• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

I Hate Evil Jellies.

  • NewBlack
  • 12/30/2011 08:17 AM

Golden Age: Endless Dungeon by Enker & psy_wombats

Genre: Old-school dungeon crawler.
Play Time: N/A (Variable).
Engine: Custom-built.

Note: This review was originally submitted as part the 2011 Secret Santa Review Event.

"Something is very wrong. The land itself has grown sick and the people of your village are dying. Six days ago your Grandfather guided a squad of soldiers into the ruins in order to seek out the source of the infection and destroy it, but nothing has been heard from them since. Now it's up to you to venture into the catacombs in search of both your Grandfather and a magical artifact that's cursing the land above. Have you got what it takes to risk everything in order to save the ones you love?"

Golden Age: Endless Dungeon is a custom-built, traditional-style turn-based dungeon crawler developed by Enker and psy_wombats (or should that be psy_wombats and Enker? I’m not sure!) featuring an integrated online scoreboard, fully original minimalist, gameboy-ish graphics, a whole host of loot to find, monsters to fight (or if you're me; flee from in terror) and traps to brutally and abruptly end your quest/life just when you thought you were starting to do quite well. Oh, and it has a randomly generated game-world to boot!

Note before going further: I suck at games.

Being the completely absent-minded fool that I am, I started every new game with an identity-revealing character name. So I hope you enjoy the "pixellate" filter because it will feature heavily in this review.

When I say that GA:ED is turn-based I don’t mean in the now-more-common sense of “a turn-based battle system” (although by necessity of the way the game works it does happen to have a turn-based battle system also) but rather the more traditional use of the term, IE: “Nothing happens on the screen until you move/perform an action”. So, when you move one tile across the map everything else that can move (such as monsters) will also move one tile across the map (assuming you both have the same speed stat). Simply put; every action (or "turn") you perform moves the game world forward by one “tick”. This sort of system lends itself to a greater degree of planning and tactical thinking in terms of gameplay and can make for some interesting and tense situations BUT before I ramble on any further have a nice breakdown diagram:

...and it is!

Essentially the objective on each floor of the dungeon is to find the staircase to the next floor down and to continue traversing the dungeon in this manner for as long as possible or ideally until you reach "the end". Of course it's not as straight-forward as that, what with all the traps and monsters cutting your adventure short and the need to be well equipped and prepared. You control your character with either the arrow keys or, for more efficient movement, the number pad (because moving diagonally in a direction naturally uses one-less turn than moving in a series of "L" shapes - this doesn't seem a big deal initially but after running for your life half a dozen times you soon learn the value of this tactic). To engage a monster you simply press in the direction of the tile the monster is on and you are provided with a textual blow-by-blow commentary of the battle's unfolding. You can also interact with the game'a world in other ways such as attempting to converse with dungeon denizens, examining your surroundings, picking up items and casting spells (provided you have the requisite items) via an array keyboard shortcuts that are helpfully provided in-game or alternatively though a handy drop-down menu at the top of the application window.

Get away bone-man.

So, I was going to avoid going into this in order to keep on-topic but I just want to take a brief moment to talk about how much this game reminded me of the PS1 cult-classic RPG Azure Dreams. Here is a checklist:

* Both games have the tile/turn-based movement/battle system thingy I mentioned earlier.
* Both games have a randomly generated dungeon.
* Both games require you to traverse 40 floors in order to trigger the end-game scenario.
* Both games have really catchy theme music!

Nope! Sadly this game doesn't have really catchy theme music, in-fact, at least in the version I played (I say this because I wasn't sure whether it was just me or my pc or the game) there was no music or sound at all which I found pretty disappointing for such a professionally presented and put-together project. Even something simple like some ambient sounds or atmospheric music would be better than nothing at all in my opinion. Hell, in Azure Dreams (I'll stop comparing this game to AD now, I promise) they pumped the same melody at you for 40 floors over and over again with nothing more than a fairly superficial stylistic/instrument change every 5 floors or so to stop you from going absolutely insane with earwormitis. In short I'm saying I would prefer even one track constantly to having no music at all and as for sounds I can imagine it being a little iffy for the developers with regard the way this game plays and feels but I still think it would be better to at least have the option of music and sounds in order to create a more whole game experience and to draw the player more into the game's world, setting, theme etc. Speaking of "immersion"...

