Back in November 2012, a husband and wife team looked to Kickstarter to realize the vision of their first big game, Legend of Dungeon. It was an appealing vision of genre mash-ups wrapped in a stunning visual style that stood out from the crowd. Within a few short weeks, this couple met their goal and set to work finishing the project, hoping to deliver on the promise set forth in screenshots and promo videos. But with Kickstarter, good intentions and great packaging don’t always mean the product inside is what you hoped for.
Legend of Dungeon sets you on a quest to trudge to the bottom of a 26-floor dungeon, facing procedurally-generated dangers of increasing difficulty along the way. In those depths lie a legendary treasure, and reaching it is only half the journey. In a clever twist, you not only have to find the treasure, you have to return it to the tavern that you started from those many floors ago. The idea is that on the way up you’ll take on some of the monsters and obstacles that were too challenging on your descent.
As you make your way through the floors of the dungeon, you’ll find all sorts of weapons, potions, and hats that alter your stats and help you take on the various enemies along the way. You’ll spend most of your time in the game hacking and slashing baddies, and the other portion finding your way through the winding halls and flipping switches to open up new pathways. The beat-‘em-up action is simple and serviceable, but there’s certainly nothing surprising or compelling about the combat.
Roguelikes tend to follow a pretty standard formula, and Legend of Dungeon doesn’t diverge from the book too much. While that may seem like a good thing, this approach leaves the gameplay feeling stale before it really even gets started. We’ve played this game before, and with better hooks. The descent-then-ascent twist isn’t enough to instill that “just one more run” rush that comes standard with most games of its ilk. When you die, you die, and you take nothing back with you on your next run. There’s no high-level character progression and the difficult ramp isn’t always slow and steady. Sometimes it’s downright unfair. I never really felt like I was learning anything that would help me in the future. Sometimes I just died, and that was that.
It’s a shame that the action doesn’t offer much to complement the game’s stellar visual flair. It’s rare for me to see something truly new and unique in games anymore, but Legend of Dungeon‘s whimsical neon shaders and the kind-of-3D-but-kind-of-not side perspective just ooze goodness unlike anything I can recall. And sometimes your character vomits rainbows. So there’s that. I would love to have spent more time basking in the glow of this weird world if not for the pesky problem that the game just isn’t that fun.
Besides the mediocrity of the dungeon delving itself, a few technical and presentation issues prevented me from ever truly getting into the experience. I wasn’t able to play the game in fullscreen due to a graphics bug, and the game’s advertised “Full Controller support” is anything but. Maybe I’m spoiled by the huge number of Steam games that get it right, but manually mapping controller buttons feels like it should be a thing of the past. While four-player local multiplayer is a neat addition, I found the lack of online co-op off-putting. The nature of these issues seemed so basic that I actually had to go back and check the game’s Steam page to make sure it wasn’t still in Early Access. (It isn’t.)
The lackluster presentation is also manifested in the game’s interface and tutorial — or rather, the lack thereof. The cryptic stats displayed on screen are impossible to grasp at a glance, so expect a lot of time staring at unlabeled numbers and making notes. Even worse, none of the game’s mechanics or controls are explained at all. I finally had to consult a third-party wiki to figure out what potions did, and even then I felt like there were holes in my knowledge. It’s entirely possible that the dearth of information is completely intentional, but it seems more like oversight. In many ways, Legend of Dungeon feels like it was made specifically for its 1,800 Kickstarter backers, die-hard fans who are expected to know everything up front, all the while forgetting there are plenty more of us out here who needed a little guidance, a little hand-holding.
In the end, Legend of Dungeon is a by-the-numbers roguelike with little to get excited about besides its unique style. Unfortunately, that style makes a promise of originality that the gameplay simply can’t deliver on. The rote and often unfair dungeon crawling is only exacerbated by technical problems and a lack of polish. It’s clear that the games industry isn’t done with the roguelike yet, but it’s going to take more than Legend of Dungeon can offer to keep the genre interesting and fun.