Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Blood, Blood, Blood: Space Funeral

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 by lintspeed

I know I have not had enough time to process freeware indie RPG Space Funeral.  I’m not sure I could ever have had enough time to process Space Funeral.

It’s a brief (took me maybe an hour and a half to play) turn-based RPG made in RPGMaker, with a bizarre cast of characters, a macabre setting and sense of humor, and some of the most hideous MS Paint art ever. It wears its influences proudly, juxtaposing Charles Baudelaire with Charles Schultz. And to say much more would be to spoil it.

You play as Philip, a perpetually crying boy in his pajamas, who may or may not be dead. When you rest to recover some (but not all) of your health, you sleep in a coffin. The message you receive after resting reads, “You feel better, but not much.” And like that message, and like that character, the world around you is miserable, and turned on its head.

Your lone companion on your travels is Leghorse, a headless horse who is on a mission of his own. Like so many of the enemies you battle, Leghorse is a grotesque, a hideous perversion of something… else. When you sell something to the shopkeepers they reply with, “I hope you die.” You reach a town called Malice and are greeted with “Welcome to MALICE! We have MANY GOODS and CRIMINALS!”

At its best, it’s inspired absurdism. Black, yes, but genuinely hilarious in its morbidity, turning cheerful JRPG tropes into twisted versions of themselves.

Unfortunately, like Breath of Death VII, it’s terribly easy. I did not use the vast majority of skills when playing, or need to, although health and mana both remained depleted at the end of battles. The one saving grace of Space Funeral‘s battle system (which otherwise works on an Active-Time system like early Final Fantasy games) was its “Mystery” feature. You can choose “Mystery” from your list of options once per fight, and what it does is entirely random. Early on, I frequently won whole fights by choosing “Mystery.” Later “Mystery” provided mixed results, sometimes buffing the enemy, and sometimes buffing me. It’s disappointing that the battles weren’t tougher, as that would have raised the stakes on choosing this wondrously random option. On the other hand, choosing it was always entertaining, no matter the outcome.

I have to recommend you play Space Funeral, if you can stomach the grotesque. I’m not entirely sure it works. Certainly as a set of mechanics it has its shortcomings. As a story, it tackles some very difficult themes, supported by an excellent soundtrack. Like I said, I’m not sure if it succeeds entirely. At very least, it seems like the story could have used more time to develop. But the world is certainly vibrant and unique, and Space Funeral made me laugh out loud more than any game I’ve played this year. Oh, and the hideous art? I have to admit, as off-putting as it was when I started, it became part of the appeal by the end.

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Breath of Death VII and the Problem with RPGs

Posted in Uncategorized on October 19, 2010 by lintspeed

So I’ve written on this blog before that I’m on an all-indie purchasing diet. Indie RPGs, it turns out, aren’t very common. RPGs are games that require an immense amount of time to make, due to the amount of content they usually contain. For a first-person shooter to be only ten hours long is nothing; for an RPG to be that long is considered a rip-off, criminal, sacrilege (I actually disagree with this gamer prejudice, but that’s a subject for another post.) So I was intrigued when I heard Breath of Death VII on the Xbox Live Indie Games Channel getting a positive buzz on popular and indie-devoted games sites alike. It’s 80 Microsoft Points, which amounts to $1 in real money.

It’s also terrible.

Let’s be clear up front. I like RPGs. I love RPGs. They may even be my favorite type of game, period. At their best (heck, even on average), they pack more depth into their systems and more emotion into their stories than any other type of game. The kind commonly made in the Western hemisphere are known best for how deeply they involve the player in the storyline, offering different outcomes for situations based on player choices. They take an ordinary narrative and do what no other medium can do; they make it personal. But even the variety of RPG most commonly found in Japan has its attraction. While the JRPG tends toward more linear storytelling, they scratch the exploration itch grandly, and tend to offer elegantly strategic battle systems accompanied by epic stories and gorgeous art. They are the sorts of games and worlds you get lost in, in the best way possible; they become a part of your life.

