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05 July 2015 @ 08:03 pm
Game Review: Tiny Dangerous Dungeons  
The problem I have with iOS games isn't anything conceptual or philosophical. I don't think they're ruining "real gaming" (whatever that means), and while freemium is a blight upon the earth, it's spread to all games everywhere know and isn't a mobile-specific thing. No, the problem is mostly that i never have time to play them. If I'm on public transit or in bed, I'm usually reading, and if I'm at home I have too many other games at my computer that I want to play, so those get priority. But as I write this I'm on a plane to Oregon for a two week family vacation, so before I left I took the opportunity to clean out some of my iTunes wishlist and loaded my iPad down with some games, and this is the first one I played.

Ready for adventure.

As you can probably tell by the graphics, Tiny Dangerous Dungeons is a homage to Gameboy games. The credits when you win even say it was developed as part of Gameboy Jam 2, which I hadn't previously realized existed but which sounds pretty great. The graphics are all green and black, and while the art isn't as beautiful as Trip World's dithered landscapes, I do like the cute style they went with. Especially our hero's jaunty cap. That's someone you can trust with your murderhoboing.

"Dungeons" is a bit of a misnomer, because the game is just one sprawling dungeon. You go from screen to screen, through doors that take you to different areas, first dodging and then fighting the bats and spiders and frogs and piranhas you find (some Spelunky influence there, I think), in the service of finding the treasure room. Along the way, you pick up items that let you get to previously inaccessible areas. It's a Metroidvania. You know how this works.

This is not one of the jumps I had trouble with.

I was incredibly dubious about playing an iOS platformer without any kind of gamepad after a terrible experience with Mega Man II on the iPhone--you can find my review of that here--but all the reviews of gamepads I found out there were lukewarm at best and the only glowing one is for one that's not out yet and is months delayed from the initial release date, so I figured I had nothing to lose except some patience. And honestly, the controls weren't that bad. In the lower left there are buttons to go left and right and in the lower right there's a button to jump, and later on one to throw knives. It is based on a Gameboy, so they couldn't get too fancy.

The problems I had were mostly with the lack of tactic feedback. There were a few times My fingers would be closer to the iPad than I thought they were, and poor jaunty hat hero would fly off a cliff into the water. In terms of responsiveness and granularity, it worked perfectly.

Maybe in service to those controls, the health and progression system is pretty generous. You start with three hearts and take one damage if you're hit. Falling into water isn't instant death, it just does one damage and puts you back at the last door you went through or chest you opened. Couple that with being able to find more hidden fruit elsewhere in the dungeon and you can get a lot of tries for tricky sections. There was only one place where I really needed them, but every time I fell into water and didn't immediately get dumped back to a save point I appreciated it.

Take that!

One thing you'll find on the reviews are people downrating the game because it's short. And they're right, it is short--I beat it in a little over an hour--but it was also made for a game jam and its $0.99. What do people expect? The reason why developers keep turning to freemium is because people want Chaos Rings but for the price of Angry Birds with no pay to win. It's a lot like how voter surveys consistently show that Americans want lower taxes, increased government services, and a balanced budget. Good luck with that, everyone.  photo emot-911.gif

I actually think the length was pretty close to perfect. Near the end they started introducing level features explicitly to block out upgrades you've gained, which just makes it seem spiteful. Oh, you can walk on water? Well now there's lava. I bet if the game had continued, I would have found a fire protection upgrade and then run into a floor made of spheres of annihilation or something.

Also, the enemies never changed. In the first five minutes of the game, you've seen all the ones you're going to see, but in an hour-long game that's not a problem. But I do wonder why all those frogs were jumping around in lava pools.

I feel like I've seen this somewhere before...

I'm overstating the brevity of the game a little, because after you win there's time trials you can do to compete on the leaderboards, and it looked like there was an option to challenge your friends too, but I don't know how that works because I don't have any other Game Center friends who own the game. Still, there's ways to keep at it if you want, and that "try repeatedly until you achieve mastery" aspect is definitely true to its old-school platformer design.

A winner is you.

There's nothing hugely deep or innovative here, but for a $0.99 game I got more than enough fun out of it to justify the price. And I really do like the art style. Super Mario Land led me wrong all those years ago when it made me think Gameboy art was all blocky and ugly.
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