Tag Archives: roguelike

REVIEW: APOC TOWN

At outset, APOC TOWN ($1.00) seems to be on the right track. It pairs two of my favorite things; the visual style and general feel of the developer’s previous, Loot or Die1, and those always fun and rascally-ambitious enemy types, zombies. Granted, zombies have overstayed their welcome in everything that’s videogame and pop culture, but they’re hungry for flesh and dead already, making them the perfect antagonists for any project. Yet even with that can’t-miss pairing of ideas, the game isn’t very fun. Or forgiving.

APOC TOWN - Screen

Part of that is due to the apocalyptic setting and its approach to survival. Though APOC TOWN isn’t specifically what some would call a ‘roguelike’, it very much plays and feels like one in that you only have one life to live2, with your progress reset if you should die (or fail to save your game!). Despite its simple appearance, the game is much more complicated than it looks. Rather than going around wantonly bashing in skulls3, you must constantly be scrounging around for materials and ammunition, repairing or finding new weapons (because they will break, often), and crafting what you need in order to live to see another day.

You’ll occasionally get help. Similar to Survivalist (but not nearly as deep), there’s a heavy emphasis on community in APOC TOWN, slowly building up your initial starting point into a working enclave of A.I. survivors.  You’ll recruit others to populate your home base via a handful of preset mission types (rescue, hunt, mercy…), which in turn increases your available pool of resources. You can also find help from actual, breathing humans, as the game supports up to four players online (or via system link, if that’s an option).

And playing with others seems to be the route APOC TOWN wants you to take. Surviving in a zombie-infested apocalypse isn’t easy, naturally, but to make matters even more pressing, the game dials up the difficulty every ‘day’ you and your group survive, throwing even more zombified creatures (birds, dogs, larger zombies) and mobs your way. Given the scarcity of ammo, crafting materials, and medicine, it’s a hell of a lot to account for. If you’re going on alone, the game doesn’t really allow you to survive.

APOC TOWN - Screen2

If you’re seeing this on your screen, you’re lucky.

That isn’t so much of a problem if you have friends to share the load, but with XBLIG’s notoriously-absent online community, you’re never guaranteed to find anyone waiting in the co-op lobby4. Even then, the impetus to expand your base and find better gear is lacking due to the daily repeating objectives and the unrealistic amount of resources required to do so. There’s flashes of some interesting mechanics at work here, to be sure, but it’s not enough.

The resulting game is a mixed bag of genres and ideas, some that work… versus those that really don’t. On the one hand, APOC TOWN is a challenging take on survival horror, with a good amount of depth and too many intricacies to go into in just one article. And on the other, it’s a fickle and unforgiving game that basically refuses to be played solo. The TL;DR: Worthwhile if you have friends on standby willing to help, but alone, it’s far too frustrating to stick with.


  1. With touches of State of Decay and even ZombiU, among the usual ‘zombie game’ conventions. 
  2. Well, technically, that’s not true. Though your starting character can and probably will die, horribly, and losing all of his or her stuff, you will immediately take control of another survivor back at your camp. Assuming you’ve done your job and recruited survivors, that is. No man is an island. 
  3. Not advisable, since doing literally anything depletes your agility. Be very selective when bashing in skulls, my friend. 
  4. And I never did. 
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REVIEW: Dead War

The protagonist of Bandana GamesDead War ($1.00) is hard to get a read on. She’s on Death Row for murder at the start of the story, saved (ironically) by the onset of a zombie apocalypse. As you venture forth, you learn more about her and her background, shaping the character in subtle ways. Some of those decisions on her personality can be made by you throughout the storyline, choosing when and who to help. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but then again, it’s not often that XBLIG presents semi-complex characters in its games (let alone a zombie title). This was an unexpected surprise.

It could be said that those same ‘lowered expectations’ might apply to the genre itself. Zombies are old hat; mindless fodder led to the slaughter against whatever vast array of weaponry you find and whatever trumped-up reasons you’re given to do so. Thankfully, Dead War trounces some of your preconceived notions about what the game may or may not offer. It is a zombie shooter, but like Survivalist, any comparisons to other games like it on XBLIG end after that.