Breath of Death VII is in the JRPG vein, but it’s not that sort of game. It attempts to be a videogame parody, but aside from a few feeble, overdone jokes (seriously–how many times are we going to laugh when someone makes a “Master of Unlocking” reference? Stop setting the bar so low, gamers!) Its premise has potential: a great war killed everyone off, and so all the principle characters and NPCs are undead. This could be great parody material–you are essentially playing as the monsters in a typical RPG–but it’s wasted. The monsters you face are nonsensical and sometimes funny, but they aren’t united by any theme, and ridiculous monsters are too much the reality in regular JRPGs for them to register as funny. It might have been neat if you were fighting off nice living things, since you’re undead; but the creators of Breath of Death VII didn’t think beyond a few throwaway gags.

I could live with all of that, however, if the battle system wasn’t so poorly designed. Perhaps “Normal” difficulty isn’t the difficulty it’s meant to be played on, but on “Normal” difficulty, it is never, ever necessary to use any special abilities, basic spells, or potions. Just hit the regular ‘attack’ power and repeat. This is because your party members recover all of their health at the end of each battle.

Typically, in a JRPG (or any RPG), each combat encounter requires a delicate strategic balance: do you use up your mana on high-damage specials, buffs, or healing abilities that allow your party to claim victory depleted but relatively unscathed, or do you try to soak up the damage in hopes of saving the mana for when you really need it. Restoring all of the party’s health at the end of every battle eliminates this choice. Why use your mana to kill the enemy faster, if you can survive the battle without using your specials, and recover all of the health you’ve lost? And I don’t just mean the health of your still-standing party members; party members at zero health also are revived and receive their full health back at the end of every battle.

And it’s a shame, because the special abilities and the combo system that rewards using them in a particular order are immensely creative and I could see them as part of a very well-designed RPG. Well-designed enough, in fact, to redeem the lackluster story elements, if they were at all integral to playing the game. Certainly, you can choose to play the game as if strategy were necessary, and use the special abilities and appreciate it more (in fact, I suspect this is how most people who’ve praised the game played it–perhaps not even realizing it was unnecessary, simply because it’s a reasonable assumption of most RPG players that when special abilities are given, special abilities are necessary.) But if there is no strategy to it, then you are just pressing buttons, and it makes no difference whether you are pressing “A” for “Attack” or “Rain of Fire.”

You wonder: why eviscerate a game that’s just a dollar? Certainly even with its flaws, the game provides enough enjoyment for a dollar? You have a point. The art is well-done, and the game works, and you can probably derive some fun from it if you entertain the illusion that strategy is needed, or you enjoy seeing game references. My problem with it, and why I feel it necessary to point out that it’s just not very good, is that it’s not an ambitious “not very good.” It’s completely uninspired. It’s banking on an idea that I feel is becoming a dangerously common idea in RPG design, thanks to MMOs and Diablo and the like: that the act of pressing the same buttons, over and over, just to see some numbers go up and get some new shiny items is enough. The idea that a game doesn’t need interesting mechanics or story–it just needs to balance the the ratio of reward to challenge so that the player can get the most visceral satisfaction from the least effort, and then do that over and over again. It’s the same cynical sort of game design that drives games like Farmville, whose entire business model is built on the idea that people will pay for a few more clicks.

Now, I’m not sure that the designers of Breath of Death VII are that cynical: I more suspect they grasped the form of the JRPG without grasping its substance. But at the end of the day, I feel the need to critique the game not because I feel it’s not worth your dollar, but because I feel it’s not worth your time. Download Progress Quest instead: it’s free, it’s funnier, it requires much less effort, and it’s actually a satire.

Tidalis: Bejeweled with Brains

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 by lintspeed

So I promised a post on Tidalis a few weeks ago. Here it is, a bit late.

But first, the Tidalis trailer:

So Tidalis is a puzzle game from Arcen Games.