Lose yourself in a good dungeon.

Endless Dungeon's story is told through a pretty cool journal system that updates itself as you progress down through the floors of the catacombs and does manage to aid in creating a sense of intrepid adventure and that's a nice touch. I'm glad that Enker/psy bothered to include some flavor text because it adds an additional layer of context to what is essentially an otherwise entirely gameplay-centric game and thus helps to flesh it out into more of a "whole product" (as I was mentioning with regard to the music/sound issue). However, I am aslo equally glad that it is exactly that; by which I mean "optional flavor text". See, Endless Dungeon isn't really a game for the story-hungry rpg gamer. It's about exploring a huge randomly generated dungeon, avoiding traps, running from/killing monsters, raiding the place for sweet new equipment and just trying to get further than last time and that is exactly what you'd want the storytelling to be like in a nostalgic, minimalist dungeon crawl like this.

Prepare to breathe huge sighs of relief as monsters decide to rip each other to shreds instead of you (for a change).

GA:ED is full of awesome little features that make it shine and give its gameplay a degree of depth. Item and equipment procurement and management is vital to your survival, having to plan your next step across the dungeon floor, choosing your battles, baiting monsters into falling into traps or fighting with each other instead of chasing you, finding a water fountain when you're down to 5hp, summoning a lizard lanceman to distract your enemies but knowing there's a chance that it will go for you first, using a teleportation spell to get yourself out of a certain-death situation but not knowing where it will end up landing you - all this kind of stuff makes GA:ED engaging for the player and makes you feel really involved rather than the more hand-holding attitude a lot of games tend to take these days. It gives you a lot of freedom and flexibility and thanks to the random nature of the game world it provides you with both emergent challenges and emergent solutions to those problems (which does a fair bit for its replay value). On one attempt you may find equipment that makes you lord of evasion and speed; dodging enemy attacks and covering two tiles per the monsters' one. Another time you may be struggling to get by on nothing but your wits, planning and health potions. Another time you could end up with a whole bag of magical tricks to pull out in times of trouble.

Behold, almost a whole floor revealed.

I did find a few things about GA:ED irksome, though. First of all is the most obvious and most subjective niggle - Difficulty. I found this game pretty hard. I didn't mind at first because, as I've mentioned, the need to be tactical and careful in your decisions is part of what makes this game shine. But after a handful of attempts it can begin to get a little bit frustrating dying so frequently and easily. Some (and only some) of the equipment that you find it not easily identifiable as say, a glove, or ring or piece of armor; cue me having to go through each equipment slot individually in order to find which sub-menu it appears as available for - this could be easily rectified with something small and simple in the item name to indicate the intended slot for the item such as (bad example) "Feather Sword (w)" (where w stands for weapon. Or just using the corresponding letter for that equipment slot would work too). Also, although the control system does exactly what it needs to considering the game's style and mechanics it also was at times a little non-intuitive and cumbersome (thankfully there's the aforementioned in-game explanation and the drop-down menu). Although, I would be willing to at least partially write that off in the name of game's retro feel. Lastly I was a pretty annoyed that the only time I don't get to see my character's HP/stats is when I'm in my menu deciding what to do with regard to my stats and HP, this was probably the most glaring design oversight that I noticed whilst playing. (Oh and.. A little more variation in the tiles would be nice, there's just a little too much grey for my taste.)

24 damage is a damn lot in this game.

So in conclusion Golden Age: Endless Dungeon is a pretty solid retro dungeon crawl experience with some decent replay value. Fans of MUDs and old-school dungeon crawlers will most likely feel right at home journeying the depths of this game. Personally I usually prefer a game with a lot more window dressing and less of this game's brand of straight-up gameplay-oriented-challenge (because I generally suck at games, not because this game is bad!) but it was a refreshing change to the normal fare of RMN. Plus it's always nice to see custom projects popping up and people bringing something different to the table. I enjoyed what I managed to play of Golden Age: Endless Dungeon and would recommend it to anyone looking for a simple but challenging and open-ended gameplay experience.

Yeah. It took me a while to find my stride.

As for a rating... I find it hard to compare a game like this against regular RM but for what GA:ED is, as it currently stands, based on my experience of it - I would hazard a rating of...

3.5 Stars!