Roguelikes seem like the perfect genre for mobile devices. After all, a single game can take place within a fifteen to thirty minute play session depending on how skilled or lucky you are. But they also present players with a dizzying array of scenarios and choices at any given procedurally-generated moment. Because of this, it can be hard to climb inside a dungeon for a few minutes while you’re waiting for a dentist appointment or riding the bus to work. The play sessions may not last very long, but the amount of mindshare a proper roguelike takes up in the average player’s brain is surprisingly large.
DUNGEONy, a simplified take on the form by developer Korigame Entertainment, aims to turn dungeon delving into a breezy time waster you can go back to again and again without the heavy smattering of strategy and tension that you experience in most games in the genre. And while it’s certainly successful on that front, Korigame has stripped a bit too much of the complexity out, creating a fun but shallow game.
What you get certainly lacks the barriers of entry that come attached to NetHack or 100 Rogues. DUNGEONy presents a small, 32 floor dungeon and a handful of compromises designed for short attention spans. Each floor is only the size of your mobile screen, which means you tend to blitz through them once you know what you’re doing. This, naturally, makes for cramped adventuring, especially when you’re faced with piles of enemies. A natural consequence of the one-screen philosophy is the fact that enemies don’t move at all, but only act as barriers that need to be knocked over before they drain you of your life. And as for interesting randomized rooms? You only get tile reshuffles and the occasional shop or treasure room.
The problem with simplifying a roguelike to this degree is that you take all the interesting choices away from the player. You’ll still need to decide if you want to fight everything for experience or run towards the nearest exit, but your only methods are brute force or bombs that clear away one square of wall. You can’t choose your facing and attack from a distance. Your inventory doesn’t provide you with additional ways to survive beyond said bombs and a ladder that lets you walk over pits. And because you can see the entire layout of a floor, you never find yourself in situation that require on-the-fly thinking – one of the very virtues players hold dear in roguelikes.
Taken as a whole, though, the entire experience is strangely hypnotic. Stripping away the complexity does nothing to lessen the compulsion of making your way to the bottom of a dungeon. DUNGEONy reveals the genre’s bare essentials. You must conserve resources – here only your Health is relevant, though steadily-decreasing Stamina does become a factor with the most difficult characters – and balance that need with the amount of level grinding you can do.
Leveling is the only way to have a chance of dealing more damage (which can vary wildly), and your Defense increases by one any time you pick up a piece of clothing. Your Health begins at an amount determined by your character choice, but you can stockpile as much as you can get your hands on provided you don’t get hurt by monsters. Boiling down your statistics and growth this way paints a very clear picture on what to prioritize as you proceed.
I admit that this austere approach to a roguelike turned me off big time when I first started to play. Making enemies stand still waiting for you to approach and hit them felt lazy and unfun. But everything about the game is designed very deliberately – its appealing pixelated art style, chiptune soundtrack, and, yes, its streamlined gameplay. There’s not a lot of game to be had with DUNGEONy – once you beat the game once, you’ve seen everything it has to offer. But it works beautifully as a deconstruction of the roguelike genre, and is fun to play to boot.