Click to enlarge the images in this review. You’ll need it.
I’ve reviewed a few indie games on this site that try to combine roguelike risk-reward gameplay with another genre for maximum indie game appeal. Coin Crypt tried to be an amped-up deck-building game with permadeath, Magicite tried to be an amped-up crafting game with permadeath, but few songs are sung for the indies that try to be a genuinely good roguelike. This is where Dungeonmans comes in.
Dungeonmans is, first and foremost, a roguelike. This means permadeath, random/procedural generation, and unidentified potions galore. This also means hjklyubn controls are not only available and functional, but faster than any other input. Everything you’ll ever have to do in Dungeonmans is somewhere on the keyboard. You’ll never be forced to reach for your mouse like some kind of infidel, and that pesky mouse cursor disappears the moment you start keyboarding.
The character creation involves naming your character, picking one of several sets of rolled stats, a class, and a sprite. The classes make the predictable range from warrior to wizard to archer, but include some interesting and fairly unique ones too. The Bannermans, for example, can plant flags to grant boons to the player if they’re in the area. The Southern Gentlemans has an extra pool of a mana-like resource called Ire, which is accumulated through dealing and taking damage. The twist is that it depletes in real-time, where the rest of the game takes place in turns, encouraging an extremely active playstyle.
If you’re starting a new save, you’ll also be asked to generate a new Academy. This is Dungeonmans’ selling point: a randomly-generated yet persistent overworld of dungeons for your successive characters to explore and loot. The premise of Dungeonmans is that in the middle of a word full of hostile crypts and lairs an academy for heroes has been established, and each new character you create on a save is a graduate of this academy.
As you progress through a character’s lifespan and perform various feats, you’ll be able to upgrade the various rooms of the academy to provide future characters with greater power. Upgrading the library allows heroes to start the game with more scrolls pre-identified, upgrading the alchemy lab boosts potion identification, and so on.
Dungeonmans also provides the answer to everyone who asked “When are games going to start using Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system?”. When an enemy kills you, they become the leader of their dungeon, and whoever kills you in there after that is one of their minions. You’ll get some text upon entrance to their lair informing you of the academy’s history with the villain. The “bonds” you form with these promoted monsters is tangible, and I felt a genuine sense of vengeance, then great accomplishment once I finally put them down. As you can see in the picture above, things got pretty dire for the sbb lineage.
The persistent overworld is scattered with various straightfoward cave/dungeon areas, but also various “battles”, which are linear hallways of excitement, packed with bomb-throwing soldiers behind defenses. There are also towns containing shops and taverns, which can be upgraded to sell better loot with Purloined Inventory dropped from challenging monsters. Each Purloined Inventory increases a towns Prosperity by one point and the death of a character results in a loss of one Prosperity in all towns.
This combination of Rogue Legacy and Mordor-esque systems goes an extremely long way to separate Dungeonmans from most of its competition. Your character’s ancestors constantly being in the back of your mind isn’t something I’ve experienced in a game before, and while there’s probably some roguelike out there that’s done it before, Dungeonmans executes it perfectly.
The game is very pretty. The sprites are all incredibly detailed and stylish and I especially like the player sprites, even though I do find it somewhat lamentable that equipment doesn’t show up on them. This is more a decision of aesthetic so I can’t exactly hold it against the game, especially when the player sprites are as delightful as they are. Enemy designs are clear and differentiated. It’s never hard to tell at a glance what an enemy is, how they’ll attack you, and how they’re going to react to your next move.
The menus are easy to use and understand visually, and I feel the need to say again: fully keyboard controllable. There are these weird issues though. They’re not exactly a big deal, but I do wonder what they’re doing there.
Dungeonmans fails to really register with me in any way audio-wise, which is fine since if I’m playing a roguelike I’m probably listening or watching something else at the same time. The music is orchestral fantasy stuff, the sound effects are things hitting each other. None of it is memorable either way.
The game’s personality is decidedly lighthearted, but not to the point of excess. It isn’t above an internet reference here and there, but it never reaches Borderlands 2 levels of madness and isn’t ever annoying. It’s more merely quirky than anything else. Instances of actually reading text besides straight information is sparing, anyway, as there’s predictably vast stretches of gameplay where you’re exploring a dungeon, not talking to people in town. At the very least, Dungeonmans’ attitude fares better than if it had been played straight fantasy.
Dungeonmans is not only a thrilling roguelike. It’s an accessible and inventive role-playing game. This game has clearly been designed by someone who cares for and appreciates the genre, and wants to push things forward, not just cash in on a trend. The $15 you spend on this game will buy you one of the best modern roguelikes, period.
Ethics disclosure: The reviewer was provided a review code from the developer.
Dungeonmans is available for purchase on Steam.