Review: Dungeon Plunder

By Sean Clancy 12 Mar 2013 0
So this would be why Casesars Palace has a strict "no dirks" policy. So this would be why Casesars Palace has a strict "no dirks" policy.

Crap, where did I put that fiver? I'm due for a win. I thought I had it in my pocket next to, oh, ahem, yes, my notes:

1) Like many games with a "Dungeon X" or "Dungeons of Y" nomenclature, Dungeon Plunder doesn't really have all that much to do with dungeons. It has some, but they're not a defining feature of the landscape or anything. It's like calling Disneyland "Mousey World."

1a) Besides, there are other generic fantasy terms to title your game with. Toss "magic," "lords" "lands," "ancient" and "fate" into a sack, shake, and pull something out. Anyway.

2) Hey, this is just slots!

3) I guess I like slots. Maybe I'm good at slots.

3a) Hmmm. Can you be good at slots?

*final entry unreadable and smeared with blood, presumably from the writer's poor, abused tappin' finger*

Such is the question that lingers on one's rhetorical mind-lips at the end of every bout of "casual roguelike" Dungeon Plunder. Where do you draw the line between engagement and addiction, between playing for fun and gambling because you have to, between enrichment and enthrallment? I want to keep tapping along for either the best or the worst of these reasons, but I'm not sure Dungeon Plunder cares which.

Dungeon. Hillock. They're interchangeably, really. Dungeon. Hillock. They're interchangeably, really.

True, this is one tightly woven snare, equal parts chance, stats and economics. Combat is handled via a five-wheel slot interface. Each round you get an initial spin, a chance to freeze any wheels that came up in your favor, and another spin. Match two daggers, for example, and you successfully stab your opponent. Three, four, or five, and the stabbin' stabs stabbier. Ditto for shields, which increase your defense; hearts, which heal you; and gold coins, which add jingles to your purse that can in turn be dropped on some new gamblin' duds (a good point of comparison here would be, well... actual slot machines I suppose).

Ah, but here's the R to this PG: there are three different, archetypal classes, each with novel ways of coaxing different experiences out of the same basic mechanic. The rogue can use poison to deal extra damage and stun opponents, so long as he keeps his poison stocked up by matching green vials. The mage can deal critical hits and magically ward off extra damage, as long as his mana reserves stay elevated. The warrior is the only class capable of attacking with two different weapon icons (a single and double-bladed axe, respectively), doubling his chance to dish out mundane damage.

As these classes level they get even better abilities on top of the standard (and poorly explained) stat boosts--powers any casino-bound granny would strangle a minotaur for. This stuff ranges from basic RPG fluff like battle rage and backstab damage all the way to swapping out certain pulls for more useful ones, and resetting your wheels to last round's results. In short, Dungeon Plunder does a better job than many "pure" RPGs do to make their classes play differently. The shame is, that level of differentiation doesn't apply to the rest of the game.

Jargen Thavren and the Quest for That One Box With the Christmas Lights In It Jargen Thavren and the Quest for That One Box With the Christmas Lights In It

What's the difference between fighting an orc and a roaming bandit? Quite a lot, I'd wager. One's much stronger, but likely slower as well, while the other might be sneaky and especially conniving. Maybe he's even got a bow! With arrows. You see, this is the line of thinking that gives RPGs--and strategy titles at large, for that matter--their grit: the simple acknowledgment that different things need to be tackled in different ways. It sounds simple, but it's noticeably missing from Dungeon Plunder. Enemies are just sprite swaps with different stats, and no novel mechanics which separate any minion from one of its vile brethren. Maybe the orc could do a stunning blow which automatically locks certain reels in place? Or the goblin can dodge attacks with only a single match? This is an idea which fellow fantasy-gambling title Poker Knight nailed. In that game, it wasn't just the player who fiddled about with the game's central mechanic, but the enemy as well, and the victor was the one whose vaguely poker-like flim-flammery was strongest.

Dungeon Plunder has other issues too. As much as the semi-randomized "roguelike" world works in making each play session just different enough, it also... sometimes traps enemies in unreachable areas. Those dungeons, which we've already established as unimportant, are in fact no more than glorified grey hallways. And, just like Vegas, much of the proceedings are hidden to the player. Roughly how much damage does this giant floating eye do? Couldn't tell you.

Oh hey guys mind if I just hop on over you know what nevermind. Oh hey guys mind if I just hop on over you know what nevermind.

Still, the game's charming enough. There are extra unlockables which provide some substantial bonuses to your character, and, heck, the thing's pretty in a lo-fi, early '90s sort of way. Sort of Chrono Trigger meets Bard's Tale by way of Joe Pesci. Or something. I've been awake for 48 hours. Whew. Where's that fiver? What's that? Yeah, I know I don't have to play with real money. I just like to! I like to hold it while I tap. Just, you know... hold it... *tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap*

Review: Dungeon Plunder

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