games / Reviews

Epic Dungeon (XBLA) Review

December 4, 2010 | Posted by Trace Aber

The Xbox Live Indie Games Winter Uprising is officially underway and kicked things off with Eyehook Game’s latest title, Epic Dungeon. For those unaware, the Indie Games Winter Uprising is a collective of indie game developers who are hoping to showcase the true potential of the Indie Games channel on Xbox Live, and prove that there’s more to it than just massagers and avatar games. Epic Dungeon was a great choice to start things off, as its fun, challenging and cheap.

You choose one of four characters (Berserker, Gambler, Shaman or Tinkerer) and delve as deep as possible into the Epic Dungeon. Each game you play features 50 randomly generated levels of the dungeon with the main goal being to kill enemies, find loot and make it to the end. This is easier said than done, however, as death in the dungeon is permanent and you have to start all over again. The only reprieve is you’ll find one of your equipped items on the level you died at in your next game. It’s certainly a unique mechanic, but one that really makes you think about what you do before you do it.

Even though the maps are randomly generated, they do follow some patterns as far as the environment, though the paths and enemies you encounter will be different each time. When you begin a new level, very little is revealed, but as you move about your lantern guides your path and unlocks more viewable area of the map. As your lantern runs out of oil, the light gets dimmer until it gets almost completely dark, at which point you need to find more oil. Traps are laid out everywhere and can poison, burn or straight up kill you, but they can do the same to monsters. Most levels also feature a secret door, which can only be accessed when you run across it. While these typically are treasure-filled rooms, sometimes you need to find the secret door to find the ladder to the next level.

You’ll be facing plenty of enemies along your way and they never stop coming. Enemies can range from rats to dogs to evil witches, with glowing monsters being more dangerous with increased health and damage. Standard combat has you walking towards the enemies while your slash your sword, but since they tend to group up you’ll want to pay close attention to your health bar (once again – one death and you start over).

Luckily, each character class has their own unique skill to help them, which are mapped to the A, Y, X, and B buttons. The Gambler has a poison spell while the Tinkerer has an orb that fights by your side. The Shaman’s freeze skill allows for instant critical hits, while the Berserker’s frenzy skill damages all nearby enemies. You start with two points towards your character’s primary skill, though each class can use all of the attacks. Every few levels you’re given the opportunity to increase your skills, with the primary skills increasing by two points and secondary skills increasing by one. Chaining your skills becomes important as you get deeper into the dungeon, and is accomplished by pressing the appropriate button at the right time.

Characters also need to level up their stats, which are the typical damage, defense, dexterity and luck categories. Finding the perfect balance between your stats is important, but you have to get the right equipment as well. It’s possible to run through each level, only stopping to get health potions, but you won’t make it too far. You’ll want to search through each level, finding the best weapons and armor you can. There’s also a shop every few levels that will sell and buy items, as well as identify any unidentified item you may have. You don’t have to actually know what an item is to use it, but some of them are cursed and could cost you.

Scattered throughout the dungeon are encounters, which are sort of like the game’s quests. They’re marked by a gold question mark and typically consist of a brief description of an event with a couple of options for you to choose from. Some of these can be rather humorous, including one where I helped a group of Orcs come up with a battle cry and I demanded royalty rights. These can work for and against you, so you have to be careful in your decision.

The 411
I’ve played a lot of indie games, but Epic Dungeon has quickly become one of my favorites. It has a retro-vibe to it which I love, and gameplay that is addictive and challenging. It’s only going to set you back 80MP ($1) and will provide you with hours of entertainment if you’re dedicated to get to the 50th level. If Epic Dungeon is a sign of things to come in the Indie Games Winter Uprising then we are in for a real treat over the next couple of weeks.

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Trace Aber
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