The game plays from an overhead perspective and controls like a twin-stick shooter, presented across seven fairly-large and varied levels / chapters. These environments take you from the prison you call home to an abandoned hospital, to darkened subway tunnels and a university full of stranded survivors, as well as a few more places in-between. Given its undead denizens and arcade-ish control scheme, you’d expect it to play more action-oriented. To my delight, Dead War focuses more on exploration, driven by bits of story and real objectives, rather than just waves and waves of zombies1.

And though it borrows a bit from RPGs and squad-based shooters2 in the process, I kept coming back to the sense that Dead War felt more like a roguelike in places. You need patience and a steady hand. Little things like a simple map are a luxury you need to earn / find. Rooms and corridors are deliberately kept hidden from view until you open the door / turn the corner, essentially leaving you blind— and on-guard— for most of the game. This cleverly forces you to explore your surroundings carefully, and interact with other characters to advance and fill in the story gaps (and your map).

Even gathering extra ammunition (corpses only yield so much) requires some tact, with boxes locked behind amusing, reflex-heavy minigames. Need money for supplies or a better gun? Civilian entrepreneurs would love to sell them to you, but you’ll have to gamble. You can bet and win money at various kiosks in the world, allowing you to try your hand at Blackjack, play the Slots, or damn the odds and lay down money on horse races3 (see below).

Granted, it’s hardly realistic, but it all makes for a nice change of pace from the standard zombie killing that other titles serve up on repeat. And while nothing here is graphically-intensive, the game works with what it has, making effective use of lighting and claustrophobic rooms to create tension when needed. Dead War‘s locales also contain plenty of optional storyline should you desire it, stored on computers and TV broadcasts scattered around the world, including a few humorous anecdotes about other games and media (there’s riffs on Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, Metal Gear, even Destiny4).

Side activities considered, it’s tempting to dismiss the game as ‘easy’, when really it can be quite difficult at times. The game strikes a nice balance between you being well-armed for any situation and encouraging you to conserve ammo5. Either way, you’ll want to play smart. In another nod to roguelikes, should you die or fail an objective at any point in the chapter, you’ll have to start the level from scratch. This could potentially wipe out the last half-hour or so of your progress. It’s maddening (Chapter 4 can be an annoying ‘escort’ mission), but it’s also fair. Nothing comes easy. Try to rush through this apocalypse, and Dead War will make you pay for it.

Dead War - Screen

Part of the charm is in that challenge, of course, and it’s that challenge (as well as its well-done ancillary bits and minigames / side missions) that allows the game to rise above its crowded genre. All told, you’ll probably need 5+ hours to see it all the way through. And you totally should. It takes a good amount of convincing— and quality game design— to get me excited about another zombie game. Dead War manages that and then some.


  1. Although you do get plenty of those, rest assured. Aside from the standard ‘vanilla’ type, you get the ‘green’ acid spitters and ‘red’ exploding zombies, which can put an end to you (and your squadmates) really quick. Tread lightly, and carry a big shotgun. 
  2. There’s only one chapter that uses ‘squad control’ to any great extent, and it’s actually more of a hassle than fun. The commands are spotty, and the AI loves to throw itself at danger (and refuse to retreat), so really, you’re better off just lone-wolfing it. 
  3. ‘Big Thanks’ to Bandana Games for naming a horse after the site! I didn’t expect that either, so I’m honored. 
  4. Admittedly, it’s become an addiction. Even though it’s not what I’d consider a ‘great’ game, I can’t stop playing the damn thing. 
  5. On a ‘Normal’ playthrough, anyway. I can’t speak for things on ‘Hard’ mode, because… well, I’m not cut out for real trouble. 

REVIEW: Super Dungeon Quest

From a visual standpoint, and from reading its idea on paper, Super Dungeon Quest ($2.99) is the kind of game that appeals to me right away. It would probably appeal to most others, too. A straight-up dungeon hack & slash, with a hint of roguelike flavoring and a ton of lovely-looking sprites, several character classes to choose from, and some light RPG values that enable you to level up your stats as you go.

