Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre.]

Every year, the halls of the Usenet group rec.games.roguelike.development play host to a strange event.

They begin, each of the participants of this bizarre rite, to write roguelike games, in whatever language they choose and for whatever platform. 168 hours later, one week of development time, they call an end to their efforts and post it to the group. The only requirement is that, by the end of that time, the game be playable by some basic definition of the term. Some continue to work on it beyond the week, and some pick a different week, but by the rules of the challenge they must have something playable to show for their efforts by the end of the seventh day.

The participants of NaNoWriMo ("National Novel Writing Month") have long known that, when a person is forced to create something within a limited period of time, sometimes amazing things happen. And likewise, the participants in the 7DRL, or "7-Day Rogue Like" challenge, sometimes look at their monitors at the end of the development period and find that they've created something unique and awesome.

According to the Roguebasin report page, around 45 people participated in the challenge this year during the main challenge period, and 25 were successful.

Over the next three columns, we will take a look, as far as we are able, at all 25 of these games. In this column we examine nine games: DungeonMinder, Epic! Monster Quest: Hyper, Underbooks, Excitable Digger, Decimation, DDRogue, Fortress of the Goblin King, Fruits of the Forest and chickhack.

dungeonminder.png1. DungeonMinder
Written by Adam Gatt in C++ for Windows and Linux
Homepage: http://code.google.com/p/dungeonminder/
Other opinions: Cymon's Games, Indie Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

This game is not real-time, it is presented in simulated ASCII, and it has no experience or inventory system. It is a short game that starts easy but gets much harder, but is fair.

The reviewed version differs from the challenge version; it has been debugged.

Premise: A foolhardy hero descends into the depths of the earth in search of treasure and adventure. But the player doesn't play as him....

In a different gaming kingdom from the one in which we usually tread, there is a popular game called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In it, a green-suited elf kid roams through dungeons, trying to save his land from evil. A lot of people love the game, but there is one aspect for which there is nearly universal hate. It's the character of Navi, a small, floating ball of winged light whose follows him around, and occasionally reminds the player of his next objective. The game world is large and open, and there are many things to do for fun there, so the game's designers put Navi in the game to ensure the player never forgets what must be done to continue the quest.

While nearly everyone loves the game, a similar proportion of those hate Navi, who demands the player's attention with a sharp "Hey!" or "Listen!" Myself, I never found her demands to be too ornerous, as the player never has to hit the button to read her hint at all, but I seem to be in the minority here.

Well, Adam Gatt seems to be wondering about all the hate himself, for he wrote a 7DRL in which the player basically plays as Navi, shepherding a moronic hero through a treacherous dungeon. The computer controls the hero, and he (represented by the traditional roguelike "@" symbol) moves by simple, predictable rules: he always takes the shortest route to the two treasure chests on the level, then travels to the staircase to the next level. If any monsters enter his field of vision (represented on-screen by a yellow glow), he'll run and attack them.

The player, in the role of his fairy guardian, doesn't help by giving advice, but instead by casting various magic spells to help his progress. If he takes damage, the fairy can heal him--since the hero does not heal naturally, this is one of her most important functions. If there's a trap in the way, she can clear it. Monsters can be put to sleep so they can't hit back, or made to attack each other. Some of the spells serve to protect the hero from himself; one causes him to temporarily not kill monsters he sees, another produces a cloud of sight-blocking fog that keeps him ignorant of monsters on the other side.

The magic available is divided into three pools, with three spells devoted to each. This helps keep the player's options open, especially since the heal spell uses up one of the pool's entire magic supply. Since the fairy is invisible to the monsters and can travel anywhere without danger, she's tethered to the hero by the need to stay close in order to regain magic. The player's effectiveness while distant, thus, is limited by the amount of magic remaining in the fairy's pools.

I'd be remiss if I didn't note that this is a fairly difficult game. Its author says that he's come close to winning it but has yet to, which to me indicates that it should perhaps be just a tiny bit easier. But then, high difficulty is just as much a roguelike tradition as the @ symbol, and the game's difficulty is quite fair overall.

