A charming action game stacked full of great dungeons and unique puzzles that never seems to run out of smart ideas. Dungeons of Dreadrock brings the best elements of classic dungeon exploration to the Nintendo Switch and does a lot with only a few pieces.
There’s no shortage of games inspired by The Legend of Zelda. The series laid the groundwork for action and adventure games, so its influence still trickles down into most games released, just like new babies being born with a hint of Genghis Khan DNA.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth paying homage to the series though, as there’s still so much space for fun new titles. Dungeons of Dreadrock certainly wears it’s influence on its sleeve, but through smart level design and some lovely presentation, does enough to step away from the tedium of pure mimicry, and offers up a unique and interesting experience.
You play as the sister of a young boy, who’s offered up as a sacrifice as part of an archaic ritual. To save your brother, you must explore 100 levels of a vast dungeon, each one holding a new puzzle or enemy that tests your reflexes and your wits. I’ve been playing it all week, and have come away fairly impressed. So read on for our thoughts in this mini-review.
Presented in a charming 16-bit style that looks straight from the SNES era, Dungeons of Dreadrock uses chunky sprites and thick black lines to good effect, making the protagonist and enemies easy to spot even in the darkest depths. While you won’t see too much variety as you explore the many levels of this huge dungeon, everything is presented in such a charming manner with new things popping up often enough to keep you hooked.
Each level has a puzzle that revolves around combat, or some sort of environmental trap. You can only move in single steps, so you have to carefully plot and time your movements, almost like you do in Cadence of Hyrule. Most levels have a single way solution, as enemies and walls are situated in a way that you quickly meet your end unless you figure it out. You can restart with a simple tap of a button, and you’ll likely use this liberally, as you realise your mistakes and dive back in for one more go.
It’s not just 100 levels of stabbing foes though, as very quickly different obstacles pop up like floor traps and even teleportation points. Navigating these and slowly figuring out the optimal route for your character is really satisfying, and while there’s some action to be had, Dungeons of Dreadrock always feels like a puzzle game first. Just one with knives. Even later enemies, like the minotaur who launches at you with an unstoppable charge, are part of the puzzle that the level poses.
I don’t want to go on too much about the different elements of the puzzles, as they’re all neat surprises to discover and solve. But trust me when I tell you there are new and interesting ideas that continue to change how you interact with the world throughout the 100 levels. It’s delightful to see a game just so full of fresh ideas, and one that executes them well. However, difficulty can spike quite wildly from one floor to the next, and a few got me frustrated looking for solutions, but most of the time, it’s the right level of brain teaser.
You can ask for a hint at any point, with three available in each level, ranging from a subtle clue, to basically “do this”. It’s very welcome, as it’s never fun to be stuck on one floor for too long. I did enjoy most of the levels I played, but even with clues, there’s the very occasional “you wanted me to do what?!’ That either points toward the answer being very obtuse, or perhaps me being a bit thick. A sharp mind with a lot of patience may get a lot more out of it than I did.
I briefly touched on the presentation before, but there are a couple of things I want to bring up. One is, that almost every clue or scroll you read in the game is fully voiced, a dedicated and welcome addition that does a lot to add to the feel of this world. Secondly, when playing in handheld, the options to restart the level and to grab a clue are handily mapped as icons on the screen, ready for you to tap. Everything is well thought out and a lot of love has clearly been poured into the creation of this title.
I will say that the regular layout of controls is a bit bewildering, with the menu mapped to Y and action mapped to B like an Xbox controller. You can swap most of these in the options, but for some reason, there’s no option to map the menu to +. Not a huge deal, but it took me a minute or so to get the controls where I wanted them to be.
There’s not much more to say about Dungeons of Dreadrock without ruining it, but know that it takes a very simple concept and expands it with great ideas all the way through its 100 levels. Taking cues from the best environmental puzzles in the dungeons of Zelda and many other games, Dreadrock combines lovely presentation (with massive and clear fonts, thank you!), with satisfying puzzles to great effect. A short game with plenty of heart, and a great choice for any Zelda fan desperate to try something new.