Dicey Dungeons, the tableau-building roguelike from Terry Cavanagh, has made the jump to Nintendo Switch. Is it a great time to check it out? How does the port fare? Let’s roll!
One at a time, a series of characters are transformed into dice with different skills and transported into a dungeon. It’s sort of like a game show? You’ll fight through different floors, picking up equipment and such along the way to build your capabilities and fight the final boss.
You play the game by, well, rolling dice. Your “equipment” and “abilities” are activated by placing dice on them of certain values. You may place a 5 on your sword to deal five damage. Or maybe you place an odd-numbered die on your shield to give you three points of armor. The game’s items explore this possibility space well, so if there’s a thing you want to do with dice, chances are you’ll get an opportunity.
Two things I’ve learned about Terry Cavanagh: the Dicey Dungeons developer knows how to find a near-magical core of fun around which to build a game, and prefers to leave that core largely unadorned. By delivering something simple and straightforward, there’s a lot more time and attention devoted to refining it.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot to enjoy! But at any given time, you’re presented with a small subset of options. It makes playing a game like this manageable and approachable, while some of its peers can be intimidating in scope and possibility. Are there a lot of potential effects? Sure. But in any given battle, you have your four or five options and the opponent has a themed slate of their own. Most often, it’s about building and learning to optimize your own engine.
Every number counts
Three-digit numbers are not in Dicey Dungeons‘ vocabulary, and that’s intentional. Much like what worked so well in the early Paper Mario games, it keeps the variables so low that each single digit counts. Each gold coin. Each experience point. We’ve seen so many “look at all the huge numbers” games lately that make it tough to know what really matters, so this attention and care is a welcome sight.
It also means it’s a lot easier to calculate the value of a risk. Should you head to that optional battle? Those two or three experience points don’t get lost in the shuffle: they’re an extra roll or a full HP restore. Structuring the game with no backtracking or healing item inventory also helps with that. Should you eat an apple? It’s a lot easier to figure out.
Great aesthetic, great writing
Four menu options and a movement grid shouldn’t look like one of the coolest games we’ve played this year. It does. Dicey Dungeons displays what’s important as clearly as possible, and invests in making those things look slick and simple. Limited detail lets the personality show through these few elements. Enemy design communicates what they’ll be throwing at you before you even start the battle.
The writing’s also stellar. Which is weird for a game like this? But in those few lines of text and ability names, it conveys so much quirk and heart. Sometimes, entire enemy designs are about wordplay. It doesn’t come at the expense of gameplay, either! They’re balanced and interesting, and also they make you chuckle.
How it fits on Switch
Five or so inches of screen space? It’s not enough for a lot of games, but the proportions of Dicey Dungeons seem built for it. The visuals and gameplay feel comfortable in the form factor, while not going so far as to feel like a blown-up mobile game.
It’s also easy to pick up and put down. Even in the middle of combat, you’re not too tied up to take a break or chat for a minute. This works great if you’re playing while watching something, or if you’re filling a few minutes here and there.
Dicey Dungeons is really very good
Six dice and six episodes each later, Dicey Dungeons earns its place in your library. It really does end in a way that its roguelike peers are hesitant to do, but by the time you get there, you’ll have dozens of hours of fun. Challenging fun, for sure, as the difficulty ramps up, but often you’re not so discouraged. After all: Lady Luck just isn’t always on your side.