It’ll be old-hat to anyone who’s braved a dungeon with a party of four before. A rogue, archer, knight and wizard. We all should know their functions and how they’re best played, and Dungeon Dashers makes no effort to change it up. But, ah, don’t take that for a kick in the shins there. Dungeon Dashers doesn’t NEED to change the old formula up, not at all. That’s due to its being suited well to being played five minutes at a time, beating a single level or for hours at a time if that’s more your style.
Having the classes being very familiar without much deviation from the norm means that it is definitely the type of game you can get stuck right into without any need for a long explanation of how things work. It’s streamlined, classic dungeon-crawling, and it feels bloody great.
Perhaps I’m easily wooed by the satisfaction of responsive and satisfying grid-based movement, with an easy key layout and great sound effects that make everything you do feel punchy. Or, perhaps, Dungeon Dashers feels that way for everyone. I’m placing my bets on the second theory. I’ve always loved that digital recreation of moving tabletop pieces across a board, with a distinctive “donk, donk, donk” with every non-animated step they take.
I can’t get enough of that, and when you’re not in battle, you’re free to move either of the characters around as you please with no limits on how much they can move. This is ample time to explore the dungeon and grab yourself some gold, maybe even push a few levers, stand on a couple of buttons and open up a secret area to unlock a new item, weapon or ability for one of your characters.
Open a door and be sprung by enemies suddenly appearing, though, and movement becomes restricted, despite the speed of the game remaining intact. Action points include attacks and movement, as you’d expect, and these can be increased and decreased depending on the effects of your apparel. Each of your characters also have abilities that you can customize, though there aren’t enough of them to overfill your slots in this Early Access build, so you’ll have no need to swap any out for more preferable ones.
While walking into enemies performs a standard melee attack, much more damage can be excavated with the Knight’s charge attack, the Rogue’s backstab, the Archer’s fire arrow, or the Wizard’s electric spell. There’s more than that, obviously, but we’re Dungeon Dashers players, and we don’t have time to waste on nitpicking, you dig? Combat really doesn’t get too difficult or complex in this early version of the game, but the potential is there.
A couple of moments emerge in which you can get characters stuck behind huge gates, locking them in areas with hordes of undead, and spikes can be raised from the floor to stop any enemies flanking you. Your most important consideration is always how you place each character in relation to your enemies; it’s crucial. The Archer and Wizard are much better at long range, while the Knight needs to charge in, which is usually handy for taking out the Necromancers before they summon too many skeletons, and then there’s the Rogue, who’s able to sneak from behind and do tons of damage.
The Rogue is probably the most interesting character for me, mostly because he has Blink, which lets him teleport to places the other cannot reach, as well as Lord of Deception, which makes him invisible, but drains most of his health. If he gets in the path of an enemy while invisible, they’ll see him and likely kill him in one swipe. I love that risk-reward option in there and hope to see more of it as the game opens up.
The other characters also have use in how they can interact with the environment, too. The Knight can charge through certain types of rock, the Wizard can dispel blue flames to unlock doors, and the Archer can shoot bells to also open doors. It’s out of this that some environmental puzzles emerge (as well as ambushes and traps) and hidden areas can be found; I’m currently going over some levels trying to work out how to, for example, move a bookshelf to access the cave behind it.
Dungeon Dasher’s main appeal is how satisfying each sound effect makes all of your actions, which makes it engaging on a sensory level alone, but also its ability to serve brief play sessions. While you can quite happily blast through the three-to-four hours of the current Early Access build in one session, taking five or ten minutes out to beat a level, and then get on with something else in your life, is extremely viable. It feels like it’s built for that, actually.
The combat is a matter of blasting out your most powerful spells, waiting for cool-downs and moving into positions where enemies can’t hit you, while pressing Shift during the enemy’s turn speeds it up until it’s your go again. The levels are quite small, but laid out in a way that makes it interesting to take different routes and attempt different approaches to beat the level, such as taking out a room of tougher enemies earlier on while your characters have more health.
Customization is also just a case of matching stats against each other and picking what you want, and I do like how new clothing and weapons aren’t necessarily better, but offer a slightly different way to tactically play with that character. The music is another appeal and enthuses you to keep going through the rough patches with a shrill pixel squeal and bashing synth stabbing chorus. I love it.
The design makes me itch my proverbial beard and wonder whether or not a release on tablets would be a very good idea further down the line. Hmm, yes, indeed. Oh, and it’s obviously worth mentioning that Dungeon Dashers supports four-player online co-op, because who doesn’t want that option?
Dungeon Dashers is available on Steam Early Access for Windows only at $9.99/£6.99. You can also buy it direct from the developers for the same price, but also as a four-pack at $26.99.