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Premature Evaluation: Dungeon Munchies

Incy wincy

A friend of mine works for an insect farm, raising crickets and fly larvae as an alternative protein source for livestock feed, as well as for human snacks. His job is to distract each cricket for just long enough so that a colleague can swoop in from behind and humanely murder the cricket with a tiny hammer. Or at least that’s how I understood it. I wasn’t paying much attention, as my mind was racing with the culinary potential of mashed insects, pureed slugs and fried spiders. I don’t eat meat, but I’m almost certain that spiders aren’t actually real animals to begin with. Certainly not animals with any meat in them. They’re probably more closely related to robots, or angry coins, so whatever.

In Dungeon Munchies, you play a reanimated corpse who must traverse the ancient ruins of what appears to be suburban Japan, fighting dungeon creatures and then turning their assorted guts and carapaces into delicious meals that grant you new powers. It’s a funny and well-written 2D platformer in the vein of cult indie classic Cave Story, in which you pootle along from left to right, leaping over pits of spikes and occasionally encountering a cooking campsite set up by your mysterious chef-necromancer boss. There you have the opportunity to turn all of the raw ingredients you’ve collected along the way into useful upgrades and new weapons.

There’s a widely debunked but still viscerally potent factoid that says that, on average, eight spiders crawl into your mouth while you sleep every year. The factoid is bad for a number of reasons, besides that it’s both made up and about swallowing spiders. For one, it doesn’t state whether it’s the same eight spiders creeping into your mouth each time, perhaps a small group of them who’ve formed an unhealthy fandom around the insides of your mouth. Nor does it state whether all eight spiders crawl into your mouth on the same night, in a 64-legged conga line, on some inconceivable date of importance on the spider’s calendar, an arachnid Bank Holiday whose private rituals and traditions are unknown to us. Or maybe there’s one person who eats 164 million spiders every night and drags the average up for everyone else.

In Dungeon Munchies, just as in the real world, your stomach can carry seven different meals at any given time. However, as you’re a zombie with no intestinal tract to speak of, meals sit permanently inside your undead belly, with nowhere to go until you decide to vomit them back out again to make room for new ones. In this manner the meals act more like character-building, tech-tree enchantments that you routinely swap in and out, rather than the kinds of temporary food buffs you tend to get with every other cooking mechanic in every other game.

Some dishes grant you basic improvements. Grilled shrimp increases your maximum health by 20 hitpoints. A fried mosquito in your belly gives you the ability to double jump. As you progress through the dungeon and encounter more enemy types, you begin to unlock more interesting buffs that roughly correlate with the ingredients of each dish. A crabshell bisque grants you a defensive water vortex that damages nearby enemies. The barbecued toad leg adds a poison effect to your melee attacks. In one secret area I found a garden full of the devil’s lettuce, which can be turned into “happy grass rolls”. The buff for this dish is counter-intuitive; rather than make the protagonist climb into bed to eat an entire tube of Pringles and watch YouTube videos about black holes on his phone, the happy grass rolls actually increase your movement speed.

Weapons are similarly related to the attributes of the creature they’re derived from. Crab claws become crab spears. Blades of grass become blades of swords. Most literally, you can skewer the corpse of a laser-blasting firefly on the end of a stick to harness its laser beams as a secondary weapon. Each new area you explore presents a set of new enemies, and so new and more powerful weapons unlock as you progress.

The idea that eight juicy spiders are queuing up to slink into our warm, wet, open mouths while we sleep was invented wholesale by columnist Lisa Holst in 1993, to demonstrate how easily misinformation can spread across the information superhighway (or “the infosoup” as it was abbreviated to back then). In an article for PC Professional magazine, she wrote about the rising tide of made up facts that were circulating via chain emails, a precursor to our modern fake news.

To illustrate her point, she made the spurious claim that humans swallow an average of eight spiders every year and sent it out into the unsuspecting world. Fuelled by the worn-out ‘forward this email’ buttons of a million grandmothers, the spider factoid very quickly propagated across the internet, which back then was made up of just five Geocities websites and one low-resolution gif of the Lycos dog barking the words “free viagra”. Since then it’s been impossible to look at a spider without imagining it sliding one of its long hairy legs into your already salivating mouth. Thanks a bunch, Lisa.

Once you’ve cooked something for the first time, or crafted a weapon with critter bits, it’s unlocked for good and you can create it again without needing any of the ingredients. That makes Dungeon Munchies less about resource management and a lot more linear than you would expect a game about harvesting monster parts to be. Enemies reliably spawn in the same spot every time, meaning that at any given point in the game you’re guaranteed to be in roughly the same situation as any other player would be. There’s rarely any need to backtrack or hunt down specific ingredients – your bag simply fills up with them as you play.

This early access version contains just the first of four chapters, and so presumably only a quarter of the total recipes. Hopefully as development continues there’ll be more branching level design, with more randomly distributed enemies giving you the opportunity to experiment with the ingredients you find, and to go off-book with the dishes you can create. Variety is the spice of life, even for the undead.

My last aside about Lisa Holst having invented the spider fact was based on something I heard Stephen Fry say on a half-remembered episode of QI, as well as a cursory bit of research on Snopes. However, it turns out that explanation is just as disputed as the factoid itself, as the original article and its author seems to have vanished.

Unfortunately that means the jury is officially back out on whether or not a series of fat, hairy spiders routinely creep into your wide open mouth as you sleep, in an attempt to crawl down your throat and lay their eggs inside your lungs. Sleep tight!

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