No, wait, let’s start again. Tidalis isn’t a puzzle game from Arcen Games. It’s a strategy game, gussied up and divided into nifty puzzle-y chunks like a puzzle game. Sure it’s all about matching three do-hickeys of the same color to get them to disappear. Sure most games take place in a Tetris-like box with the ever-present threat of falling blocks to add tension to the proceedings. Don’t let that fool you.

In Tidalis, each of the main colored blocks has a direction associated with it, indicated by a little arrow. Lining up like-colored blocks so that they disappear is not simply a matter of ensuring that they rest side by side, but of directing Tidalis’s “streams.” Watch the video. Those little glowing lights shooting out from the blocks? Those are the streams. For those whose set-ups are video-impaired, I will try to explain.

You click on a block and it shoots out a beam of light in the direction the block’s arrow is pointing. That beam of light (in standard modes of play) goes as far as the third block over. If it hits a like-colored block on the way, it then adopts the direction of that block, and continues (again) as far as the third block in that direction. If the stream hits at least three blocks, they disappear, but the stream will continue in this fashion for as many like-colored blocks as it’s able to hit.

Once the first set of blocks has disappeared, the blocks immediately above fall down to take their place, just as in Tetris or Bejeweled, or any other puzzle game of this sort. Those blocks in turn release streams, which go as far as the third block in whatever direction the block that released them was facing. If they hit at least three like-colored blocks, those blocks disappear, and so on. So far, so puzzle game. Lots of luck, a little bit of quick observation and you’re good.

Except in Tidalis, you can change the direction of the arrows on the blocks, even while they’re falling. Like in the best strategy games, you can find yourself thinking whole moves ahead, carefully arranging your blocks so that as one set disappears, the next fall into place and release their streams in the right directions. Like in the best strategy games, you plan, moves and moves ahead, until you can’t keep track of them anymore. Then you click, and watch your plan fall into place.

Or at least, that’s how it goes in the game’s timer-free zen mode, a mode designed around careful contemplation of the board. In its many, many other modes, you’re up against the clock, or at least, the steady falling of new blocks (which don’t release streams, and won’t disappear unless you incorporate them into a stream), and you must balance strategic thinking ahead with on-your-feet puzzle-gamer thinking. It’s teeth-clenching, knuckle-whitening, heart-pounding action. Play Tidalis like a regular puzzle game, going for the quickest points and just trying to stay ahead, and you’ll lose. Play it slowly like a turn-based strategy game and the board will quickly spiral out of control, and you’ll lose. It’s elegantly designed. It’s a thrill.

And it’s endlessly surprising and creative. While the story and characters of the game’s primary Adventure Mode are, frankly, a little silly, you simply must play Adventure Mode. The sheer variety of twists on the core mechanics ensure that the game never, ever gets dull. From wooden blocks that disappear only when lit on fire by adjacent disappearing red blocks, to modes that challenge you to get rid of fifty blocks without eliminating more than fifteen blue blocks. Or modes that challenge you to eliminate ten of each of three different colors of blocks without getting rid of more than sixty blocks total. Or Gravitron modes where gravity is altered so that streams don’t fly as far up or to the side, but fall much further down than they ordinarily would. Or zen modes that challenge you to eliminate twenty blocks with one stream. Tidalis is not only an incredibly deep game, but it has lateral strength too, reinventing itself in newer, more devious ways. And at the heart is always that perfectly balanced tension between fast puzzling play and methodical strategy play. Score over 7,500 points in under two minutes? Better keep moving, but make sure to set up as many chains as possible for the point bonuses associated with them.

Think it sounds too tense? Try Zen Mode. Want a challenge? Try any of the many other modes, or adventure mode. It starts off slow, but picks up quickly. And you really, really learn to play well playing through each of the Adventure mode variations.

