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Impressions - Dungelot: Shattered Lands

Needed to go rogue

It is most misleading that the bumph for Dungelot: Shattered Lands [official site] claims it's a combination of Minesweeper and a roguelite dungeon game. And a shame, too, as the idea of taking the puzzling element of one of the most flawed and awful puzzle games ever to have inflicted the Windows PC and using it properly, while at the same time having you battle monsters, use potions, improve weapons, and so-forth, sounds like a rather intriguing game someone should make. Red Winter Software have instead made a far more familiar, decent-enough grid-based dungeon that really rather could have done with such a twist.

It's presented in quite a muddle from the start. A very simple concept is explained dreadfully, both suggesting something far more involved, and making me ponder how they could turn "Click on the tiles, kill the monsters, find the level key" into quite such a difficult thing to say. That's the gist of it - each level is a 5x5 grid of tiles, with an exit door that needs to be opened by a hidden key. You click on tiles adjacent to the door you're trying to open (yeah, they didn't quite think it through), and reveal what's there. It'll either be nothing, but making more adjacent tiles available, a goodie such as potion, bomb, throwing knife, coin, etc, or a monster. The game's best feature is that you don't need to fight the monsters to clear a floor, and choosing whether you will can often be the difference between survival and being sent back to one of the game's few hubs. However, monsters will block access to surrounding tiles, so there are times when you've no choice if you've yet to find the key.

Fights are based on the monsters' attack and defence ratings versus your own, alongside any bonus items you might be using. Clicking on them initiates a 'round' of combat, where they usually go first, and you take a chunk out of each other. Once they're dead, more tiles are available, and you could well get a drop. Or you can negotiate the grid around them, until you're either stuck without fighting, or get the necessary key, a few extra coins, and decide to scarper to the next floor without taking any more risks.

The next floor could be more of the same, it might be a little mini-game where more bonuses can be gained or lost, or it could be a shop level, where you can buy and sell items, and exchange food for HP by resting. Food's the other element it adds in, where each floor of the dungeon consumes one item of food, and starvation will take you down if you run out. Food is usually gathered by tile clicking, and of course adds a further necessity to take risks on any floor to scavenge and hope to not run into something too scary.

Death comes frequently, but not too frequently. As you complete dungeons (by reaching their final floor, and taking out a final boss), more become accessible, and the hub starts to offer more functions. There's an armoury where you can improve weapons and armour (or indeed massively unimprove them, as I discovered to my chagrin when I wasted 500 precious gold on a crossbow that made me impossibly weak), older dungeons to re-run to improve scores, gather more gold, etc, and gods to worship (bonuses in exchange for coins). The further in you get, the more there is to do, and ideally the more proficient you become for the next run.

Except, it's my experience that I've hit a very crumbly, low wall that while I don't doubt I could eventually clamber over, requires me to keep running the same dungeons again and again in the hope of nudging slightly farther and unlocking what comes next. And since all three unfinished runs available are essentially identical to play, the lack of variation is leaving me a little despondent to push on. There's no question that it has a good run of adding in new elements, like very simple crafting, or strange mini-games you've not seen before, but this eventually runs dry.

There's also no reason I can see why the four item slots you have available need to be hidden behind an extra click of a chest. Having the four just on-screen to be selected would smooth out the game quite considerably - two clicks instead of four. The single-item crafting is also a ridiculous five clicks plus a needless five second wait. Such a lack of streamlining is very weird in a game that otherwise plays so quickly.

There's obviously a lot more game in here, but the repetition, and levels that just seem set up to see you fail, make it hard to want to keep re-running through the same sequences enough times to reach them. Others for whom this repetition clicks will have a very different experience, I think, and get a lot further into the game before thinking of other roguelites they'd much prefer to return to. At £7, it's not a huge risk if you like the look/sound of it, and there's certainly plenty going on here. If I'm quite honest, I think I'd have an awful lot more patience for it on my phone on a train than I do at my PC on a desk. And, well, you'll find it over there, along with Dungelot 2.

Dungelot: Shattered Lands is out now for Windows via Steam.

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