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Epic Dungeon (Xbox 360) artwork

Epic Dungeon (Xbox 360) review

"My first steps into Epic Dungeon are chronicled by the myriad rat and bat bites pervading my berserker's skin and bones. The only option left for me was to swing my sword in a fit of rage and watch the enemies explode into 8-bit gore. More bats and rats swarmed me with mouths biting, claws raking, flees jumping off and getting under my armor."

My mother once asked me in her cute Spanish accent:

“Joey, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

My father's booming godlike voice still echoed in my head for hours after he told me to stop being a little smart ass and to spend the rest of the night in my room. I knew from that exchange that my parents were not going to cultivate my dreams of being a badass berserker with a huge sexy beard redder than the fires of hell, and that my desire to search bottomless dungeons and battle horrific hordes of foul and fantastical beasts was unrealistic. I acquiesced to a future existence behind a boring mahogany desk buried beneath papers and the presentiment of a mid-life crisis.

That is until Xbox Live Indie offered Epic Dungeon for the insane price of $1. With its dungeon-crawling greatness, poignantly antiquated graphics, and simple and addictive gameplay, Epic Dungeon recalled my abandoned chimeras and helped to understand that there is a fire-bearded badass inside me.

So I selected the berserker. While the other selections--the magical shaman, dexterous tinkerer and the lucky SOB gambler--seemed appealing, they lacked in the berserker quality of crushing enemies' skulls with heavy clubs while taking long pulls from a flagon full of enemy blood. I craved melee combat, and fighting prowess was something berserkers paid in spaids.

Entry into the dank halls stirred my sense of nostalgia. Something about the way it moved and played reminded me of the '80s and smacked of ASCII terminals. The way each level was set up with rooms and hidden hallways leading to further rooms and secrets... It was Rogue reincarnated, only I wasn't playing as a letter or a curly arrow. Nor was I taking the time to scroll through commands and keep track of my hunger level, or even worrying about whether or not my game would be winnable. Epic Dungeon cut the more complicated aspects of Rogue and went straight for the throat with a simple menu- and command-free battle system and a greater sense of fairness. At no point did it generate a level without an exit.

What it did generate was large horde after horde of classic RPG enemies from rats to wyverns.

My first steps into Epic Dungeon are chronicled by the myriad rat and bat bites pervading my berserker's skin and bones. The only option left for me was to swing my sword in a fit of rage and watch the enemies explode into 8-bit gore. More bats and rats swarmed me with mouths biting, claws raking, flees jumping off and getting under my armor. But I stood resolute and the end result was a veritable swimming pool of blood and a level up, complete with allocatable stat and skill points.

And all I needed to do to achieve this was press on the D-pad and walk against the cloud of vermin. Combat was a bit like Hydlide, except not boring and tedious. The body count rose fast and at no point did I find myself waiting long periods for my health to refill.

I advanced and things got hairier. Soon witches that looked like they crawled straight out of a Halloween store were after me, so were vampires (and not of the Edward Cullen variety), giants with gnarled beards, hungry sand worms and animated skeletons. Even when I vanquished one swarm, another would be lingering around a corner or behind a door. They tasted my bitter blood and rent my flesh. I fought in a blinding haze and cut loose a death howl that may have caused the neighbors to call animal control. Still, the beasts came, brought me down and feasted upon my flesh.

That was level 17. The final stage is 50. I thought that I could reload from a save point or respawn, but my first berserker's career was over and he was on a one-way trip to Valhalla to swill booze with Odin and hit on Valkyries. Death in Epic Dungeon does not give you the benefit of trying again with the same character. One life is all you have to live.

I felt that red hot sting on the side of my face. It was a slap, an insult placed and a challenge issued. Oh, it's on. No indie dungeon is going to dash my dreams of berserkerdom.

After watching a few more berserkers go to the grave, I began to form a plan. Turns out these halls were unforgiving to those who don't use their brain. Build a bare bones character thinking this is just another dumb Rogue clone and you will perish, even so for the berserkers. I took the time to consider my character's needs, pamper him, powder his butt as needed, allocated his stats in just the way that would ensure survival. I allowed him to play anytime I saw the ? on the screen that described a new humor-laden text-based situation and usually ends in rewards. Play cards with orcs and you just might leave with a new ring, cut off one of your own toes for an old witch making a potent brew and you'll receive some bottled experience, or dip in the suspicious hot springs for a permanent stat boost. Reject these out of fear and you might be missing out on some decent spoils. Sometimes the only risk is not having taken one.

I boosted stats appropriately, did my grinding as needed and boosted just the right skills and watched my final berserker's career soar. Many times had I nearly perished, and many times had I brought the beasties of the depths to their knees. Perils waited around every corner and doubled and tripled as I went deeper. Blades stuck out of the walls, poison pits exuded green ooze, spikes shot up from holes in the floor... My health kept failing, my opponents kept multiplying, my chances kept looking grimmer...

But still I made it to level 50 and found that precious exit, and there I gained victory and a single-screen ending. It only took three hours to find it, but I was ready for more. The addictive and fast-paced battle system and simplified RPG gameplay gave constant gratification and whiled the hours--all three of them--away like no other. With four classes to choose from and addictive gameplay, replay value wasn't a matter of unlocking new junk or having access to new modes of play. Just going back through the game itself was well enough.

Epic Dungeon carries the Rogue flag proudly. It does what any update should do in simplifying and quickening the gameplay and yet retaining a retro element. It doesn't stomp on the toes of older Rogue fans by trying to act like its much more than it is. It's an indie title that just wants to emphasize the most important aspect of gaming: having fun. For $1, who could argue with that?


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (March 24, 2011)

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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overdrive posted March 24, 2011:

Sweet review! Makes me want to pick it back up, as I bought it, but have been playing other things recently. Hell, yesterday, I was off work sick and didn't even think about Epic. Instead played Illusion of Gaia through the first real boss and then fiddled with the early stages of Breath of Fire 2 using the patch that vastly improves the dialogue.

I know my first berzerker/barbarian/whatever is pretty much doomed. One character I'm thinking about using is the tinkerer or whoever starts with the attack ball going around him. From a bit o' web searching, I found that people seem to LOVE how effective that thing is.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 24, 2011:

Thanks, OD.

I actually had that attack ball thing (I think it was called The Orb) with my berzerker. It's a very handy skill to have.

Ah, IoG... I love that game. I still plan to review it eventually. Also, never did finish BoFII. I keep restarting it and forgetting that I'm playing it.
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overdrive posted March 24, 2011:

BoF II is a game that I've beaten, but didn't get the good ending because I didn't have a guide when I beat it. There's one specific thing you have to during during one specific boss fight that's about 75% through the game.

For a game I like, it has a lot of "stall points".

1. The beginning. If you're like me and like to get the best weaponry in towns before going places, this sucks. You'll have to spend about 1,000 to fully equip Ryu and Bow/Bosch and encounters tend to drop 4-6 a pop. If you're lucky, you'll get some 200G roasts from hunting to help out.

2. Algernon. One evil boss.

3. The final dungeon. Pure frickin' hell. It rivals FF IV's as this long, tedious monster. And Barubary (the big demon that accosts you at the very beginning of the game) is brutal whether you do the honorable duel with it or the 4-on-1 battle.

4. And if you don't use a guide to build your town, you'll get some worthless guys who don't help much while missing out on, say, the person who allows you to cook stat-boosting items.

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