Super Dungeon Quest - Screen

So why then, after playing through the game’s randomized dungeons with two (of seven) different character classes, a fireball-slinging Wizard and a melee-focused Warrior, am I left with such an empty, repetitive feeling? To understand that, you have to first recognize the gameplay for what it is; a twin-stick shooter. Sure, you don’t use the right thumbstick, but attacks can be auto-aimed and spammed repeatedly. For the range-based Heroes in particular, like the aforementioned Wizard, and the Archer, Bomber, etc., the ‘shooter’ vibe is strong. Less so for the blade-wielding types, but each character has their own special attack / move that helps offset any shortcomings based on weapons.

It’s all faster-playing than you might think, with you twin-sticking your way through hundreds of blurred baddies and collecting gold on the way to each floor’s exit. Once you’ve battled through enough villains and found the key (you don’t necessarily have to kill everyone to find it, though you should; that extra gold you’ll farm is, well, golden), it’s rinse and repeat all the way to the skill bank, which allocates your typical boosts to health, attack power, mana, luck, etc, in exchange for gold. Said upgrades are basically interchangeable between the Heroes, as you’ll only ever need increased weapon power and health to breeze through the game on its normal setting.

Super Dungeon Quest - Screen2

And oh, what a breeze it is. There’s absolutely nothing else tying you to the game, as it is minus a story, bosses, or even an excuse for all the looting. Once you’ve traversed the entirely of the dungeon (fourteen floors = forty minutes, slightly longer on Hard), the game simply returns to the title screen after tallying your stats. There’s two alternative modes to try your luck at, both wave-based, and which play exactly the same as the main game— albeit in a single arena— with you again earning gold to spend on upgrades between rounds.

With none of your progress saved upon death (it’s a roguelike, natch) or success, and no leaderboards of any kind for the arenas, it’s all rendered moot in the end. Running through the dungeons once or twice is enough to get your fill, too, as each floor and character starts to feel the same as the last, with only the cosmetic side of it changing as you advance. It plays well-enough, and certainly looks great, but Super Dungeon Quest is just empty adventuring. 

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This review is also featured at Indiepitome

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

REVIEW: Dungeons of Desolation

Dungeons of Desolation (80 MSP) is a roguelike (think plumbing the depths for ever-greater loot, living and fighting in constant fear of death) in the vein of Cursed Loot or its slightly less-serious PC namesake, Dungeons of Dredmor. Its creative indebtedness to both titles means it doesn’t ultimately differ much from them, but it’s still a nifty dungeon crawler to while away the hours in.

Visually, it’s a downgrade from the aforementioned games. The art lacks any kind of pop, and the animation (for battles and characters) is nearly non-existent, but all the other aspects of a roguelike make the translation intact. Using the town of Desolation as your hub ‘mall’ to purchase and sell goods, you travel below its surface to spelunk the dimly-lit caverns and cellars, running into all manner of monsters you must defeat, which drop all manner of enchanted armor and weapons. Equip and explore, then equip and explore again. Put it all on repeat, sprinkle a hardly-there grade-school plot on top, and you’re all set.

Though with multiple up / down staircases and randomized floor layouts, no two playthroughs are ever the same. The game does its best to keep things fresh too, including a wheel of chance, manned by Death Himself, that you’re forced to spin with every demise met. You’ll usually lose a portion of your acquired XP or gold from that run, which hurts (your pride), but it’s not as completely progress-destroying as some of the other roguelikes that came before it. You’ll be thankful for its mercy early. With literally hundreds of items, potions, weapons, and equipment, finding a good configuration is awesome and equally heartbreaking if you fail to save before a tough room or floor.

Dungeons of Desolation lends itself more toward RPG than action with the inclusion of skill trees that branch out from four areas of expertise; weaponry (stats), black magic (offensive), grey magic (buffs), and white magic (healing). Spend some time bullying the smaller game and you’ll be rewarded. Leveling up gives you the points required to upgrade, allowing you to tailor the game to your proclivities and tackle the bigger, meaner crowds that come later.

Level 1? What is this, amateur hour? Go home, son. Call me when you get your ‘holy aura’.

