Dandy Dungeon

"Dandy Dungeon" manages to be the rare example of a game that pays homage without obsessing over references or turning into an off-brand copy of its source of inspiration. 

“Dandy Dungeon” is probably one of the most peculiar games I have ever played. While it refers to itself as an RPG, I would say that it defies genre while containing some elements of an RPG. It is also remarkably difficult to properly describe in text without explaining it piece by piece.

“Dandy Dungeon’s” plot is a semi-autobiographical story by director Yoshiro Kimura about his experience developing games. The protagonist is a deadbeat middle-aged man named Yamada, who, after being fired from his job at a major game development company, decides to make his own video game. Constantly abused by his former coworkers and hopelessly infatuated with a college girl half his age, he decides to use said game as a medium to vent his frustration with the world. The levels are framed as dungeons implemented in Yamada’s game that need to be play-tested, with the bosses and dungeons being inspired by his everyday experiences; oddly enough, defeating a boss in Yamada’s game always leads to the downfall of their “real-life” counterpart.

Gameplay consists of simple puzzles where the player draws a path on a 5-by-5 grid for Yamada’s avatar to follow in order to clear as many tiles as possible before getting him to the goal. This is done with a time limit, and any leftover tiles will deal damage to the player. Typical aspects of RPGs are added in to make things more complex; enemies, traps and bosses need to be fought or avoided, spell scrolls, loot and equipment can be found or bought, elemental effects can be used by or against foes and materials can be used to upgrade equipment, sometimes yielding new skills. If a full set of gear is worn at once (dubbed a “Dandy Collection Set”), the player gets a skill exclusive to that gear set. There are around 160 sets to collect, and the crafting system used to upgrade equipment and “evolve” weapons adds even more depth to the mix.

Other noteworthy gameplay features are the experience system (which gives temporary health upgrades and free heals with each level gained) and the implementation of upgrade costs, which scale with an item’s level, encouraging use of rare materials to quickly get an item its highest possible stats. Dungeons typically consist of three floors and add a new enemy or mechanic to keep things from getting stale, with some special dungeons including multiple paths or having bosses weak to given Dandy Collection Sets; these act as references to the kind of oddball tasks one would find in old RPGs and dungeon crawlers like the “Wizardry” games or “The Tower of Druaga,” and the Golden Pyramid (a 30-floor dungeon that yields massive rewards, but requires special keys to enter) is packed with these sorts of tricks, making it one of the most tense levels I’ve ever played through in a game.

On the subject of old RPGs, “Dandy Dungeon” manages to be the rare example of a game that pays homage without obsessing over references or turning into an off-brand copy of its source of inspiration. One can immediately tell that Dandy’s developers are fond of Dragon Quest, as everything from armor to bosses to stock enemies pays subtle tribute to the juggernaut franchise’s earliest installments, but it never quite goes overboard with it. The visual style is based more on cartoonish caricatures than the sprite-work of existing games, and the soundtrack sets the game’s goofy tone with a combination of humming, instrumentals, and retro synth rather than just resorting to traditional chip-tunes. Suffice it to say that a good degree of what makes “Dandy Dungeon” worthwhile is scale. The sheer number of songs and animations rivals that which an 8-bit RPG would have, and the base game alone packs over 15 hours of content across 45 dungeons. A a soon-to-release free update promises 24 new dungeons in addition to what was already there, further warranting the $25 price tag; whether you’re looking for an experimental game or just a decent value, I recommend “Dandy Dungeon.”

Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools and has developed and published three games, “BORINGCORRIDOR,” “Accelerant” and “HouseThatJackBuilt.”  He is a neutral game reviewer. This review was based on the Nintendo Switch version of “Dandy Dungeon”; Gaget did not play through the update dungeons, as they have yet to be added to the Nintendo Switch version as of time of writing.

If You Play

Platform: iOS/Android (shut down), Switch

Price: Free-to-play (iOS/Android), $24.99 (Switch)

Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 796 MB + content update of unknown size

ESRB Rating: E

Release Date: 1/25/17 (iOS/Android), 6/27/19 (Switch)

Genre: RPG/Puzzle

Developer: Onion Games

Challenge: Low

Novelty: Moderate

Polish: Heavy