Card Dungeon (Review)
Source: Own Cashmoneys
Where To Get It: Steam
Card Dungeons, like many roguelikes, can be short and painful… Long and glorious… Or long and painful, and, in a sense, this is exactly its problem. It’s an interesting game, in its way, but it definitely isn’t for everybody.
There are two core gimmicks of the game, one visual, one in core gameplay, and both have their flaws. On the visual end of things, you may be noticing why it’s called Card Dungeons. That’s right, every character and door is a card stock figure, and everything else is a tile. You know, just like old RPGs used to do! In any case, again, like these old RPGs, you take a turn, the monsters take a turn, and opening doors reveals rooms, monsters, and, of course, loot. However, while this may appear like a run of the mill roguelike with a different visual style, there is a core difference, the other meaning behind Card Dungeons.
Every time you start the game, you start with a bonus (A card) and a downside (A card). At the beginning, these options are simple: A random heal that drains mana when it happens, and not being able to buy more than one upgrade when you find a shopkeeper, regardless of your gold. Your attacks are also cards, and you only get three of them. But do you know what happens to cards when they get used, slapped down on the table, and generally subject to the abuse of play? That’s right, folks, they degrade, until they’re eventually useless! And the same thing happens to your equipment (Cards) and your attacks (Cards!) So again, you have a downside… On the one hand, you can switch out abilities at will. On the other, you have to switch out abilities, and at the worst possible time, you could run out of uses on an ability (Say, in the middle of a boss-fight), and have to survive long enough to pick up what you hope is a new ability!
It’s very gimmicky, and, despite it being an interesting idea, that gimmick is also its greatest flaw. It took me almost the entire first run to realise that everything that isn’t a trap and can be used may contain treasure. It took me almost the second to realise that no, looting everything in the hope of a snazzy new ability isn’t the best way to play, and almost a third to realise that matters a whole lot less once combat begins. See, this game is presenting itself as a roguelike, but, while it fills many of the criteria of a roguelike, it only inconsistently provides an enjoyable experience. For example, I mentioned running away. I found a few “hit things and run away” style moves, along with the equivalent of teleport other (again, random in both strength and effect), but of course, there is no guarantee you’ll have one at the right time… And some cards, honestly, I ignored for being obviously toss. Stun, for example, doesn’t stop movement, only attacks, so something that only stuns isn’t actually that much use to me, because I can still be cornered. Bleeding, on its own, is a painfully slow 1 damage. And conversion, for the most part, is of dubious use.
It doesn’t help that there are certain enemy groupings, later on, where it’s extremely difficult to do anything but waste time. Multiple Eyeball type creatures, for example, can heal each other and stun you… Which makes a certain boss tedious, and later still, there are enemies that can stun, curse (Drains health and mana), and heal each other… And they can come in large groups. What can you do about it? Not a lot if your cards run out.
This sounds somewhat like bitching that I’ve run out of ammo for my favourite guns, left with “only the pistol”, but in Card Dungeons, it’s somewhat worse than that. In the final screenshot I’m going to post, I’ve shown an excellent example of being hosed. This is about halfway through the game’s several dungeons, and I have a somewhat ineffective area attack ability, a powerful, but erratically effective “GO AWAY” card, and a broken (And thus unusable) melee attack. I was trying to reach a chest as I died. I had been stunlocked, cursed… I couldn’t close the door, and going to another door… Would just as likely have killed me as badly, as the room I had just left contained three of the same kind of creature that killed me here. Just like any dungeon crawl, monsters won’t politely wait in their rooms… But unlike a normal dungeon crawl, you can’t open a door, peek inside, say “NOPE!”, and slam the door shut with the fondest hope that next time, your DM won’t be sniggering so loudly when you say you want to open something.
In the end, Card Dungeons is an interesting experiment. But other games do the whole “card dungeon” gimmick better, such as the more expensive Hand of Fate (The game colloquially known as “Asshole Card Wizard”), or Boss Monster (Cheaper, currently Early Access), and while it’s got replay value in the sense of multiple tries needed to “beat” the game, or 100% complete it, and it’s got time value in the sense that a single “good” run took me an hour and a half to get roughly halfway through… I don’t personally feel it’s got that much enjoyment value. Still, if you like the idea of an “oldschool” dungeon crawler with heavy randomisation in abilities (Monster types stay the same in each dungeon, and dungeons themselves are always similar in style), you could at least try it.