Dicey Dungeons Review (Switch)
Release Date: December 15, 2020
File Size: 1.0 GB
Publisher: Distractionware Limited
Developer: Distractionware Limited
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
If there’s one element of tabletop game combat that truly ramps up the tension and unpredictability, it’s the randomization that comes with dice rolls. Even when a player botches a roll, however, they are often able to make up for it with equipment and stat modifiers- a saving grace of the rules of many tabletop games. Taking this idea and- I’d ask you to pardon the pun, but I’m absolutely shameless- rolling with it, Dicey Dungeons offers a tightly-designed experience that is less roguelike and more puzzle-oriented. But it is the wrapping paper comprised of aesthetics and charm that makes this title a true gift. Read on and find out why this is the case!
Dicey Dungeons has players entering into the game show of the same name, run by the titular Lady Luck, who tasks them with descending a series of dungeon floors and defeating a powerful boss in order to get a chance at SPINNING. THE. WHEEL! for your prize. Dungeons are littered with enemies, treasure chests, shops, and events that will heavily influence the outcome of your run, largely because your dice roll can’t do much without a few added pieces of equipment. You’ll encounter a dungeon map, which often looks like a tree of branching paths, featuring icons for enemies that will impede your advance to other squares, as well as occasional healing items that you can save to use in between encounters, if you can access them.
Battles are turn-based, with the player always having the chance to roll first. Your six-sided dice will roll a set of random numbers that can be applied to the equipment you are currently carrying, which can then perform a particular function. Essentially, dice numbers are like mana, but some equipment requires a very specific number, or even a number higher than a standard six-sided dice can perform. Luckily, you can apply two of your dice to equipment with the latter function and utilize other sorts of abilities in order to play more carefully around the former. Some equipment can add a specific amount atop a die number, turning your useless three into a powerful four, or split your single die in two, with the resulting dice being a random combination of numbers that equaled the original. Other equipment can be a bit more lenient with its requirements, such as requiring a three or higher, or exclusively even or odd rolls in order to operate. There are even some pieces of equipment that will take your die number and deal that much damage to an enemy, or add even more power atop it.
Make no mistake, however, a single die can only be used on a piece of equipment once, so even if you have a piece of equipment that can attack three times in one turn, you might not have the resources- or even the right rolls on those resources- to utilize that equipment to its fullest. This is why you’ll want to load up on equipment as soon as possible and potentially even upgrade your loadout at a blacksmith, as it can increase the power of a piece of equipment or make its requirements for casting more accessible. You have a number of slots available to you for equipment, but some abilities take up a smaller amount of space on your equipment board than others. A particularly useful or powerful ability might take up four times the amount of space as an ability that might not be as strong, but can be used multiple times in a turn. All of these examples illustrate the degree of choice and risk inherent in what you take into battle- do you want two very strong pieces of equipment that require very specific rolls to operate, or would you rather have a wide array of options that can inflict status effects, be used multiple times, or benefit a wide range of dice rolls?
Equipment can often take a cut in raw damage in order to perform a variety of traditional Role-Playing Game status effects, such as burning (dealing two damage to the opponent should they choose the inflicted die), blinding (obscuring the number on a die), and cursing (a 50% chance that an equipment will simply fail upon using a die to trigger it). There are poison, electric, and ice status effects as well, and some equipment can heal damage or apply shields- defense against the onslaught an opponent might unleash with their own attacks. However, shields present a curious dichotomy that plays into one of the additional unique elements of Dicey Dungeons’s character system- the Limit Break. Upon taking enough damage, a player can fill their Limit Break gauge and perform a free action, often a beneficial function that can turn the tide of battle. Will you mitigate damage in encounters with shields, or is your set of equipment heavily reliant on your Limit Break technique?
Of course, characters have more than just their limit break. Each one has their own starting equipment and standard level-up path maxing out at level six, but they also have unique abilities, largely dictating the level of difficulty required to complete their campaigns. The Warrior has a fairly basic re-roll skill, but The Theif steals a piece of enemy equipment every turn for his own use. The Robot must make sure he doesn’t overshoot his roulette while rolling and can get special bonuses for hitting a specific number with his collective rolls, and the Inventor converts a piece of equipment into a gadget after every battle that she can freely use each turn during the next skirmish. Hopefully by just the sound of these statements you can tell how much complexity and depth each character adds to the core gameplay loop through their selection alone.
All of this gameplay complexity might make your head spin, but it feels strangely at odds with Dicey Dungeons’s aesthetics. Take one look at a screenshot and you’ll note that these bright and bubbly character dice-based designs are simple, straightforward, and incredibly charming, depicted in a children’s story-like art style leaning heavily on bright colors and simple texture. Even Lady Luck, the antagonist of the game, grins with childlike mischief as she holds her game show mic. Similarly nonsensical and cute are the sporadic bits of flavor text you’ll hear from both Lady Luck, your playable character, enemies upon defeat, and the boss of your run. The feeling of Dicey Dungeons being a fun-loving game show is present in the art and writing, and though there’s not much of a plot due to the premise of the game, all the material that is present communicates the atmosphere perfectly.
Enemy designs are adorably weird, with neat twists on classic RPG archetypes as well as silly joke monsters. These characters occupy spaces on the dungeon map and a corner of the battle screen, but they rarely get more attention than this. It’s a shame, because there is so much to love about the art design in Dicey Dungeons, but it is consumed in short bursts during battles. The sound design has a great pop, with effects that sound cartoonish and distinct, letting the player know they’ve scored a powerful hit or if they have become the subject of an unfortunate debuff.
But the true star of the show in Dicey Dungeons is its absolutely incredible soundtrack. Composed by Chipzel, this killer OST has mellowed out exploration themes in between battles, but blends retro beeps and boops with whimsical horns and pounding bass and drum lines. The result is a game that looks adorable on the surface, but feels high octane during battle, sometimes even foreboding, when it needs to be. Since battles are turn-based and there’s plenty of time to sit back and think about your next move, you can enjoy these bopping battle themes to their fullest, but consider doing yourself a favor and either listening to supporting an amazing artist by checking out the full soundtrack here.
With a slew of unique characters to experiment with and a learning curve that is tough, but fair, Dicey Dungeons offers an extremely unique roguelike experience in the way it escalates its challenges. Rather than applying a difficulty modifier to the base experience, players can take on character-specific challenges of increasing intensity in their second and third “episodes,” or run types. The later rounds are similar in that they offer increased challenge, but the equipment available for each character in all of their runs is unique, so you are getting a very different sort of play style with each of the six atop their already-complex base attributes.
All of this culminates in a challenge where new rules are added to the base experience as you descend further into the dungeon, truly challenging your mastery of the character. Ultimately, if you get used to how these rules work with the equipment and character attributes available in each run, Dicey Dungeons does end up feeling more like a series of puzzle challenges than an RPG. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the game’s energy, and although there will always be some frustration to be had with rolling for specific numbers, the way that equipment operates allows you to play across the randomized one through sixes you’ll encounter. If you’re looking for some dangerously deep decision-making and turn-based combat mixed with addictive sights and sounds, you can’t go wrong with good old Dicey Dungeons.