Those skill trees expand the game’s depth, but can also oversimplify your progress. By the time I had leveled into the mid-30s, I was effectively a walking tank, resisting all elemental attacks, steeped in White Mage power, thus regenerating / healing at a ridiculous rate, and smashing any enemy I came across. I descended each new staircase with ease, finding better equipment, confident that death couldn’t find me no matter how far down I ventured (25 floors in total), and I was right in that assumption. With the game no longer a challenge, exploration lost much of its allure. The final boss was a pushover (and a bit underwhelming).

Roguelikes are won and lost on their ability to kill you off and keep you coming back for more. The challenge trails off towards the end, and it comes in a less-attractive package, but Dungeons of Desolation holds it own amongst the others in its class, offering you plenty of customization, looting, and equipment-comparing for the buck. If you haven’t yet tired of staircases leading endlessly down, it’s worth the time.

REVIEW: Diehard Dungeon

From that opening shot of an arrow ripping through your chest to the McClane-inspired title, the implication is that you’re going to perish in Diehard Dungeon (80 MSP). And you will. That it is a roguelike, and really up to the whims of chance as to how fair (or brutal) the game is to you, is all part of the package you immediately accept when you sign up.

Following in the bloody footsteps of other roguelikes such as The Binding of Isaac and fellow XBLIG Sushi Castle, the game takes dungeon crawling, a deep reverence for the old school Legend of Zeldas, a ‘one life to live’ policy, and mixes in loot and powerups,  all of it randomly-generated and set to a nice soundtrack.

You still find keys to unlock doors, hit switches, and occasionally get buffaloed by overwhelming odds or a bad draw, but the game strays a bit from the expected hack & slash (shoot & slash, here) and traps setup. There’s some choice in how you proceed at times, and that variety also extends to the gameplay.

There’s the Pac-Man minigame that has you putting out fires with the treasure chest (chests being known for their fire-extinguishing prowess, of course) in order to gain a fresh ability, or other, scattered chests in the levels that grant you a number of spins on a slot machine, which can improve your health, drop treasure, or add a new skill. Your ‘Companion Chest’ you rescue early on is more than just a storage-based sidekick, too, growing in power the more loot you collect, soon able to attack enemies on its own (you’re more or less its bodyguard at the start).

I never did find 10 golden keys in a playthrough (the game’s secondary objective), so I can’t speak for what the end treasure chest holds. Surviving and escaping the dungeon was good enough for me. Doing so unlocks ‘Champions’ mode, activated at the start of a game session if you so choose. It’s more of a neat trophy run than a tangible reward currently. You’ll see other players’ names and characters that made it out alive and opened the final chest (with either positive or negative effect) as you play an otherwise normal game.

Diehard Dungeon‘s other mode, Mayhem, is an ‘under construction’ twin-stick shooter with global leaderboards, starring the Companion Chest from the main game. You get three minutes to kill as many enemies as possible, building up a combo meter by avoiding attacks. It’s not front-loaded with content yet (hence the ‘under construction’), and probably wouldn’t rate as high without the leaderboard support, but it is a rather nice surprise in and of itself. It’s gives the indie press an excuse to fire highscores back and forth at each other, which is always fun.

You either dig roguelikes or you don’t. Diehard Dungeon won’t change your mind, despite being more action-y and ‘reserved’ in doling out its punishment. I enjoyed it. The only beef I have with the game is a temporary one; a periodic ‘pause’ in the action as the game shares data between players for the leaderboards. A patch should be up in a few weeks, addressing this and other issues or visual quirks. Also in the cards are updates, totaling about 50% more content; new areas, bosses, enemies, and abilities, as well as some extra ‘Mayhem’ stuff.

Joining Uprising alum qrth-phyl on the early winner’s podium, tricktale‘s Diehard Dungeon pays tribute to a classic within the confines of a more modern genre, and solidifies itself as one of the better examples in turn, with excellent gameplay and an aesthetic that is distinctly indie, distinctly XBLIG, which is what the Uprising is all about.

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Review on Indie Gamer Chick

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Review on The Indie Mine