Scrambling to Stay Alive in Legend of Dungeon [Preview]

Joel Couture
MASH Veteran
 
April 29th, 2013

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I looked at the switch, stopping to drum my fingers on my controller while I thought. Most of the switches I’d hit so far hadn’t done all that much, so why worry? I couldn’t think of a good reason to hit the switch as I’d never gotten anything all that amazing out of hitting one yet, but this could be the one time that something great showed up. I waited for a few more seconds, then shrugged my shoulders and hit the switch, staring into the section of wall that opened up a few feet away. I wish I’d seen the look on my face when twenty zombies and some demon woman with a whip came pouring out, ending an hour’s worth of play in a few seconds. I’d get mad about it, but I just as easily could have found the best item in the game in that room due to the procedurally generated nature of Legend of Dungeon‘s… dungeons.

It’s my favorite part of the game, so far. The whole game builds itself around you as you play, filling out rooms and items at random. The only thing you can count on is the room you walk into before setting out into the dungeon, as beyond that you never know what could happen. The best sword in the game could be lying around a corner just a few steps from the starting position, or a nearly-unkillable monster could smash your skull in the second you set foot on the dungeon floor. This doesn’t happen frequently as the game seems to increase or decrease your chances depending on how far you are into the dungeon (as far as I could tell over multiple plays), but it isn’t impossible.

This doesn’t just apply to the monsters, either. The dungeon’s floors are built as you go along, creating whole new routes to explore every time you head inside. Each doorway and stairwell leads down to somewhere you haven’t seen before filled with creatures you might not expect, so it’s very hard to be prepared for what you run into. Considering that the gear is just as random as everything else, don’t expect to be able to build yourself up in a certain way to deal with what you run into, either. Fighting smart and knowing when to run away is the only way you’ll see the end of Legend of Dungeon.

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The developers, Robot Loves Kitty, weren’t content only having almost everything randomized, so they also had David Dirig compose almost 250 tracks for the game, which the game plays at random. I had several different songs play each time I started the game, all of which sound pretty nice. They cover a bunch of different moods; jumping from goofy to sombre and everything in between. It made the gameplay experience feel a little different each time, and I thought it was a really cool touch. You genuinely have no idea what you’re going to be running into when you play Legend of Dungeon.

Well, combat stays the same way each time, I guess. The game plays like a roguelike beat-em-up, something that drove the stress level of one of my preferred genres through the roof. You can pick up a couple of different melee weapons to use on the enemies, always starting with a basic sword. Now, you can find guns and summoned monsters you can also use on your enemies, but these are the result of lucky breaks and you won’t have them for long, so you’d better get used to melee. Your basic attack has a slight delay (like the whip in Castlevania), so it prevents you from just charging into the enemies and slashing at random. You have to take a few swings with each weapon you find so that you get a feel for its timing. I wouldn’t even think of going into a fight before you’d figured that out.

Once you see an enemy, you’re going to want to approach it a lot more carefully than you would in your average beat-em-up. Factoring your weapon’s timing in with the speed of the enemy’s approach is crucial if you’re going to make it anywhere in the game. You need to be timing your hits so that the enemy gets clobbered first, hopefully suffering some knockback before you eat a hit as well. Most enemies that are around your strength level will bounce back when hit, allowing you to set up another attack a moment later. They don’t always do that, though, so you have to be prepared to pick at them while moving around the chamber. Knowing your enemy is a huge factor in this game, so take your time and do it.

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That’s not always possible when the game can throw whatever it wants at you, though. Again, the randomization factor makes this game really hard as you can easily run into new enemies you’ve never fought before. I didn’t think much of the zombie in the conehead hat when I first saw him, thinking he’d just do a little bit more damage than a regular zombie. I went from full health to nothing because I felt like getting cocky at the wrong time. On another run, I ran into a living version of the decorative statues that littered the dungeon, and it destroyed me before I could get away. Be careful when playing this game, and never take any change in the enemies for granted. You might be steamrolling your way through the other enemies you’ve run into so far, but that doesn’t mean the game can’t throw something that’s way too powerful your way. Always remember that you can run away.

