I thought I'd put up a review for this really underappreciated little game.
Developer Arcen Games makes wildly creative, deep, and eccentric genre-benders, the most celebrated of which is their asymmetrical space RTS/4x/tower defense, "AI Wars." AI Wars is clearly a great game, but somehow it's this one that I keep coming back to.
Bionic Dues is Arcen's take on a "roguelike," but of course in proper Arcen style it is totally unique.
Basically, it has a lot in common with a proper roguelike: you guide your characters through a series of procedurally generated dungeons. But there are a *lot* of interesting twists:
- You have 4 characters, (which are actually some sort of mecha exoskeleton?) in any combination of "classes," but can only use one at a time, and it takes a turn to swap them out.
- Loot and inventory customizaton is of primary importance. Each bot has *tons* of inventory slots, in several categories, and each class is different. Carefully poring over the hundreds of components you find, and optimizing their arrangement on each robot chassis, balancing your overall strategy, is the part of the game that I find utterly addictive. (It feels a lot like ship design in Gratuitous Space Battles, another of my favorites.)
- There is a sort of top-level strategy layer linking the dungeons. In between runs, you re-arrange robot parts, and choose your next raid target based on likely risk/rewards and your overall position in the map, with a global counter ticking down to a final level full of particularly nasty enemies.
- Understanding enemy AI and abilties is really important. There are a lot of enemy bot types, with simply-defined behaviors that are nevertheless complex in their interactions, and they appear in randomized combinations that can really change the way you approch a given dungeon.
- The game can be played with a number of different difficulty options, and core gameplay modifiers like the addition of permadeath, ironman mode, and time-limits on turns. This really allows you to tweak the game to your liking; you can choose to allow save-scumming, seeking the perfect run, or you can make it a much more tense and chaotic affair.
One thing that needs mentioning: a lot of the art assets are just awful-looking, especially on the strategy and inventory-management screens. To enjoy the game, you will have to be able to get over this, and see the item illustrations as purely functional conveyors of data. This works fine for me, but I'm sure it turns a lot of people off. Thankfully, I think the dungeon art is pretty nice-looking.
Frankly, I also found the music and voices to be awful (though a lot of the sound design itself is pretty nice,) and I tend just turn it off and listen to my own music.
Despite all the ugly warts, I keep coming back to this one. If you like procedural turn-based dungeon crawling, and find yourself spending a lot of enjoyable time comparing stuff on inventory screens, this might be a good one for you.
I also like that it lends itself well to short play sessions; you can pop in for a quick dungeon or a bit of stat-crunching without feeling too committed. It's also a good game to have running in the background while you're doing something else, taking a turn now and then.
All in all, this is a deep little game that's well worth its price tag - at the time of this writing, it's available at the ridiculous sale price of $1.99, and no roguelike fan should miss it.