I cannot praise this game enough. It is everything one expects from an indie game: ingenious and made with huge amounts of passion and care. But it is a deceptively small package, packing more hours worth of content into a “simple” puzzler than many fully-fledged AAA titles.  There’s a demo at www.arcengames.com, and the full game is only ten dollars.

Humble Indie Bundle Update!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 9, 2010 by lintspeed

I wrote yesterday about the Humble Indie Bundle, which just got even niftier with the addition of Samorost 2 to the bunch. So that’s 6 indie games for whatever you want to pay. There’s just shy of 2 days left in the deal, and there’s really no excuse not to go for it. (Note: any who have already purchased the bundle get Samorost 2 as well; it should be on your download page already.)

I’ve played a bit of Samorost 2 at this point, and it’s a great addition so far. I’m a bit of an adventure game junkie (my 2009 GOTY was Time Gentlemen, Please!) and Samorost 2 is a bizarre and lovely point-and-click affair. It’s hard to write about these kinds of games without ruining them, but there’s an early puzzle involving a monkey, a bug, a fly, and a spiderweb that delighted and surprised me. It’s a very simple game so far (referring to elegance and lack of complexity, not difficulty), but it replaces some of the overwrought designs of more complicated adventure games with the joy of exploring each level just to see what will happen, and then stumbling on some ingenious little effect that is the beginning of a solution to an elaborate puzzle. It’s those “aha!” moments of finding the thread that unravels the whole tapestry that make adventure games wonderful, and so far Samorost delivers.

You can buy it direct from the developer for five bucks, or you can buy the whole Humble Indie Bundle for five bucks (or less!)

Quickthinks: May 8, 2010

Posted in Uncategorized on May 8, 2010 by lintspeed

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and for once it’s not because I’ve been procrastinating about maintaining the blog. I just haven’t been playing many videogames lately, and when I have it’s been for tiny (one hour or less) chunks.

Life’s been busy. I’ve been reading, writing, and attempting to teach myself to read French. But here’s what I’ve been playing lately, when I have the chance:

More Desktop Dungeons: I have this game installed on just about every computer I use regularly, with each one at a different stage of completion. I still love it, though I’ve died three times now on the final boss of the normal dungeon due to my laptop’s touchpad mistaking my attempts to move my cursor as a click. It’s great lunch break entertainment at work, which is also where I have the most unlocked. Some of the more advanced classes throw some really novel wrenches into the works, in terms of overall strategy. My favorite so far is the Bloodmage, which had me preserving as many of the blood patches dead enemies leave behind as possible, even forgoing further exploration of the dungeon to make optimal use of them.

Outcast: This one will almost certainly get a full post (or several) at some point. I’ve begun a playthrough of this overlooked classic that’s just recently been released on Good Old Games. It’s a game about a space marine, but the twist is you actually have to talk to the aliens. A lot. There are shooty bits, and so far that’s a lot of fun, but it’s clear even after only about an hour of play that this game is about exploration and worldbuilding as much as it’s about action. There’s even been hints of that RPG staple, Moral Choice. Outcast and the next game on this list have got me thinking quite a bit about open-world gaming, my previous aversion to it, my recent embrace of the style, and what makes a great open-world game.

Fable 2: I hated the first Fable and so far my attempts to get into the second have been largely abortive. I rented this one out of curiosity; any time a game is highly praised, even if my past experiences with the series are only so-so, I get curious. The only thing that’s kept me interested so far is the ongoing economy bit. I’m thinking I’ll pop into it one more time to see how much money my character has accumulated while not playing, buy up a few more properties, and then return it. Maybe in a year I’ll rent it again and see how much imaginary money I’ve made by not playing the game.

My main problem with the Fable series is its flippant and often insulting tone. I don’t mind humor in my games (see my unabashed praise of Brutal Legend), but I do mind when the humor so completely clashes with the other aims of the story. Fable seems to want to have its tongue in its cheek about its epic story and then have the epic story too. That combined with the relative brainlessness of the combat never manages to hold my interest long. Perhaps “hate” is too strong a word for what I feel for Fable. “Bored” is more like it. I have never been more bored by a series of games in my life. Still, the economy and Sims-like character interactions are enough to keep me curious. At very least, I might leverage my current strategy of not playing it into making enough gold to buy everything in the game.

