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Desktop Dungeon

March 20, 2010

Desktop Dungeon

Desktop Dungeon is a funky, puzzle rpg. It’s loosely based on Rogue-like dungeon crawl videogames, though each dungeon is about 10-20 minutes to play through.

The game is simple in concept: your goal is to beat the boss of the dungeon – and each dungeon is randomly generated and one screen in size.

I call it a puzzle rpg because the game moves so very far away from what you expect in rpgs, and especially Rogue-like games. There are no traps. The monsters do not move, do not chase you around, and do not initiate combat- you can think of them more like obstacles. You also can see their stats at anytime, and quickly do the math in your head if you can take them out or not – there’s no randomization in combat. There’s really no excuse to die in this game, it’s not about survival, it’s about winning.

The question changes from “Can I win this fight?” to “In what order should I do things, to conserve resources, level up, and take on the boss?”. There is no natural healing- you only regain HP or MP through potions OR finding unexplored parts of the dungeon. Since the map is only one screen large, you find yourself quickly having to decide between hunting for items or trying to find low level monsters to build up with, vs. conserving those unexplored areas for extra healing and magic.

Special abilities are found by “Skill Glyphs” – basically magic items you can pick up. Most characters can only hold 3, and they do a variety of useful things- give damage boosts, count your damage before the enemy’s in a fight, destroy walls in the dungeon, teleport an enemy to somewhere else, etc. You can also, instead, choose to convert skill glyphs into a bonus of some type- attack damage, extra MP, etc.

A major part of the game is figuring out which glyphs are going to be helpful for your character given their class, and the monsters you’re facing, and which ones you want to skim off into stat bumps. If you trade them in early, the stat bumps let you take on monsters earlier in the game, if you trade them in later, you get bigger stat bumps.

Like solitaire, you can find yourself in no-win situations. What carries over, character to character, is gold. So you can choose to just turn any particular round into a gold hunt and then click the “retire” button and try again.

Each time you beat a dungeon, you unlock new character classes, new monsters, and new items which will randomly drop/generate in the game. Desktop Dungeon is brilliantly designed for replay value in this way.

It’s a fun game that you’ll find yourself losing a lot of time to, as each round of play is short, and like potato chips, it’s hard to stop. It keeps the idea of a roguelike game that player skill is what drives play, while removing the random-death, learning through dying kind of play that makes things frustrating.

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