Video games have been around since the 1970s. One would think that now, in 2021, we would have seen a great number of incredibly original ideas. One would be correct, but one would also be disappointed to see games like Dungeons & Bombs. This unoriginal puzzler is fifty levels of frustration and tedium that will not be missed.
Developed by PigeonDev, Dungeons & Bombs is a grid-based puzzle game where, on each level, you must save a princess. What?! This video game has you saving a princess? That’s never been done before! Heavy sarcasm aside, the damsel in question is slightly unique due to her being bearded. This is played for laughs, but it is about as funny as a squirrel with a necktie. Squirrels do not normally wear neckties. Get it? The game beats you over the head with this joke, especially due to the princess’s constant presence on the right side of the screen. An incredibly annoying presence, might I add. She just stands there mouth breathing the entire time, and if you continue to fail a puzzle you will receive one of a few mocking messages over and over.
Of course, the irritating princess serves a purpose for gameplay. As you move through the puzzles to save her, you have a limited number of moves. The princess holds a piece of parchment that shows how many moves you have remaining during an attempt. Should that number reach zero, you must begin the level again. Failing a level is not too bad since it takes no amount of time at all to reload an attempt. Yet, being able to get back into the gameplay speedily is not doing the game any favors.
As mentioned briefly above, this is a grid-based puzzler. Moving from grid to grid costs one movement, and you also have the ability to place bombs. Placing them also takes away one of your chances to move, and they will explode after three more movements. Occasionally, the levels will contain baddies that move around at the same time that you do. If an enemy is on the same grid as you are, then you lose an additional movement. The same happens if you are struck by a spike in the floor. This all means that you must plan your journey through the dungeons carefully. So carefully, in fact, that if you do not complete the dungeon in an exactly precise way, you will not win. This is the most frustrating part of the game. There is no room to experiment or find interesting solutions to puzzles. With only a single right answer, it makes the game feel immensely prohibitive.
On the other hand, there are times when solving a puzzle in the exact way it has to be solved can be refreshing. What keeps Dungeons & Bombs from ever feeling this way, however, is the fact that each completed puzzle results in the princess literally walking away from your character and into another dungeon. It may seem like a trivial thing to get hung up on, but one of the key parts of feeling that sense of achievement in any game is in seeing your actions rewarded. Making it to the princess only for her to sarcastically thank you and walk into danger yet again is an enormous slap in the face. Rather than feeling like I was accomplishing something, I quickly began to feel incredibly tired of the game.
Additionally, there is an incredibly odd glitch that kept me from any feeling of satisfaction. Early on in the game, I accidentally triggered a bug where my character could move infinitely. This persisted from level to level. It removed any need to be careful or thoughtful about my movements. Wanting to actually play the game as intended, I restarted it. This removed the bug, but after playing for a bit more it eventually returned. Having to periodically restart the game every time the glitch occurred was insanely irritating. Of course, I could have just played through the game without fixing the glitch, but then I think I would have collapsed from total boredom.
It is worth noting that Dungeons & Bombs is presented well. The pixel art is nice, easy to read, and the music is well-crafted also. One of my favorite options in the settings is the choice to place a CRT filter over the game. Not only does it help to capture that nostalgic feeling the rest of the visuals are going for, but it allows younger players to understand the pain that older gamers had to suffer through.
Yet, the pleasant presentation does not outweigh the rest of the game’s issues. The single solution puzzles make it all too easy to get frustrated when spending a large amount of time trying to clear a level. Combined with the damsel that one would rather leave in distress and the horribly annoying bug that continued to remove all challenge from the game, Dungeons & Bombs on Xbox is an unoriginal idea that goes off with a “meh” rather than a “bang”.