Transcript of my video review which is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iopAUD_dhTw
“What would happen if The Legend of Zelda were to have randomly generated dungeons?”
This is certainly the question the man behind indie studio TrickTale must have asked himself many times before working on DieHard Dungeon. In this top-down 2D dungeon crawler, the main goal is to explore and survive a succession of randomly generated rooms populated by various enemies. Amassing gold, avoiding traps, and collecting golden keys are the things you will have to do to reach the end of each level, all the while fighting your way through the different rooms and trying to collect power-ups that are spread around.
In order to help you in this task, you are equipped with a sword which acts as a melee weapon, and a Hand Cannon which throws explosive projectiles. You will also be followed during your exploration by a magical chest, which acts as a companion and collects gold for you. After some time, it evolves and can become an active item, defending you throughout the levels.
The controls in DieHard Dungeon are fairly easy, and a simple tutorial will help you get the hang of things. The game is best played with a controller, as it was firstly meant to be played on the Xbox Live Indiegame Marketplace.
While it borrows most of its aesthetics from The Legend of Zelda, DieHard Dungeon is also inspired by another game that’s hugely popular in the rogue-like genre: The Binding of Isaac. Just like in Isaac, the player will be able to find special items that are spread around the levels. In DieHard Dungeon though, power-ups are available thanks to randomly placed chests that act as slot machines. If successful, the player is rewarded with a bonus, which he can accept, or refuse and reroll for a new chance at getting a better power-up. Some enemies will also drop tokens, which can be spent in a Token Well, giving the player another chance at getting better items.
Taking everything into account, DieHard Dungeon feels alive and responsive. The sense of progression is present throughout the different levels. The fact that the dificulty adjusts itself depending on the player’s performance gives him the feeling to be “fed” in a good way: the game grows with the player, and the challenge curve always feels right. The randomly generated levels make the game a new challenge to play each and every time. Unfortunately, unlike in The Binding of Isaac, you are not able at this time to input your own seed. “At this time”, because while the game has been released for over two years now, it is still in active development. TrickTale is constantly improving its creation by adding powerups, challenges, enemies, and by working on the game’s balance. One clever decision that has been made for example is switching the player’s speed from low to high when carrying a key. This change, which will certainly be available in the next patch will definitely help in the game’s dynamics by making the player’s escape a positive action instead of a struggle.
The main drawback with DieHard Dungeon though, is its lack of diversity in graphics. While trying a bit too hard to pay its respect to its elders, the game lacks creativity in getting a strong visual identity of its own, and therefore may look a bit bland for some people. This problem is felt up to some of the enemies’ patterns which act just like their grand-parents counterparts, or even the charge ability of the player’s sword. While it’s always a good thing to throw a wink at the games that made your childhood and help the player overcome enemies by putting him in a familiar place, it would have been appreciated to see a bit more diversity in this regard.
There are also a few points in which the game could benefit some tweaks, such as an in-game user interface showing your current collected gold, a timer that could certainly attract the speedrunning scene, or even simply an indicator showing the current level you’re exploring.
Despite these points, DieHard Dungeon feels really nice. The dungeon theme combined with the randomly generated levels, the variety in powerups, and the fact that the dificulty adjusts itself in real time makes it a game that is a real joy to play. The replay value is definitely great, and when you take into account the fact that the game is in active development, that it features a champion level (which is some kind of new game + once you’ve beaten the last boss), and even minigames, all that for a mearly $5, you get a game that not only is an excellent introduction to randomly generated dungeon crawlers, but can stand on its own with no problem whatsoever and definitely deserves your attention.