Finally, although it has no game effect, there is a key that does nothing more than cause the fairy to yell out "Hey!" or "Listen!" Which is fitting, because after working so hard to save the clueless hero from so many dangers, this game makes it clear, at last, just why Navi shouted at Link so often: it could only be due to spite.

Verdict: An excellent and unique game, the 'DoomRL' of this year's challenge. Deserves continued effort and a full release.


emqh.png2. Epic! Monster Quest: Hyper
Written by sinoth and buub0nik in C++ for Windows and Linux, depicted in simulated ASCII.
Homepage: http://sinoth.net/blog/p/epic-monster-quest-hyper/
Another opinion: Cymon's Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

This game is real-time, it is presented in simulated ASCII, it has no experience system, but it does have a basic kind of inventory. It is a moderately-long game (about an hour or two) that is difficult at first, but gets much easier.

The version reviewed is a later release from the one developed during the 7DRL challenge. This one has bug fixes and resolved balance issues.

This game didn't seem to get much discussion on rec.games.roguelike.development, and Cymon (see link above) didn't like it either. The documentation doesn't help much regarding how to play and figuring out what is the goal. Which is a shame, because although it's hard to learn to play, once the player figures out the basic controls the game can be quite entertaining.

The first thing you should know is that, although it looks a bit like a roguelike, it's actually closer to a real-time strategy game. The game proceeds in real-time, the player can have multiple units, units are controlled with a point-and-click interface, and they fight automatically. They even can be divvied up into squads and given patrol points, although these functions are nearly useless in the game as it stands.

The object, it turns out, is to defeat the seven "bosses" scattered around the large game world. The player begins with the ability to control only one character, dubbed the hero. Although he can hire other mercenary characters, the hero has more hit points than the others. However, while dead mercenaries can be replaced by hiring new ones, if the hero dies the game is over. This is a strong argument for, as soon as the player can afford a mercenary, of leaving the hero in town the whole rest of the game, for other than his hit point bonus there is little reason to take him into danger.

The first thing the hero, and every new mercenary hired, should do is go stand on the "@" in the lower-right corner of town then click on one of the tiles surrounding that spot. This opens up the equipment interface. By picking from weapon and armor types (all characters begin with all options), you can change his class this way, giving him more hit points and attacking strength as well as a couple of "special abilities." The abilities are less useful, but the additional hits and power are essential.

To fight monsters, simply wander out of town (by clicking on the hero then clicking on a spot out of town) and look for monsters. If one enters line of sight, it'll wander up and it and the hero will automatically trade blows. Once the monster is defeated the player will automatically collect its gold. To restore hit points, send him to the fountain in town and wait. It's important not to get overwhelmed by too many opponents, for monsters are extremely difficult to shake once they've gotten sight of the player. So long as you're careful with which monsters you wake up, it's not really too difficult. Be prepared to lose a couple of games early on though.

There are shops in town that can be used to upgrade weapons and armor, and also hire mercenaries. These upgrades affect all your characters at once, immediately. However, before something can be upgraded, the player must upgrade the shop itself by paying it a lot of money. Shop upgrades increase the maximum by which the other things can be upgraded. Ultimately, this all resolves down into being a money sink, but at least money isn't incredibly rare in this game.

Once nice touch here is the variety of terrain. For ASCII, it's quite nice to look at, with finely-shaded character cells used to represent different types of ground. Most of it is just a graphical effect, but when a boss is killed the land around the boss will, over about a minute of time, revert to normal ground from what its type was before, a cool effect.

The game seems very difficult at first, but it turns out most of that difficulty is just up front. Once the player has two or three mercenaries hired and suitably equipped and upgraded, the game becomes much easier provided simply that the player is prudent with healing and continues to upgrade and hire as the funds become available. My advice, by the way, is to stick entirely with strong fighter types like Vikings and Paladins for characters; most of the special abilities classes gets are much too micro-management-y to use in a real-time game. Vikings are very strong fighters, and Paladins can heal as well as hit hard.

Verdict: With some more effort this could be a real gem. The developers might want to focus more on the game's real-time strategy elements, and allow characters to use their special abilities automatically.


underbooks.png3. Underbooks
Written by Christopher Brandt in C++ for Windows and Linux.
Homepage: http://code.google.com/p/underbooks-roguelike/
Another opinion: Cymon's Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

This game is real-time, it is presented in simulated ASCII, it has an experience system, and it has a developed inventory but no scrambled items. It is a moderately long game (maybe an hour and a half) that is difficult at first, but gets much easier.

