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Dungeonmans (PC) artwork

Dungeonmans (PC) review

"Would-be roguelike developers could stand to learn a thing or two from the devs at Adventurepro Games LLC."

Dungeonmans (PC) image

My first warrior died almost immediately in Dungeonmans.

No, scratch that. My actual initial character never made it to the campaign, because I declared the stats the computer had rolled for him to be lousy. The game then basically proclaimed my first "Dungeonmans," as these heroes are called (plural form: Dungeonmens), to be a chump that would never amount to anything. It also barred me from using his name for future protagonists.

I snorted and racked my brain for another fantasy-ish moniker, devised a pretty neat one, and took Sir Whatever-I-Called-Him out on the fields for some grinding. I took the time to get acquainted with the game's mechanics, which are fairly similar to the classic Rogue in that every move you make uses up a "turn." Combat consists of little more than either clicking on or bumping into an antagonistic sprite. Armed with that knowledge, I decided to take on a nearby bunny, thinking the cute critter would make a fitting first victim.

My Dungeonmans suffered a horrific, gnawing death...

Dungeonmans (PC) image

As with most roguelike titles, death was permanent. Sir Name-Forgotten-And-I'm-Too-Lazy-To-Launch-The-Game-And-Look-It-Up had perished for good and it seemed that I was back to square one. However, after I created his replacement, I noticed that some slight changes had manifested on the over world, such as the appearance of a dungeon in place of my previous knight's grave. As I entered the dank abyss to do some investigation, I discovered that the vicious coney that had slain my combatant had received a promotion to boss status. Not far from where I entered was also a glimmering monument, represented by a sword stuck in the ground. I approached it and a wonderful feeling swept over my current heroine. All of her statistics gained permanent "plus one" bonuses and she obtained a new weapon, all so she could avenge my fallen first warrior. Resolve steeled and blood boiling, I decided to seek that boss out and exact revenge!

So, long story short, my Amazon died...

So it goes in world of Dungeonmans. Characters arise, take what they can from past generations, and eventually return to dust. Personally, though, I wouldn't have it any other way. Usually, I'm put off by "permadeath" in roguelikes because it takes the wind right out of my sails. Dungeonmans makes croaking worthwhile by providing you with incentives for starting new characters, which encourages you to dust yourself off and resume the fight. Oh, but that's not all...

Laying the groundwork for future journeyers is what Dungeonmans is all about, and not just through dying. By securing various artifacts and returning them to the academy that serves as the game's hub, you provide subsequent Dungeonmens with sweet perks that can allow them to travel farther than any of your previous adventurers. For instance, there's an item called a "Proof of Stremf," which, when brought back to your headmaster, grants you a certain number of attribute points used to permanently bump up your stats. Allocating these points doesn't exhaust Proofs, either. The game keeps track of the total number of Proofs you've brought back, allowing future Dungeonmens to take advantage of the distributable points. This ensures that any "level one" warriors you create won't have to begin their quests with "level one" capabilities. Combine that with any "legendary" or "heroic" weapons you decide to store in the academy's arsenal vault and you could have the deadliest pipsqueak in the land.

Dungeonmans (PC) image

As my travelers fell one after another, I was able to craft tougher hombres and survive almost any procedurally generated dungeon the game tossed at me. Some stages wouldn't admit me because my level was too high, and instead automatically beat themselves and tossed me a veritable care package of loot. Most of the time, though, I found myself plunging into freezing caverns and tense towers, treading carefully so I didn't meet an early end. I relished the tension this game builds. I loved sitting on the edge of my seat with uncertainty as my only companion. With randomized dungeons, you never can be sure what new traps or villains you'll run afoul of, and you can't rely on your memory to guide you through a level. You simply have to traipse through the darkness and hope that you've pieced together a fine enough warrior to survive all unexpected perils. It's this perception of conflict and worry that sweetened my victories. When I conquered a dungeon, I not only reveled in the pile of fortunes and trophies, but also breathed a hefty and pleasurable sigh of relief that my current Dungeonmans would live to fight another day. I don't know about you, but to me this is what an adventure should feel like.

What's that? Character development? Moving cinematic sequences? Bah. I won't act like I don't enjoy those factors in a good number of RPGs, but Dungeonmans isn't that kind of game. Rather than bogging you down a gripping narrative or an apparent rail, the game leaves you to your own devices. Sure, you could kick off your adventure with the training dungeon next to the academy, but there's nothing stopping you from skipping it in favor of more challenging territory. There's no obligation to visit sites in a particular order, or even to visit them at all. Dungeonmans is your game, and its campaign, like the characters you play, is yours to shape.

