for the rest of the dungeon level. I think that’s awful, so in the rare cases where a character has died, I have restarted the current combat.

During the game you collect gold. I think that every careful player will collect the same amount of gold, so gold is not much use as a scoring mechanism. Currently there is no way to spend the gold, which is frustrating.

When a combat begins badly, you will wish you could start it over. You can! From the menu, chose “begin level”. Fortunately, that selection lets you choose between restarting the whole level, and restarting the current combat.

The game “autosaves” to give you something to back up to, but I think it does not autosave often enough. Do your own “Save and Quit” from time to time. You can easily continue the game from your save. (And you can save in the middle of combat.)

If you get stuck in a puzzle, email the developers and they will help you. I’m sure they will prepare a spoiler file after a while to avoid getting too many requests for help.
Each combat battle takes a while to play out. Fortunately there are not too many battles per level, and the time you spend for each “advance” in this game feels just about right.

The combat user interface is somewhat unusual and somewhat annoying. I think that this UI could be simplified in ways that would speed up play. You must be extremely careful to use the UI accurately. For example, in the midst of battle, you think you are telling Payter to run forward and hit an adversary, but to your horror, Roy is the selected character and he moves into the thick of combat. There’s no “undo” command. You may have to restart the combat to recover.

Well, I’ve left plenty more for you to discover yourself, so grab the game and start fighting.

Do you like to read fantasy novels, or do you have a friend who does? Please visit my website, RavensGift.com, for a good read, a good etext, or a good audio podcast book. My current novel is called: Raven’s Gift.

Are you spending too much time sitting at your computer? You may be delighted to read my new help-yourself book, Quantum Walking to Fitness, available in all eformats at Smashwords.

- Tobias D. Robison tobyr21@gmail.com



Get my new book, Quantum Walking to Fitness at Smashwords

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