Indie Games Uprising III Review: Diehard Dungeon – With a Vengence

The third title in the Indie Games Uprising III has arrived and in doing so redeemed the Uprising after the 2nd game unfortunately fell flat.  Diehard Dungeon is a homage to the dungeon crawlers of old, mixed with some new, combined into a retro styled game that is not only aptly named but also a lot of fun to play.

Diehard Dungeon has you making your way though a series of dungeons, collecting gold keys and fighting various monsters and other enemies in an ultimate search for loot and glory.  It has a surprisingly large amount of depth for a game with no story, and oddly enough, has a mini-game included that is almost worth the purchase price alone.

The game starts you off alone, in a dungeon with nothing.  You quickly find your sword and a few stages later the Companion Chest. The Companion Chest stores your treasure (you never actually access it though) and will even help you fight your way through the dungeon.  Upon your first boss battle you will also pick up a hand-cannon, which is literally, a handgun that shoots cannon balls.  These make up your primary combat abilities in the game, with your sword being the focus ultimately. At the core, Diehard Dungeon is a hack and slash, but positioning yourself properly against certain foes is still important, as is proper use of the hand-cannon.  As one might expect, with such a simple combat system the controls are also pretty simple; press X for your sword, right trigger activates your hand-cannon and X fires it.  There is at least one other ability you MIGHT pick up as you play the game that uses B, but that’s basically it.

Speaking of abilities, rather than leveling up and using experience points or any system like that; Diehard Dungeon simply has you find or win extra abilities. You can find them in chests that operate like slot machines, a mini “trap-door” game or just laying on the ground. These range from becoming fireproof, adding shrapnel to your hand-cannon or as suggested before, an ability that allows you to kill everything on screen in exchange for one heart of life by pressing B.  These abilities are random and make all the difference in your ability to make it through the dungeon in one piece.  This makes finding and collecting the abilities incredibly important, but also leads to one of the main downsides to the game.

While Diehard Dungeon is a blast to play, the name is very appropriate. The game uses a simple “heart” system of health, where each hit takes one away and you can add more (if you find some) along the way.  That said, when you die, there is no check point; you don’t go back to the beginning of that dungeon room with all that you had when you got there; no, you go back, all the way back. To the beginning. With nothing. While this certainly makes death a big deal, it is frustrating when you seem to have a fairly decent start but then a really tough middle-range area in the game.  Basically, if you get overwhelmed in a single room (which happened to me on a couple of occasions) you drop all of your progress from the last half hour and start over again; something made even more possible by the fact health can sometimes be quite rare.  Does it add more weight to your death? Absolutely. Does it make you fight that much harder to not die? Of course. Does it make you absolutely want to stop playing the game for a few minutes after? You bet your ass it does.

Luckily the game does offer another mode of play to distract you for a bit while you let the anger inside you dissipate.  The mini-game “Mayhem” is not only fun, it comes close to overshadowing the main game. Who would have guess that built within a dungeon crawler would be one of the better twin-stick shooters on the XBLIG service?  Mayhem has you playing as the Companion Chest in a room that quickly fills with enemies.  The goal is ultimately to get as high of a score as possible in only three minutes, but the “gimmick” is that your score multiplier only goes up if you don’t get hit.  It is, simply put; a blast and you will strive to reach higher and higher on the leaderboard (I managed to take first place for an evening).  The one downside to this mode is that quite often it seemed I was “being hit’ when there was no conceivable way that I actually was (unless the game punishes you for standing still).  I was clearly not near any enemies (or crates) yet felt my controller vibrate like I was hit and saw that my multiplier had gone down as well.  I’m assuming there was a reason for it that I just didn’t realize, but for the life of me I don’t know what it was.

Back to the main game, there is one other… issue that soured Diehard Dungeon’s experience.  Despite playing through the game well (well? I kicked ass) and killing everything in sight and breaking every crate open, I still made it to what I presume is the end of the game without enough golden keys to open the giant chest at the end; so I died and lost anyway.  Looking at the developer’s website, “gold key rarity” is something that is planned to be patched in an updating coming any day now, so this is hopefully a non-issue going forward but it was incredibly frustrating to have gotten to the end and still lost because the game simply didn’t generate enough of a crucial item.

Death resetting everything is rough, but it is part of the game and what makes it work (even if you kind of hate it in the moment).  A lack of a crucial item that makes an otherwise successful run a waste of time though is very, very close to being a deal breaker. Luckily for Diehard Dungeon, it was fun getting to that point and the mini-game Mayhem compensates for this oversight.  Hopefully the patch will fix it, along with a lot of other changes coming soon as the patch is approved, but it is enough to take a great game and knock it down from where it should be; for now anyway.

Final Rating: 8/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On
: XBLIG
Time to completion: A dungeon run takes about an hour.
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Copy furnished by TrickTale
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Can’t go lower.
Why you should buy it: Awesome dungeon crawler with an incredibly fun twin-stick mini-game included!
Why you shouldn’t buy it: It is possible to “do everything right” and still not win the game; currently anyway.

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About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.