Then again, you could always down a potion if you think it’ll help you. I know I’ve gone on and on about the randomization, but this is where all logic seemed to go out the window. You can never trust what you’re drinking in this game, but the sad part is that the extreme effects of these potions make it worth your while to drink them. You never know what any given potion is going to do, and are only given a little bit of text about what color it is. Is the black potion bad? Is it good? You really won’t know until you’ve drank it; and considering you can gain levels, permanent buffs, and full health from drinking one it’s almost always worth a shot. Sometimes you may get a mouth of poison, fall asleep, or just start running around after you’ve drank it, so it tends to be a huge gamble to drink one. I liked it because I felt like it encouraged me to get in on the randomness, and also because potions tended to be my last hope a lot of the time. I would turn to them when I was out of healing items and outmatched by the enemies, sometimes turning the whole fight in my favor or making my defeat even more embarrassing.

Most of this is assuming that you’re all alone when playing the game. In its current build, the game still has four player local co-op. Given how far I’ve gotten by myself, it’s definitely something you need to look into. Go through your high school Facebook friends if you have to, but get three more people together so you have a chance. Besides having the help of four other targets, death in co-op is only temporary. You can collect orbs dropped from enemies to bring yourself back to life as long as there’s a single surviving party member, but you’ll only come back with one hit point so it’s hardly a free ride. It’s a nice benefit when you manage to get one survivor to safety, though.

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Co-op opens up lots of nice options for combat as well. Just having someone to lug the lantern around in a dark room means not having to switch back and forth to your weapon when a skeleton comes crawling down your throat. It’s also helpful to have more than one target for the enemies, as you can distract them with multiple characters. The developers knew about this help, though, so don’t expect things to be that much easier. The enemies are more numerous and seem to get harder faster on co-op, and they also drop fewer experience orbs when they die. Also, there’s always the fun of who gets what items when they drop. You can toss items you don’t need so that one player doesn’t ‘accidentally’ pick up all the good stuff, but there are no defined roles so expect some fights to break out in the group over who gets what. That stuff gets dropped when you die, though, so don’t get too greedy lest you find your allies abandoning you when you need help.

Why not enjoy the overall look of the game while you’re still alive, though? The game might look as if it’s done entirely in pixel art, but that art just comes alive in 3D. It reminds me of 3D Dot Heroes, but if all of the lines between the individual pixels had been removed. There’s something really cool about seeing the pixel art moving in three dimensions, and it makes the game feel lively but silly at the same time. It’s almost at odds with the difficulty of the game, as many of the enemies just look goofy when rendered this way, but somehow it clicks. 3D pixel art works for the game’s sense of humor, and it keeps things from getting really frustrating when you’ve died against a zombie wearing an inflatable duck. It’s a style that encourages fun while still using modern tools to look good.

The best tool in Legend of Dungeon has to be light. Light makes this game look fantastic, and I’ve never seen it used this well in any other game. Many of the areas are cast in certain colors of light, and while they look good, it’s when a torch burns to life that I was stunned to a halt. The area that lights up around a light source like a torch or lantern just feels natural, and walking with a light source is a visual treat. I imagine I’m starting to sound like a game reviewer from the nineties at this point, but the light in this game really is amazing.

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If you walk into a pitch-black room, you’ll know what I mean. Once you bring out your own lantern, a dim glow will cast shadows all across your character and around your path. The light barely penetrates into the darkness, but will do so just enough that you might see a black silhouette coming your way. It casts more shadows off of other objects around you, almost making everything around you seem darker by comparison. I’ve seen light cast up from a lava pit create this dim red glow, one that made the darkness above it an even deeper black. In another instance, I wore a miner’s hat that created such a powerful light that it was almost blinding when I tried to see anything short range. That light created these thin shadows and colored everything else such a brilliant white that I had to shut it off. I’ve seen light used well in games before, but never in these varying shades and brightnesses. Watching how light works in this game is a treat all its own.

What impresses me more than anything about the game is just how tight a package it is even though it’s still in its alpha stage. Robot Loves Kitty is very close to releasing the beta version of the game, don’t get me wrong, but this game is fantastic even now. This felt like a full version of the game to me (and I think I rambled on as if it was, too), and I’m really curious to see what sort of additions and changes will be made to this game as it nears release. I’ve got my fingers crossed for online co-op, though. I can just imagine how playing this game will get once internet strangers get involved. The thought of leaving some mouthy preteen to die at the hands of a cyclops has me itching to give Robot Loves Kitty my money even more than I already do.

You can buy Legend of Dungeon in its current build from the developer’s site.

META

A horror-obsessed gamer, Joel is still spending his days looking for something to scare himself as much as Fatal Frame. Even so, he has ridiculous action games and obscure gems to keep him happy in the meantime. A self-proclaimed aficionado of terrible retro games, he's always looking for a rotten game he hasn't played yet, and may be willing to exchange information for candy.

Specialty: Horror