The Humble Indie Bundle: Buy this now. There’s no reason not to. It’s a pay-what-you-will bundle of small (but by no means short, or shoddy) indie games for Windows, Linux, and Mac, DRM-free. You also have the option of specifying how the “what you will” is divided between the developers and two charities. The games are World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru, and Penumbra. There’s only 2 days and change left in the bundle, so jump on it. Even if all you can pay is a dollar, it’s more than they’d be getting from you otherwise, right? Of course, you’ll want to pay more.

World of Goo: This is the only game out of the bundle that I owned previously, and I bought it when 2DBoy had their own “pay what you will” sale. It’s a clever physics-based puzzler where you guide these adorable goo-balls into the goo factory pipes. The mysterious sign-maker weaves an odd narrative through the levels, which are full of character and challenge.

Aquaria: This is a beautifully drawn Metroidvania-style, “explore, upgrade, and shoot” game set underwater. I’ve not played much of it, but I’m a sucker for Metroidvania done well, and from what I’ve played this is exactly that, with a novel song mechanic reminiscent of Ocarina of Time to boot.

Gish: Not played it yet. I’ve heard good things, and I’ll hopefully be able to edit this post with some impressions before the Humble Indie Bundle goes away. But seriously, that’s no reason to wait.

Lugaru: See above.

Penumbra: Played a little bit of this today, and I’m still only so-so on it. I love the weightiness of exploring the world in the first-person and pulling out drawers from desks by dragging my mouse, and pulling back on the mouse to swing a hammer in place of simply clicking and getting a canned animation. I hate how oppressively dark it is. It’s a horror game, so it’s supposed to be dark, but even after adjusting the gamma to be brighter than the recommended “when you can barely see this room” level, I found that poking around in the dark was making me nauseated. It was the middle of the day and there was some unavoidable glare on my monitor though, so I’ll give it another shot when it’s dark and see if I fare any better. I do like atmospheric horror, and while it’s been light on horror so far, there’s been some great atmosphere.

So what about you? Been playing anything interesting lately?

The Two Brutal Legends

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25, 2010 by lintspeed

Brutal Legend is a difficult game to comment on because in truth, there are two Brutal Legends: Brutal Legend the vision (and most of the main questline), and Brutal Legend the game. Brutal Legend is perhaps the greatest traditional expression of an artistic vision in the videogame format in recent memory. It is a unique creation in an industry that often seems content to cannibalize itself, reusing the same tired tropes and play-styles. But at the same time, the ambition of its setting is rarely matched by the content. At times the game Tim Schafer and company wanted to make is painfully obvious, while at other times, it’s obscured by drab and meaningless side-quests and main story missions that are more cutscene than interaction.

The visual approach to Brutal Legend’s world, an amalgamation of every Heavy Metal album cover in existence, is beautifully realized. I will plainly say that, even without being a devoted Metal die-hard, driving around this world of spotlights, stage scaffolding, oversized skeletons, and mythical metal beasts is a joy. The world strikes a pitch-perfect balance between parody and tribute; it expresses its unabashed, unironic adoration of heavy metal, while at the same time recognizing that it’s the sort of thing that only a twelve year-old could take absolutely seriously. It’s funny, but it’s also refreshingly sincere.

This balance of tones carries from the world into the performances, in which Jack Black, such Metal luminaries as Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Halford as well as videogame voice-acting mainstays, all contribute excellent performances to something that is “of” Metal as well as “about” Metal. The narrative is ostensibly about the life of the roadie in the background, but more significantly, it’s about an abiding love of music. The story, which some have criticized for losing much of its humor later into the game, is nothing special, but it’s fitting to the themes of the music it celebrates and again reflects the sincerity infused throughout the game. More than anything, Brutal Legend has heart.