Dungeonmans (PC) image

Unfortunately, Dungeonmans is not all rainbows and puppy dogs and steroid-fed, hammer-wielding hero/maniacs. You see, the longer your protagonists survive, the harder it is to cope with their deaths. I don't mean that you form an emotional bond with your mostly voiceless battler, but it does take a some effort to create a truly good Dungeonmans. Also, when you've put vast miles between you and the academy, it really stings when your voyager kicks the bucket. I had one ranger who seemed like he could stomp anything. He traveled to what felt like the farthest reaches of the continent, only to bite the big one because I was too stubborn to feed him a buff while taking on a boss. Watching the academy erect his gravestone killed any desire I had to immediately develop a new Dungeonmans. I sighed and thought, "Ugh, I think I'm going to take an extended break from this game. I just don't have it in me to try again." Let me tell you, it was a melancholic six hours, but I did eventually return.

Dungeonmans succeeds in ways that some entries in the soon-to-be-crowded roguelike genre could only dream of. It presents permadeath, a genre essential, as an opportunity instead of a form of punishment. It beckons you to keep playing, even when you've lost a hero in a foreign land. Best of all, it provides you with tools that upcoming warriors require to succeed, while maintaining a solid difficulty rating. Would-be roguelike developers could stand to learn a thing or two from the devs at Adventurepro Games LLC. Challenge your players, but give them as many reasons to come back as you can afford. They'll love you for it.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (December 31, 2014)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Dungeonmans review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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EmP posted December 31, 2014:

Observe how social media mocks your typos!

It has long accepted mine as the norm.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted December 31, 2014:

Eh, it's not as though I don't mock other people's errors. If I still had a Twitter account, I'd probably say, "Hey, thanks for catching that!"
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honestgamer posted December 31, 2014:

I copy edited and didn't catch that, either. I'm blushing, with my cheeks looking very rouge-like at the moment.
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- posted January 01, 2015:

Thanks for reviewing this, Joe, as I was coincidentally looking for more information on the game.

I have a follow-up question, actually. What's Dungeonmans' unique hook? I'm a fan of 'roguelikes' (the modern definition of the phrase), but - and I may be missing something here - what's putting me off is I'm not sure how much actual skill is involved. There needs to be more than just stats for me. I want to feel like I'm getting better, if that makes any sense.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted January 01, 2015:

A good part of it does boil down to character building, partly in stats and partly in equipment. As you accrue weapons and armor with special bonuses (e.g. deals extra fire damage, protection from poison, etc.), you have a choice to sell them or have the academy blacksmith melt them down. This permanently teaches the smith those bonuses, and fills the academy's store with precious metals. Given that you have enough of a certain metal, you can then have bonuses added to equipment.

Part of the game also requires you to be familiar with potions, scrolls, spells, and skills, and not neglected to use them. Mostly, you have to know how to conserve consumables and be aware of when you should make use of them. Although enemies drop a lot of them, you're not always guaranteed to find certain buffs or restorative goods. Unlike games like the original Diablo or Torchlight, you can't just pull up to a store and buy 50 potions, then "1 key" your way to victory. Stores have limited supplies, plus consumables are pricey.

You will need consumables, too, because sometimes you bump into large crowds, or really tough champion enemies, or bosses that can wreck you almost effortlessly, or all of the above. I had trouble with one ice mage boss who could strip off more than half my HP with a single spell, plus she had minions. I not only had to figure out how to work a restorative item into my plans, but put distance between us so I could stay out of range of her attack, use a buff, and implement crowd control. Thankfully, there's a scroll that allows you to teleport you any tile visible to your character, plus I had a couple of battle skills that came handy when I got surrounded. One knocked enemies back several tiles and another allowed me to jump to a nearby tile and damage any adjacent foes. I ended up using the stairs to temporarily escape and rest to restore HP, which unfortunately healed the boss too. I was able to pick off her underlings with combat skills, then beef myself up enough to defeat her. Bear in mind that I didn't regularly run afoul of situations like this one, but it was the most memorable for me.

Stat boosting only helps you so much. I found 50 Proofs of Stremf in my campaign and I still find bosses who school the shit out of me. Mainly, I think the academy is there to help expedite the early phases of the campaign so you can get back to where you left off sooner.
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- posted January 02, 2015:

Didn't expect to see such an awesomely detailed response - thanks, it's much appreciated!

All great information, and the way it plays and its structure do intrigue me. I've added it to my (selective) Steam wishlist.

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