Legend of Dungeon‘s backstory is one that makes it impossible to not fall in love with the game itself. The husband-and-wife dev team at RobotLovesKitty built a solar-powered tree house in order to save money and get the game made. Kickstarter helped facilitate its creation as well, and some backers are even featured in the game-starting tavern. LoD has 26 levels of side-scrolling brawling, and its beat-em-up/Roguelike hybrid gameplay helps give this game a broader appeal, and makes it an easy recommendation to check out for those unfamiliar with Roguelikes.
With that genre, you’ve always got dungeons, a floor setup, and an ever-increasing difficulty as you get closer and closer to our ultimate goal. However, permadeath means that you have to play smartly. Those used to beat-em-ups and their potentially infinite continues will be in for a shock to their system when death equals going back to the start of the entire game instead of continuing mid-fight. Multi-player allows you to die and if your partner is able to kill enough foes that leave behind blue orbs, you can be revived and then hopefully live long enough with some teamwork to rebuild your HP.
The brawler/Roguelike mashup may seem iffy, but it works very well. The controls are spot-on and even with a 360 controller, the d-pad movement is nice and precise. Being able to customize every button means you’re able to get things just how you want them – I chose to set the next/previous item command to the bumpers since that made the most sense while a friend chose the triggers since he’s more comfortable gripping them than the bumpers. There’s no input lag and the pace is just about perfect — early sections get you used to the mechanics and teach you how to wisely use items without holding your hand, and then you have to put those skills to the test in the game when you’re picking and choosing which enemies to attack in a crowded room. Going after everyone is tempting, but risky. You’ll be able to get a lot of loot if things go well, but could die easily if they don’t.
Beat-em-up fans used to their partners attacking them by accident will be glad to know that there is no partner-dealt damage here. Your friends can still be jerks and horde all of the items and weapon pickups for themselves, but they’ll unable to directly harm you outside of doing that. Playing as a team doesn’t just increase your chances of winning, but it makes the game more fun since you can joke around when one person dies – something the game has fun with in the online leaderboards by listing your score and then the way you died. That may not seem like much, but when you see dozens of names with “EATEN BY ZOMBIE” next to them, you’ll chuckle.
Brawler fans may be taken aback by the pixel art style, but it works fairly well. While some more recent games like Fist Puncher use it, the super-basic look makes them seem fairly generic. LoD makes use of pixel art perfectly by giving you just enough detail to see what things are supposed to be, but offering up a lot of dynamic lighting effects that absorb you into the game. It would be one thing to just be in a single-tone grey environment — the core game would still be fun to play, but it would look drab. With all of the lighting effects and sometimes-crazy colors that bathe the screen, you get a game with a relatively simple color palette, but with a lot of shading and lighting to make everything more appealing on-screen. Animation is super-limited, but that fits the style of things and it winds up working out well because it lets you time things precisely. You know exactly how long basic shot with a weapon will take versus a charged one, and that can mean the difference between landing the first blow and giving yourself some room to move or being hit and then ganged up on.
David Dirig’s soundtrack is a major highlight and goes from more classical RPG fare to harder rock. “Executor” is a fine example of the latter, while “Robot” is a song that starts off heavy, and then slows down and calms you a bit. “Vampire” features a lot of piano work, and is one of the most beautiful songs in the OST. The music alone is worth trying the game out for, and it’ll remain on my mp3 player for quite some time. The sound effects are good, but not as memorable as the soundtrack. Weapon effects are solid, with a nice whoosh for your sword and CROWBAR OF PAIN CAUSING (or somesuch wacky description), and the sound of enemy bones breaking is satisfying — especially with it being accompanied by things like skeletons dropping bone by bone.
Legend of Dungeon is a perfect gateway game for those interested in Roguelikes, but who are intimidated by them as well. The beat-em-up style to the core gameplay means that if you grew up with more TMNT playing in an arcade than RPGs, you’ll be comfortable right away. There’s a definite learning curve to it, but it’s not too bad considering how different the two genres are. You can easily approach it mentally as being a beat-em-up with more depth and do just fine. It’s a beat-em-up that doesn’t get old thanks to randomly-generated worlds and the addition of a second chance in multiplayer makes it a very user-friendly Roguelike. At a mere $10, it’s impossible not to recommend Legend of Dungeon.