Review: Devious Dungeon
Posted 08 Apr 2018 at 22:09 by Grazza
In recent years, there has been no shortage of 2D games employing retro-style pixel art, but from the moment Devious Dungeon begins, with its giant depiction of a muscular warrior and SNES-style title screen, you get the sense that this one has been crafted with a great deal of care. The premise is simple – a sprawling dungeon has appeared beneath a castle and the king has sent you, his best knight, to defeat the dragon behind it.
The castle acts as a hub world where you can purchase items from the vendor, Olaf, or jump into a portal which (eventually) can take you to any of the game’s five worlds or bosses, or a starting point at one-third of the 60+ levels. The aim for each stage is simple – find a key and then head to the exit, fighting a variety of monsters as you do so. Combat is smooth and simple, with A to jump and B to swing your weapon. You’ll have to get used to it that way round, as there is no button configuration.
Your knight controls well, with a generous standard jump and a more powerful one if you hold the button down. You can swing your sword on the spot or whilst moving, which lends a touch of versatility to the proceedings. In terms of controls and general feel, Devious Dungeon is never anything but satisfying to play. Although there are only two action buttons used, there is a fair bit of variety to the combat – most enemies can’t be defeated in one go, so you soon get used to whether you should back off, jump over or dodge projectiles after your initial attack. Perhaps utilising a third button for a limited sub-weapon might have spiced things up even more.
Speaking of enemies, they are lovingly depicted as 16-bit style sprites. Whether a monster-riding orc or a club-swinging ogre, they are drawn with a great deal of artistry and stand out from the crowd. Sound effects are equally impactful, whereas musically speaking, the similar-sounding tunes do loop around very quickly. Overall, and especially due to the screen shudder when defeating a foe, it all combines to create quite a visceral experience. In keeping with the 1990s feel, there is also parallax scrolling, although this can be a bit jerky. Distant backgrounds can jump around a bit too fast, sometimes being slightly uncomfortable on the eye.
Devious Dungeon focuses on being an action game. Perhaps wisely, there are no tricky jumping elements as found in more dedicated platformers. Nor are there any puzzles to speak of. It could be argued that having more to collect and contemplate, or maybe some mini-bosses, would have added interest. As well as the mandatory key for each level, there are also plenty of pots and crates to smash, which always scatter coins everywhere. The ability to unlock an auto-attract feature would have been useful, as you do spend a lot of time chasing after valuables.
After every three levels you are invited to take a breather and pay for healing by a priest or buy items from Olaf’s caravan. Weapons and armour are represented visibly in the pixel art, and together with amulets, rings and potions, they are effectively a way of accumulating a gradual stat boost. If you’re short of cash you can earn more by completing the various quests – three run passively in the background at once, and involve tasks such as defeating a set number of enemies you are likely to be encountering at the time. It must be said, the average player will be able to finish the game without buying all the equipment or needing to do so. There are also a certain number of achievements to unlock, which are just for fun, and you’d have to play for an awfully long time to gain all of them.
Another way of getting stronger is to boost your character level, as in the manner of an action RPG. EXP is boosted by defeating enemies or, even more so, by collecting one of the many ancient tomes, which are often hidden in secret passageways. Every time you level-up, you’ll get the choice of whether to increase your strength, stamina or chance for a critical attack. Unlike most RPGs, you can easily continue to increase this whether you’re just starting out or have beaten the final boss, leaving the player without the sense that there’s a “recommended” strength to be. That said, you can never boost your elemental defence very much, so you do still have to play careful at times; never more so than when facing the game’s five bosses, which cleverly force you to engage them in a manner similar to the smaller minions.
All this versatility is both the game’s strength and a weak point. It’s good that the experience is not frustrating - although the levels are randomised, Devious Dungeon expertly manages to make sure you always get an even, consistent challenge from any one stage. Unlike other titles, it also never punishes the player for doing well, which is a definite positive. Conversely, it’s hard to know what the “standard” difficulty is meant to be. What at first seems like a pretty tough task soon becomes a breeze as you gain more levels and equipment. Devious Dungeon never asks you do anything more difficult than complete three levels in succession, which is great for less experienced gamers, but it would add excitement if there were some optional bosses requiring possession of the best gear. Skilled players desiring a challenge will certainly need to set themselves some self-imposed restrictions, such as trying to finish the game without failing once, or before hitting a certain character level.
The great thing about Devious Dungeon is that all the basics are done well. With accomplished graphics, sound and controls, it’s a well-built piece of software and always feels right to play. It won’t take ages to complete but provides a pleasant jaunt while it lasts.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Devious Dungeon brings more retro-styled action to Nintendo Switch. With a great deal of thoughtfulness towards the player, it avoids the pitfalls of other titles with randomised levels and provides an enjoyable gauntlet of monsters and bosses. Veteran gamers will need to create their own challenges, but it should provide an agreeable ride for most.
Artistic 16-bit styling
Lots of consideration towards player
...But perhaps too simple
Could be very easy for some
Chasing after coins!