Of course, it’s also damn funny. The humor rightly takes a backseat to the more serious moments as the story develops, but it never disappears entirely. Any comedy that’s interested in more than just screwball laughs does this: it lures the viewer into its world and characters with humor, but it always holds an underlying seriousness. Comedy is a nightmare the characters eventually wake up from, and Brutal Legend adheres closely to that philosophy.

The problems Brutal Legend has are in its uninspired side quests and too-short main campaign. Once can’t escape the feeling while playing that the Real-Time Strategy elements of the game are the game, and the rest is just filler. I generally avoid RTSes due to a significant lack of skill in the genre, but even I could tell that these parts were the most fully realized design in the game. To call it an RTS is an unfair reduction. The game is more akin to RTS-RPG hybrids like the all-but forgotten Sacrifice and the recent Overlord. You control your main character directly and have access to his suite of powers, including axe and guitar attacks and solos, and you use him to issue commands to your armies, which each possess their own unique abilities. You have your basic melee grunts, your ranged troops, your heavies, and eventually you get tanks, stealth troops, and one massive machine that boosts everything around it while crushing all the enemies in its path. Using the right troops in the right situation and taking advantage of unique double-team moves that become available when you unite your main character with a group of troops is the name of the game, as is scouting out the battlefield using your main character’s flying ability. It’s a smart, deep mode that constantly tasks your ability to balance the influx of fans (which dictates what units you can build) by protecting your merchandise booths, with the need to strike at the opponent’s base before they overwhelm yours. Like many RTSes, trial and error is sometimes involved in determining what the best approach to a given situation is, but I only had trouble with one battle that took me around four tries to beat, and as I’ve said before, I’m no good at RTSes.

Furthermore, as my description may have suggested, the RTS, or stage battles as they’re called, fit beautifully within the Metal world. Here you have your main character, a roadie, whose work is compared to that of a general commanding forces into battle. He stays mostly behind the scenes, dropping in to lend much needed support and then disappearing from the limelight. It’s not only the most rewarding part of the game to play, but it’s the most fitting, theme- and story-wise.

The problem lies with the rest of the game’s missions. The early story missions can be forgiven for their fairly basic hack’n’slash combat because they are designed to get the Player accustomed to control of the main character, and the hack’n’slash-style game, while not very deep, is fun and visceral enough to sustain the game for a few missions. But past a certain point in the game, there’s no reason why every mission shouldn’t involve a stage battle, except the need to fill out the game between story scenes. I don’t know whether Doublefine were rushed, or just not very confident in the game’s ability to live or die on its RTS elements. As a result, the game feels very uneven through its middle, at times threatening to become the RTS it is deep inside, but retreating at the last moment. By the climax, the game seems once more to have found its footing, abandoning everything else for a series of increasingly frenetic stage battles.

But thi is not to mention the side-quests. I’m not usually one to tear into a game for its side-quests, since they are by definition optional, but in a world as open as Brutal Legend’s, it’s a real shame that the reward for exploration are a slew of repetitive and uniformly terrible side-quests. Fortunately, they are very optional: the game’s main missions give reward enough that you can progress without doing the side-quests, albeit with a little bit of extra difficulty. But the lack of more compelling optional content does leave the massive and otherwise inspired world feeling empty.

As if there was any doubt that videogames were a valid medium for artistic expression, Tim Schafer’s Brutal Legend proves that a game can be made with the same love, passion, and vision as any book, film, or painting. Every gamer ought to give Brutal Legend a try, and every aspiring game designer ought to study it closely, if only to learn how they can draw inspiration from media other than games. Brutal Legend proves (again, as if there was any doubt) that a fantasy game doesn’t have to be about orcs and elves, and that you don’t need to be a space marine to encounter some truly alien environments and have a blast.

