When finding games to play, there are certain gameplay elements I typically stray away from. Roguelites, games where the levels are randomly generated, are a particular pet peeve of mine. Oftentimes, the product of such random generation feels unnatural and is no substitute for pre-designed levels. I also tend to stray from anything that is too much like an RPG, with deckbuilding or dice based games generally being a clear warning sign for me to avoid playing such a title.
Dicey Dungeons includes all of these, yet I still played it. And boy, was I glad I did.
BIG MONEY, BIG PRIZES – I LOVE IT!
Dicey Dungeons, the latest game by Terry Cavanagh (of VVVVV fame) takes place in a treacherous Game Show run by Lady Luck. The unlucky contestants are adventurers who have been turned into Dice by our fiery hostess. If they can make it through the dungeon, they can win a fabulous prize. The odds, however, are not in their favour.
TO DIE FOR
As aforementioned, this game is Terry Cavanagh‘s latest work. His prior games, VVVVV and Super Hexagon were both very fun games, but they were hardly great to look at. They had their artistic charm, sure, but you couldn’t exactly say they were a treat for the eyes. It comes as a surprise then that Dicey Dungeons is so damn beautiful. Both visually and audibly. Every character is oozing with personality, from your plucky cubic characters to your fearsome foes; all of which have suitable dialogue that help you love or loathe them. The plucky frog is always sure he’s going to succeed, and blames failures on his sword not being big enough; the Rat King speaks in olde English, giving off an air of royalty; and the Loud Bird just squawks. In addition to the delightful visuals, the game also boasts a soundtrack by Chipzel, who is responsible for the killer tunes present in Super Hexagon, Cadence of Hyrule, amongst other titles. All of the music fits the Game Show aesthetic perfectly, and will have you tapping your toes to the beat! Whilst there may not be many tunes in the game, I never tired of it after countless hours of play; it really is a testament to just how phenomenal it is!
LADY IN RED
The gameplay of Dicey Dungeons is where it really shines however, and is simple enough to pick up. You start off with the bog standard Warrior and are thrown into your first randomly generated dungeon. You only have a Sword and two dice, but that should be more than enough to take out the weaker runts on the first floor. Your dice rolls will determine the power of your attack, and your ability allows you to reroll the dice up to three times to help you get the highest number. The game is turn based, and it’s unlikely that you will take out your opponent in the first turn – but that’s ok, you get to see what enemy attacks are all about. They vary from yours, but shouldn’t cause you too much trouble at this stage. Taking damage will not only reduce your HP, but it also boosts your special Limit Break power bar; this will activate a character specific bonus. It’s all relatively straightforward and you will have the basics down after the first fight. This first floor will also see you level up, granting you an extra dice, and you’ll also find a random piece of equipment. This will give you an additional item to use in your future battles, and will occupy some of the space in your generously-sized inventory. This new equipment will allow you to play around with something completely different to the bog standard Sword: for example, if could be a battle axe that deals double damage but can only be given a dice value of four or less; it could be a spiked shield that deals damage when fed even numbers, but creates a shield on odd numbers; or it could be something completely different! As you work through the floors, enemies get tougher and level ups get less frequent; however, you will also gain access to shops, equipment-upgrading anvils, and much more, to assist your journey to the end. The dungeon is capped off by one of many different possible bosses, all of which are a delight to fight, and usually test you to your limit without feeling unfair.
PAIR O’ DICE LOST
There is one more character to unlock, but I’ll leave that for you to figure out for yourself!
DO OR DICE
Dicey Dungeons boasts quite a sizeable roster of baddies, and each one has their own unique equipment that fits their character perfectly.
Here are a few of the foes you will encounter:
Upon completing this first episode, you will unlock a new character to play as: the Thief. This character acts completely differently to the Warrior, with attacks that deal much less damage. However, he also gains access to more interesting equipment, which will require you to strategize a little more. A personal favourite build of mine involves using the crowbar. Certain equipment in the game requires you to input a minimum number of dice points in order to active it, some are low and can be triggered by only one dice, but many will require you to feed it two or more. The crowbar will lower all equipment counters by a given amount, and can be used multiple times when upgraded; this results in you being able to use most , if not all, of your equipment at once causing some major hurt. It’s extremely satisfying to use. Whilst the Thief is certainly more advanced than the Warrior, the real fun starts as you unlock the additional ones: each are different and more complex to use than the last, but all are extremely satisfying to play with.