The reviewed version is not the version from the challenge, it is a bug-and-balance-fix release.

First off, it came out in the rec.games.roguelike.development thread that the game is based on the world of Zamoria, a series of books created by German cartoonist Walter Moers. This may explain some of the game's weirdnesses, such as its play of selling books to a "lizard."

The idea of this game is refreshingly mercenary; the goal is to obtain 60,000 gold pieces in order to buy back the hero's father's library. Killing monsters provides a little money, but the most cash is earned by finding books in the dungeon then taking them to the surface to sell to the Lizard. There are two types of these books, those that are worth a paltry 50 gold pieces, and those on the "golden list," that are worth 2,000. It's not possible to tell them apart before picking them up, and once collected they cannot be dropped, so there is a heavy chance element in finding them. Deeper in the dungeon, however, the chances of finding a list book is greater.

Upon first entering the dungeon the player is nearly always swarmed by nasties; fortunately, he begins with a "firefly scroll," which creates a ball of fire that'll kill most attackers within a small radius. If the player is lucky, this'll be enough to gain an experience level or two right off the bat. Take not, he gains no advantage from levels until points have been assigned, so hit the "+" key to assign them. (The best stats to improve are probably attack strength, defense and attack speed. The author advises, in the r.c.r.d thread, not to improve magic ability, as it is not yet implemented.)

While no equipment is found in the dungeon, they can be purchased in the shop on the surface level. Some equipment provides quite extensive skill boosts, so it's worth buying it when possible. There is only one kind of potion at the moment (healing) and one kind of scroll (firefly), but they are at least useful. Especially healing, as the automatic healing in the game is infuriatingly slow.

The same monsters appear throughout the quest, and while they do seem to get a little stronger on deeper levels the effect is somewhat subtle, so the game is most definitely hardest at the start. Eventually survival becomes nearly guaranteed, especially since experience gain is rapid, and it's not long before the game becomes a matter of endurance until the 60,000 gold is acquired.

Verdict: The game looks great, and the real-time play is exciting. If the difficulty were better balanced, magic were implemented, the monsters more varied, and findable loot made into a bigger part of the game, this could be quite good. Worth continued effort.


excitabledigger.png4. Excitible Digger
Written by deej in Java.
Homepage: http://excitaabledigger.blogspot.com/
Another opinion: Cymon's Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

This game is not real-time, it is presented in console ASCII, it has an experience system, but it has no real inventory. It is a short game (ten to twenty minutes) that starts off easy but gets harder, somewhat unfairly.

The reviewed version is not the version from the challenge, it is a bug-and-balance-fix release. There is a later version after the version I played, in addition, so it's possible that some of the issues I mention have been fixed.

What features are needed to have a playable roguelike? The most interesting thing about Excitable Digger is that it has no monsters, and is yet still an interesting game.

The player is put down into a field of rock. He digs by walking into rock, in a similar method to attacking monsters in some other game. Usually digging rock costs some energy, with different kinds costing different amounts. Running out of energy results in the character's demise.

Some rock, when dug, randomly provides the player with a valuable chunk of stone, or even a gem. If the player can amass 100 points of wealth in this way, he can buy some medicine that restores 100 energy. So then, the basic strategy is to take in more wealth than is lost in energy, and continue doing that to amass a high score. Helping in this is that as the player digs his skill as a miner improves, which ultimately reduces the energy expended by digging. (Some of the easiest rock to dig can even become free, eventually.) Later on he'll also be able to sense rock outside of direct line-of-sight. But as time passes he starts losing energy through plain movement.

One thing about the game that needs describing is that, although this is undocumented, it's possible to dig up and down with the < and > keys, and also to move in those directions with them. But digging around on levels below the surface is dangerous, for if the player digs out too great an area the mine will collapse around him, killing him instantly. This is an interesting design decision, but it is harmed by the fact that the player is given no clue in how much is too much. It's a binary thing: the mine is perfectly safe right up the moment it's deadly. The instructions are no help in figuring out the best way to handle it.

