Dead Dungeon markets itself as a hardcore 2D platformer built around simple and challenging gameplay. Each level follows the same basic premise of collecting a key to open the exit door and then making it to said exit, all without dying. But, with a name like Dead Dungeon you shouldn’t expect to make it through unscathed. I certainly didn’t.
Dead Dungeon certainly is a simple game. Each level is one screen and everything comes down to accuracy and jump height control. The only movement mechanics to figure out are the double jump and walking. There isn’t even a quick restart button, so the best way to start over is to just hurl yourself into the nearest death trap. The lack of a quick restart button is unfortunate, but there are enough ways to kill yourself at any given time that it’s kind of a non-issue.
The level design varies a decent amount but mainly follows a few basic principles. There are spikes on the ground to avoid, spinning saws to jump around, and enemies to either kill or avoid. You know, fairly typical platforming elements. It’s nothing groundbreaking but it’s a tried and true formula that works well.
Dead Dungeon consists of 50 levels, where the 50th level culminates in a type of boss fight. Almost every level will have a few collectibles to pick up, either in the form of donuts or some random archeological find, and collecting those is where the greatest challenge of Dead Dungeon is. But that’s not to say the rest of the game is easy. At the end of my playthrough, I had died just short of 1,500 times – a total I know full well because Dead Dungeon so kindly points it out with any chance it gets; either through one of the multiple achievements that you unlock by sucking, or by the exact death count that pops up when you finally beat the game.
The levels that contributed the most to my death count were the ones that deviated from the norm. They feature more unique challenges like pulsating laser beams or cannons that track player movement. The difficulty spike for these levels could be best attributed to their natural challenge, as well as the way they forced you to rethink how to progress. Sadly there aren’t a ton of levels that experiment with different mechanics, and I think Dead Dungeon could well benefit from leaning into these unique designs a bit more.
Speaking of unique, the last level is a fight with the bad guy from the brief bit of story that gets played at the beginning of the game. All of the happy little cubes that reside in the world of Dead Dungeon are killed by the big mean cube, and the angry cube that you play as just kind of ignores all that in search of donuts. I wish I could describe the characters a bit more eloquently but I can’t recall them ever being given any kind of names.
I think the cutscenes are an attempt at being funny, but they don’t really hit the mark. That said, you’re not going to be buying Dead Dungeon for the plot. Anyways, the big evil cube man that I don’t know what to call is the boss of the final level and he will repeatedly run across the screen in an attempt to kill you. Every time he hits a wall, spikes will drop from the ceiling, and there is a cannon that shoots a cannonball every few seconds at the exact height you’ll be jumping to when dodging his charge. It’s a challenging and unique conclusion to the game.
Overall, Dead Dungeon is going to be for those who like challenging platformers and who have a lot of patience. As someone who has spent a lot of time playing platformers, I have to say that Dead Dungeon is difficult, but patience and muscle memory are typically enough to make it through. There are definitely harder games out there, but contained within this experience are a few levels that are just downright frustrating. Dead Dungeon took me around three hours to beat and I spent 30 minutes of that stuck on one level.
Maybe I had been playing too long at that point – it was midnight and I was running on pure spite – but the level – the 49th in fact – is just a bit awkward. There is one moment that kept stumping me – including a jump through a teleporter, the dodging of two saws, and then seeing me head through another teleporter. The aerial acrobatics were just different than every puzzle up until that point and it just made things more difficult than they needed to be.
There are a few isolated occurrences like that where levels implement a mechanic that hasn’t been used before, but then Dead Dungeon will quickly abandon that mechanic as soon as you beat it. Another example of this is found in two levels that include falling spike traps. These were the only two times this trap occurred in the game and I was so caught off guard by it that I didn’t know how to process it. It wasn’t the worst thing, but it felt unnecessary.
That is the biggest criticism I can muster for Dead Dungeon: certain parts of some levels just feel a bit like afterthoughts. They don’t add a ton to the difficulty or challenge; they just slow things down a little. It also isn’t uncommon for a level to have you repeat an incredibly easy task over and over again before you take on the real challenge. Again, it just adds a bit of tedium to an otherwise fast-paced game.
In the simplest terms, Dead Dungeon is an incredibly affordable game that will provide a few hours of fun. It’s by no means perfect, but it does a good job of providing a variety of challenging levels to get through. If you’re looking for a challenging platformer that can be beaten in a weekend, then Dead Dungeon on Xbox One might be the game for you.