In a time where games are becoming increasingly more complex and layered, it’s interesting to see one which does the complete opposite.
Devious Dungeon is simple and to the point. Early on, it lays out exactly what it’s trying to be, so this could be either a great or a terrible thing, depending on what you want out of it. Granted, this isn’t a new release – it was previously available on Android and iOS, and earlier this year, made it on to the Switch and PS4 in March and April respectively. Now, it’s arrived on Xbox One. Question is, is it any good?
The premise of Devious Dungeon is simple; you play as a knight sent to slay monsters in a medieval castle dungeon. Some fairly standard fantasy tropes there. You progress through different stages looking for a key that will unlock the next stage and fight a boss here and there. That’s pretty much it. The game doesn’t bother adding any more frills to the narrative, because that’s not what it’s going for. Simplicity is the aim here. And for what it is, it works fairly well. This simplicity is partially conveyed through the pixelated art style, which is fun and harkens back to 2D sidescrollers that were huge a few generations ago.
One aspect where it really shines is in the enemy design. There’s a significant variety of enemy types, all of which are aesthetically different and have their own distinct methods of attack. Some do massive damage up close, others shoot you from afar with magical bolts. Each stage is randomly generated, meaning that there’s no way of knowing where the enemies are when you spawn. You have to discover them, which can add a semblance of tension, especially when health is running low. Discovering where the enemies are laid out in a level and figuring out the best plan of attack adds an intriguing layer of challenge to the game, and a great deal of satisfaction when your strategy pays off.
Also increasing the tension is the way the checkpoints are structured. You receive the equivalent of a checkpoint every three levels, and your health bar doesn’t regenerate between these stages, meaning that if you head into the third level with depleted health, you need to be extremely careful. This adds a sense of danger to the otherwise straightforward, hack and slash, gameplay.
The gameplay is very basic, but functional. You can attack and jump, and that’s pretty much it. While there aren’t many dimensions, it works extremely well, and there are no issues with its functionality. However, this also proves to be one of the game’s downfalls. See, the cycle goes as follows – kill enemies, find the key to unlock the next stage and repeat. The grind goes on and on, only punctuated by boss battles that are beefed up versions of the enemies you face throughout. Whenever you die, you respawn at the throne room of the castle, the main hub of the game, where you can stock up on weapons and armour from a trusty shopkeeper, Olaf. Olaf also appears at every checkpoint stage, allowing you to stock up and heal before you take on the bosses. There’s no Dark Souls situation here either, you keep all of your XP and money when you die. As you would expect you use your hard-earned money to buy upgraded equipment from Olaf, which in turn makes you more efficient at killing minotaurs and wizards.
In terms of the customisation, there isn’t a great deal of flexibility here either. Every weapon and piece of armour is unlocked after buying the previous set, making the sense of progression feel extremely linear, and very limited. There’s some added variety with the addition of different rings and amulets, but by and large, customisation is fairly restricted. The style of combat is fairly limited as well, as everything boils down to hacking and slashing enemies as quickly as you can. The upgraded weapons you purchase increase the speed at which you can swing, as well as dealing more damage, but the method of combat always remains the same. There are no options for any kind of ranged warfare, which could have added another dimension to the combat.
Levelling up works as you’d expect it to, with XP accumulating as you kill more enemies and progress through the stages. Adding an extra incentive to exploration are tomes, special books found hidden across the levels which grant massive XP boosts. Another way of gaining XP is the completion of some simple quests found in the main menu, which largely consist of killing a certain number of enemies. As you level, enemies become tougher and more difficult to kill, so upgrading becomes a necessity as time goes on.
There’s a real charm to the style of Devious Dungeon. The pixelated art style is fun, the controls are tight, the randomly designed dungeons are fun to explore, and the enemy design is clever and varied. But there just isn’t enough to it. There’s little variety in everything but the enemy design, and when you play through the same loop repeatedly, it starts to get a bit tiresome.
If you’re looking to pick up a small indie game that you can sink five or six hours in to without a great deal of difficulty, then this is the game for you. If you’re expecting more, you may be left disappointed.