One thing to look out for: in some games, it's possible for some types of generated rock to look, on-screen, identical to other types, even if it takes much more energy to dig them. It's not such a huge problem if you're aware of it. So be aware!

Verdict: This is just about as interesting as a monsterless roguelike could be expected to be, which turns out to be surprisingly interesting. A keeper.


decimation.png#5: Decimation
Written by Ed Kolis in C# for Windows. (It may also work in Mono.)
Homepage: http://cymonsgames.retroremakes.com/2009-7drl-decimation/
Another opinion: Cymon's Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

This game is not real-time, it is presented in ASCII, and it has no experience system or inventory. It is a very short game (five minutes, tops) that starts off very hard and gets slightly easier, and sometimes starts off a bit unfair.

Here's another gonzo premise. The player is the number zero, placed in a small gameboard filled with other numbers, which are your opposition. There are no walls or rooms on the board. The only thing keeping the digits from sauntering over and beating you up is their sight range. All the controls fit on the number pad

Your foes are one digit each from 1 to 9. Their attributes all tie directly to their value; smaller numbers move more often, but do less damage per hit. The zero is the slowest one of all (effectively a ten in terms of speed). A digit, when it hits, does damage equal to xdx where x is the digit's value. That is to say, the 9 does the sum of nine nine-sided dice in damage. The 1 does 1d1, or a single point of damage, but since it's so fast it will usually do about ten points of damage per turn. Also, each digit's range of vision is equal to its value, so the 9 can see across half the playfield, but the 1 only sees adjacent digits.

The player's zero does damage differently from the others. The number just hit him, but the zero has to use one of four attacks, each one of the arithmetic symbols on the number pad. The + adds three to all adjacent digits (adjusting its properties accordingly), the - subtracts one, the asterisk squares adjacent numbers, and the slash divides them by two, rounding up. The object is to get those digits down to 0, which removes them from the board and grants the player a good health boost in compensation.

The divide and subtract functions get used the most, but the plus and multiply have interesting strategic potential against the 7 and 9, respectively. There may also be benefit in noting carefully when digits are getting their extra turns, and then boosting their values specifically to slow them down enough to reduce their turns against him, although it should be noted that nines are potentially powerful enough that this is a dangerous tactic. The player doesn't get to decide which adjacent digits his attacks work on, they operate on all of them at once, so there is reason to do a kind of cost/benefit analysis for which attack to use when surrounded.

There are sometimes situations where the zero begins swamped with opponents, and in that case there's not much he can do but take it, but the game plays so quickly that this isn't the problem it is in some roguelikes, those games where the player can spend minutes making a character, then going out and engaging in the mandatory preparation actions only to get killed by the first real monster he meets. This is one of the reasons 7DRL games are sometimes better than big-project roguelikes that have been worked on for years; sometimes, those games have added so many features that just starting them becomes an investment of time, yet are just as willing as a quick-play to throw it all away. Even the least-polished of randomized 7DRL games is not prey to that particular flow.

Verdict: A delightful little math game, over in minutes but still interesting and challenging after repeated play. A good example of all the primary graces of good 7DRL games.


ddrogue.png#6: DDRogue
Written by flend, probably in C#, for .Net on Windows. A version exists that should work in Mono on other platforms.
Download link: http://urchin.earth.li/~tomford/random/ddrogue.zip
Another opinion: Cymon's Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

This game is not real-time, it is presented in ASCII, and it has a collection-based experience system. It has an inventory, and also has some scrambled items. It is a short game (maybe around an hour) that starts off easy but gets harder fairly quickly. It seems to be fair on the easiest difficulty.

One of the hazards of reviewing roguelike games are those cases where you turn out to just not "get it." It's a genre that makes virtues out of things most other games abandoned long ago, such as ASCII graphics and punishing difficulty. There are other things they do differently too, and if I'm not receptive in detecting and making note of them, and accurately judging their effects on gameplay, then I look like a fool to people who have done so and find those features to actually be good additions.

DDRogue is a difficult game for me to review because I have yet to make very effective use of the "special moves" available in the game against opponents. To explain: while exploring the game's mostly-traditional dungeon, the player's amnesiac character will occasionally encounter items he left behind before he lost his memory. Obtaining them causes some memory to return (in a text splurge that I found, frankly, annoying), but also grant some advantage or ability.

