Let me just come out and say it: when I look upon Legend of Dungeon I just want to take it home and feed it marshmallows. Allow me to rattle off a couple of buzzwords at you: cooperative sidescrolling roguelike-like beat-’em-up with kittens. It’s that kind of hard not to like.
Yes, it’s safe to say I was pretty chuffed with Legend of Dungeon’s work-in-progress build when I previewed it back in ’Nam February. Its goofy spoofing is all over the place, but it’s all strung together with such cheerful venom that you just have to invent a song on the spot, or cut down a tree full of bunnies.
This is a game that raises that fine old gaming tradition of hattery to untold, and frequently unintelligible, heights. Have you ever before this encountered a gerbil hat that throws nuts to confuse your enemies? Have you bloody well indeed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. (It’s the hats, you see.) Legend of Dungeon has evolved quite a bit since it first toyed with me. There is more stuff to bludgeon, quaff and dandy about with. Combat has become a bit more thoughtful. There are special encounters. There are shoppes! And the whole experience is gentler, meaning it’s a little less likely to annihilate you straight in the face.
Played alone, Legend of Dungeon is good fun – but played with friends, it is the very candy in the oubliette. Sneaking through a procedural labyrinth and beating down on things as a team is fraught with cosy, arcade-era awesome. The weapons, spells and armour on offer range from the bland to the bombastic, and they combine well in coordinated attacks. And thanks to the low-fi but high-yay animations, one of the most common interactions in the game – that of sharing health-bolstering apples with an ailing friend – is almost intolerably charming. It’s a good thing, then, that you can shove said friend into a pit of lava.
This game is also very pretty. The lighting algorithms and grainy voxelly goodness are perfectly pitched to kick me straight in the squee-centres, and the chunky aesthetic complements the deliciously daft sense of humour.
It’s not all fun and flames, though. Interface quirks got in the way of my enjoyment on more than one occasion. Yes, I can see all the pretty coloured lights explode from my character when she knocks back a potion, but what does it mean? The blob of stats in the corner is not intuitive, making it hard to figure out what stat-modifiers actually do. Also, there were times when I just had to take a moment and breathe, having perma-died for the nth time thanks to the infuriating back-and-forth inventory navigation.
Most troublingly, for all that the ideal of procedural level generation is to provide nigh endless variety, it feels like there’s just not (yet?) enough of Legend of Dungeon to vary. For the most part level layouts on the first floor of the dungeon don’t feel different enough from those ten storeys down. Monsters do get progressively beastlier with every toddle downwards, and it’s a real thrill to encounter a new and potentially devastating enemy – but this is tempered by the fact that there are a few terrifically overpowered spells that lock play down into a small set of dominant strategies. (This is not to say the game is easy. And to be fair, roguelikes are notoriously difficult to balance; this issue will surely be ironed out in good time.)
Despite the flaws I have an enduring affection for Legend of Dungeon. Its problems are eclipsed by the sheer hooray of it all: even the most jaded of you out there have to admit that gadding about in the doomy depths with a cat on your head has a certain inexplicable something to it.
So I really hope the devs continue to work on their creation. As it stands Legend of Dungeon is good – but it has the potential to be brilliant.
Legend of Dungeon is available on Steam for US$9.99.