What is best in life?
I started playing this game around Early Access v1.2, with diminished expectations. It looked like a typical sprite-based permadeath fantasy roguelike-like, something I'm not the biggest fan of.
Appearances can be deceiving. Having logged many hours since, I find Dungeonmans
rather unique. There are roguelike elements, yes, but also a plethora of accessible game design concepts from other genres, some of which have been unjustly abandoned for years, all stuffed into the trappings of a modern indie game.
Remember the simplistic visual charm of early turn-based PC RPGs, such as the SSI Gold Box D&D titles? Dungeonmans
has that. How about the grand, synthesized orchestral scores of early Playstation JRPGs? That's here, too. Weaponry with dramatic prefixes and suffixes that denote their crazy powers? A wide variety of procedurally-generated dungeon styles? Humorous tongue-in-cheek dialogue and item descriptions? Skill trees? Potions galore?Dungeonmans
is both a parody and an homage to the best aspects of role-playing games over the past two decades, and a sort of fast-paced frustration-free approach to the roguelike model. Yes, each Dungeonmans (or gender-equal Lady Dungeonmans) gets but one life to live, but they leave behind a wide selection of enhancements for the next adventurer in line, some more difficult to retrieve than others. Defeat is quickly forgotten, vengeance is sworn, and progress resumes on the path to crush your enemies.
While all the post-mortem handouts make the game less punishing than the average roguelike, mistakes made in combat still lead to a swift death. However, once a player learns the effect of each skill, and how they interact with statistics and potion-based enhancements, progress is limited only by how aggressively you wish to press your luck. Bigger risks bring bigger rewards, and it feels pretty great to outsmart a party of high-level monsters, see them driven before you, then return triumphantly back to the Dungeonmans Academy with many Proofs of Stremf.
The numerous skill trees lead to many different but equally successful play styles, which keeps things fresh. Speedy players can blast through dungeons as a rampaging “Southern Gentlemans”, while methodical players can become a plodding pillar of death with “Sword & Board”. Understanding the abilities in each tree is essential when taking a Dungeonmans and the Academy to the highest level, and the truly skilled will leave behind only a few grave markers on the path to ultimate success.
The visual presentation is a good fit with the gameplay, with colorful sprites and environments hearkening back to the pixel art of the 1990s. The avatar selection for the player is limited but memorable, with a range of exaggerated, comical designs to choose from. Distinct sound effects make in-game events easy to identify, and Zircon's soundtrack is fantastic, especially for fans of Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story).
So what's missing in Early Access, as of the current v1.6c build? Odds and ends, really. Some graphics are absent, or need to be reworked to better fit the style. There are loopholes to farm stat bonuses that haven't been closed. End game content is sparse. The highest tiers of weapons and armor aren't available. However, unlike other alphas, the game is stable and highly playable. You can create characters, kill monsters, hear the lamentations of their gender-neutral life partners, buy stuff, sell stuff, read books, burn books, slam bad guys, slam potions, and I have yet to get tired of any of it.
On top of all that, the creator of the game is extremely accessible. Jim hosts bi-weekly live development streams, where soon-to-be-released content is tweaked before an audience. He checks social media and forums regularly, and I haven't seen a question or suggestion go unanswered. This is about as active and transparent as Early Access gets, and may very well be the best part about Dungeonmans
If you're looking for a pure unforgiving RNG-heavy dungeon-crawling permadeath fix, look elsewhere. If you fancy genre mash-ups chock-full of swords, sorcery, sandals, monsters, monster blood, traps, digital die rolls, throwback charm, and use of the word "enstremfinize", then I highly recommend Dungeonmans