The Legend of Dungeon Gets a VR Makeover

I don’t remember how I got Legend of Dungeon. A bundle, maybe, or possibly a Steam sale? What I do know is that I played it for under an hour, didn’t dislike it, and then never looked at the game again. It got pushed to the side for what were probably good reasons at the time and apparently I even uninstalled it at some point. With no writing assignment attached or gameplay hook demanding more attention, I wandered off without even realizing it and Legend of Dungeon fell into the pile of shame. The poor thing probably deserved better.

VR is new and shiny, and I just got my headset a few weeks back. One of the problems with new tech is finding things to play on it, and while I’ve got a few things that work and a couple that I’ll never try again thanks to motion sickness, my library of VR games I’d want to spend serious time with is pretty small.  It’s gotten to be habit to browse Steam’s VR section looking for anything new, and finding a game I already own suddenly show up in the list as was a very nice surprise. It turns out a beta for VR was added on June 28, and suddenly Legend of Dungeon is reinstalled and dominating my attention.

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There’s a lot to be said for presentation, and LoD’s on a regular screen was only ok. The game plays out in a series of connected rooms that are usually far wider than they are deep, and most of them scroll off the edges of the screen. The doors are against the back wall, requiring a slightly awkward transition between each room as you push up to exit, pull down to enter. The pixelized player and enemies contrasted with the 3D rooms and colored lighting in a way that almost but didn’t quite gel, but it’s always fun to smack around monsters and earn new magic toys in a quest to survive through randomized levels. It’s a formula that works when done right, and LoD pulls it off in a nicely arcadey side-scrolling brawler fashion.

The big question that deserves an answer is that, if LoD didn’t cohere well enough to grab my attention before, why is it doing it with the addition of VR? It’s all down to presentation, as it turns out. First and most importantly, each room is now a little diorama suspended in space at eye level. It’s no longer a 3D game emulating the presentation of a 2D game using fake 3D (think Streets of Rage, where you walk up and down to move into and away from the background) but rather a more useful and, at this stage in VR’s life, original presentation. Being able to look left and right to see the entire room at once is also a big help, rather than having to scroll over to look for monsters, items, or what effect the pressure plate you tripped is having.

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The diorama effect also unifies the polygonal dungeons and the pixel monsters.  They’re no longer slightly awkward against each other but rather little paper cutouts running around a tiny stage, putting on a roguelike sidescrolling dungeon crawl for your amusement.  The rooms range from 6-12 inches tall and you and the monsters are roughly 2 inches, and the entire diorama hangs a little over a foot in front of your face.  The rooms hover there in space, and you can stand up for an overhead view or peer forward and to the sides to look around inconvenient scenery.  It’s honestly pretty cute, and makes the dungeon an inviting place to go spelunking to your doom.

As for the rest of Legend of Dungeon, it’s a very playable action roguelike with a lot of entertaining touches.  The reason the formula is so common is because it works, and if a developer can hang a game made in its own unique style off the single-life randomized dungeon crawl then the odds of it turning out nicely are high.  In addition to the usual skeletons and slimes Legend of Dungeon has creatures borrowed from Plants vs Zombies, hamsters you can wear as a hat that throw things at monsters, weapons and magic ranging from your standard sword to weirdness I haven’t even seen yet because I have yet to survive past Floor 6 (of 26 total) thanks to an inability to let a single monster survive.  Despite being in a well-worn genre Legend of Dungeon has its own strong identity, a nice combination of gloomy and dangerous subterranean exploration mixed with pixelated silliness that makes it fun to see what you’ll find next.

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I didn’t find my way in to Legend of Dungeon the first time I looked at it, maybe due to genre overfamiliarity or possibly because I wasn’t paying attention.  VR has given me a different view of the game, literally and figuratively, and while the feature is still beta it’s effectively transformed Legend of Dungeon from another line on my Steam list to something I’m not only actively playing but having fun at, too.  Would it have been as entertaining without VR?  Legend of Dungeon has an active Steam forum, a Wikia page and got a very kind review from this site back in 2013, so maybe.  Nobody’s got time to play everything, and for me, at least, the game slipped on by with only a few minutes on the clock.  The change in perspective from side-scrolling to a little diorama I can look all around at was the last piece necessary to pull me in, and sometimes that little extra bit of charm in the presentation is all that’s necessary to provide motivation for a second look at a missed game.