Ten Minutes for Glory: Desktop Dungeons

Posted in Uncategorized on April 13, 2010 by lintspeed

I was, admittedly, a bit negative on Torchlight when I wrote about it. I’m not above the allure of lots of loot and numbers going up slowly but steadily. I’ve played far too much World of Warcraft, and the early (BioWare) Baldur’s Gate games were among my first loves. I guess I just like my RPGs to have a little more meat to their interaction than just getting better loot. Which might explain why I like Desktop Dungeons so much, even though it can be far more infuriating than Torchlight (and whatever I might feel about Torchlight, it is at worst dull–never infuriating.)

Like Torchlight, Desktop Dungeons can trace its lineage back to Rogue. Desktop Dungeons is essentially a distillation of the roguelike genre into a ten-to-twenty minute game. You pick your race, your class, and your dungeon type and you’re off into a randomly generated dungeon, which only has one level and should take only ten or so minutes to clear. Death, when it strikes, is permanent, but the typical frustration of lost progress inherent in the roguelike genre is largely avoided by how short a given dungeon is. You may lose progress with a given character, but at most you’ve lost fifteen minutes of your time.

In addition, Desktop Dungeons is all about strategy. The dungeon starts blacked-out, unexplored. Mousing over each monster shows what health the monster has, what damage it does, and any other modifiers (strikes first, take less physical damage, etc.), as well as the outcome of the next turn, should you choose to attack. Simple enough, except each each time you uncover a square of the dungeon, your character regenerates a little bit of health and mana. Once you’ve uncovered the entire dungeon, that method of regenerating health and mana is gone, and you must rely on potions to do the job. But the condition for “beating” the dungeon with a given class is to defeat the one boss monster, who will often require a good number of potions to do the trick. While monsters don’t move when you move, they will regenerate health just like you do when you uncover undiscovered squares. So you are level 3 and there are no monsters revealed on the map that are your level, but there is one level 4 monster who you might be able to beat if you use a potion: do you attack the level 4 monster, using a potion to win, or do you use up the precious resource of undiscovered squares in search of a level 3 monster, saving the potions for later? It is a difficult choice, and the “correct” choice varies greatly from class to class, situation to situation.

This decision gains even more layers as you clear the dungeon with different classes. Each time the dungeon is cleared with a new class, new items become available for purchase from randomly generated shops in a level, a new class becomes available for play, and new enemies appear in the dungeon. Mana Wraiths which appear after clearing the dungeon once will apply a “mana burn” effect on attacking which prevents you from regenerating mana by uncovering unexplored squares unless you use a mana potion to remove the effect. As a result, mana potions become that much more valuable. So each subsequent clear becomes more challenging, and the core choice of whether to search out new monsters to kill or try to defeat the ones that have already been revealed gains new dimensions. All of this agonizing is just a prelude to the biggest choice of them all: do I attack the dungeon boss now, when I think I have enough potions, or do I risk trying to kill a few more regular monsters in hopes of leveling up again and being more powerful when I face the boss? Add in the ramifications of later classes, some of which have a random chance of evading enemy attacks entirely (which isn’t always reflected in the mouse-over text) and you have a game that combines strong tactics with a will to take risks.

The one infuriating thing about Desktop Dungeons is that there are some randomly generated dungeons that simply aren’t clearable. I have had dungeons generated where my puny level one character explored as far as he could only to find that all available paths were blocked by monsters too high level to beat. It’s frustrating, but it never takes long to reach this point. It only becomes infuriating when you come *this* close to defeating the final boss with a new class, only to fail on the last attack, and then you find yourself clicking your way through an unbeatable dungeon or two before you get a chance to really try again.

Perhaps the best thing about Desktop Dungeons is it’s free. It takes ten to twenty minutes to try, though I can virtually guarantee you’ll play more. The best comparison may be that it’s Solitaire (or Free Cell, or Minesweeper) for the roguelike set. A quick, casual desktop game that rewards repeated play with new layers of complexity for the gamer that likes their click-fests to have a little more strategy.

Download it here.