DIE AND DIE AGAIN
These first episodes are a lot of fun and provide a pretty suitable challenge for people starting out with the game, but in reality they serve as a tutorial for the other episodes. There are six in total for each of the six characters (the sixth character is locked and super secret, but you will unlock them naturally as you play through), with an additional hard mode variant for each character’s sixth episode. The latter episodes have similar rules for each character, but episodes two and three throw some real curveballs. The Robot has an episode where he can generate the dice he wants, but runs a high risk of equipment failure. The Thief, meanwhile, has an episode that enables him to keep a piece of enemy equipment after each fight. The variety in the episodes really helps to make the game feel fresh over such a long playtime. My only gripe with this is that some of them present quite unnatural difficulty spikes: the Warrior’s (who is a one star difficulty character) second episode is notably tough, especially considering it will probably be the first second episode that many will tackle. Thankfully there aren’t too many episodes like this, but it is rather noticeable when it does happen. The game does allow you to pick and choose from a range of episodes though, so you are rarely forced into doing a particular challenge.
Completing all thirty six main episodes will unlock the finale, which is surprisingly a whole new set of floors that can be played with your character of choice. Again, the gameplay takes a whole new and completely unexpected turn – one that will encourage you to replay it even after you take down the final boss. The whole finale episode extremely well done and helps tie up the story perfectly. The final boss too feels epic and challenging, whilst also not cheaping by being immune to everything.
The roguelite nature of the game, which I mentioned at the top of the review, serves Dicey Dungeons well in terms of replayability. Even after clocking more than fifty hours into the game, I was compelled to return to try out different equipment and face different enemies. There are still elements to the game that I’ve not even come into contact with, including the ability to turn into a bear! It’s a great game to pop in and play during your downtime, and is complemented well by the fantastic touchscreen controls the game offers on the Switch. The game offers a biography for most of the enemies in the game, which are unlocked by completing various in-game challenges, so I can’t say I will be putting this game down any time soon. Nor do I want to.
HALLOWEEN SPECIAL UPDATE
As of 30th October 2021, the Switch version has received its first free bonus episode: The Halloween Special. Accessible via the main menu, this extra content provides three new episodes: one each for the Warrior, Inventor, and Witch characters. Whilst it’s a pity that the other three were left out here, the add-on provides an extra couple of hours worth of gameplay with some interesting twists.
The Warrior plays mainly the same, but with some extra Halloween rulesets as he descends further. It’s the simplest of the three, but introduces you to a small number of new equipment and enemies. Despite there being very few additional enemies, all the rest are wearing Halloween costumes (including Lady Luck herself), so it remains charming throughout. The Inventor offers more of a twist, with her equipment being consistently terrible. Fancy dealing yourself damage, or giving your opponent an extra dice? Tough luck, you’ll have to make do. It’s slightly more challenging, but nothing seasoned players should have issues with. The Witch’s episode, on the other hand, is brutally difficult. Setting you up against only one enemy per flaw, you have to kill them in a single turn. Each fight gives you different equipment, so these are more like a puzzle than a traditional fight. The puzzles never change, so the difficulty lies in solving the problem; if you fail, you can just do the same thing again on the next try.
All in all, the Halloween Special offers a nice seasonal change of scenery for Dicey Dungeons. With some charming tweaks and additions, as well as a great new musical track by Chipzel, it’s a good reason to return to one of the best games on the Switch.
THE REUNION UPDATE
The 7th July 2022 also saw the release of yet another free expansion: The Reunion. Unlike the Halloween special, each character has its own new episode and each one offers something completely unique compared to the rest of the game. The Robot episode in particular is vastly different, as they don’t even use any dice! Each one is a refreshing change from their standard formula and stand out as some of the best episodes in the game.
Changes don’t just stop there, as every enemy has a completely new loadout and all the equipment in the game has changed too. Heck, there are even all new status effects, backgrounds, and Chipzel music too! They really went all out with this update to make it feel completely unique. The Halloween update was a nice bit of seasonal content, but this actually feels like a true addition to the game.
The Reunion is a brilliant send-off, offering at least another five hours or so worth of excellent content. If you enjoy the main game content, you will absolutely love the extra content in The Reunion.
Considering I went into Dicey Dungeons not expecting to like it, it ended up being not only one of my favourite games on the Switch but one of my favourite games of all time. It really is that good. Despite the odd frustrating episode, it offers so much variety and fun that I didn’t tire of the game for a single second – nor did I want to stop after beating the epic finale. Terry Cavanagh should be applauded for this masterpiece. The game is an absolute bargain for the budget price you are getting, and there are future updates in the works too to give you even more bang for your buck. Dicey Dungeons is, without any shadow of a doubt, a must own for all Switch users.