One common type of gained ability is a "special move," of the sort found in fighting games. But this is a roguelike, and entering a sequence of directions causes the character to waltz around the dungeon, and sometimes to result in moves going off accidentally.

I picked up a few special moves on my attempts at the game, but some of them I couldn't get to activate consistently. One of those simply required the player to just walk in a straight line before attacking an opponent. Are the precise directions shown in the little "cut scene" demonstrating the move important, or can they flip or rotate according to the situation? Do are counter-clockwise movements considered different than clockwise ones? I'm left puzzled by exactly how to play this game.

(Note: Since writing that I've given the game another try, and have been better able to activate special moves. They could still stand to be better documented, though.)

In other areas, the monsters are generally well-differentiated, and this is one of the few 7DRLs to bother to include a scrambled inventory type, potions. The lack of an experience system, however, is a bit trying for an otherwise-traditional crawl like this one. The items of equipment the player finds on the ground are not random at all, it appears, but always generated and always provide essential abilities and skills. The result is that game advancement, despite the other randomization features, is fairly static between plays. That ties in with the story-progression theme of the game, but then, readers of this column probably already know I have a bias against that kind of thing.

Verdict: Not a bad game really, and certainly ambitious, but needs to be better documented. Especially special moves, which I'm not often sure if I performed them it or not. Maybe if there were some graphic flash associated with activating one, other than just a message? Perhaps colored asterisk-sparks? I like the idea of movement-activated special moves a lot, since it gives the player combat options other than just walking into enemies. I could see this one becoming popular with just a little more attention to special moves. I'd also suggest adding more loot and a real experience system, but I say that about everything.


fotgk.png#7: Fortress of the Goblin King
Written by Florian Diebold in Java.
Homepage: https://launchpad.net/fotgk-7drl/trunk/1.0.1
Another opinion: Cymon's Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

This game is not real-time, it is presented in ASCII, and it has a milestone-based experience system. It has a limited inventory, but has no scrambled items. It is a short game (maybe around an hour) that starts off very hard and gets harder. Often, it seems to be unfair at the start of levels.

The version reviewed here is a bugfix edition released after the 7DRL challenge ended.

This is another traditional dungeon crawl, but with a few interesting tweaks. The player, overall, is ridiculously underpowered here. He can take out a few monsters, provided the dice roll his way, but he's just as likely to get killed early. He starts with three hit points, and doesn't seem able to gain more or heal. The player seems to rarely find better equipment from killing monsters, and none is generated on the floor. In order to survive, he must take the lessons of Rogue's endgame to heart, and run from everything; this is a game based around stealth. If the player is surrounded by darkness it's not a bad thing; instead, he's as safe as he can be, for monsters aren't able to see in the dark any better than him.

Since the player almost never finds better loot lying around, and character advancement is solely based on dungeon levels reached (the player is allowed in improve a stat on the stairs down), the game is more dependent than usual on the dungeon generation. If the player finds stairs down early in exploring a level, here he's advised to take them instead of explore the rest of the level, taking his only source of real advantage and conserving his hit points for later challenges.

Yet, for a game in which sneaking around is so important, the game is woefully likely to start him on a level surrounded by monsters in a well-lit space, making survival nearly impossible. Later levels even add archers into the mix; if you think getting swamped by goblins without escape is annoying at first, wait until it happens while you're also getting peppered with arrows. There's little the player can do here except fire back if he's found his own bow and arrows, or run for the shadows.

Because of the important of staying out of sight, this is one game in which the dungeon generation certainly does not feel like just an anonymous space the exploring of which bears no consequences. (I think I'll call this "Diablo syndrome," although truthfully that game has more illnesses than just that one.) I really, really like this about the game, and hope the developer continues to work on and refine this aspect, as I think it has a lot to teach both players and developers.

Verdict: Roguelikes are much more receptive to stealth gameplay than other styles of computer game, and I'm kind of surprised we haven't seen more of them. Yet the random generator of this game seems to exult in starting the player off in impossible situations, all but ruining the run. With some more work on the generator and general balance, this game could be great.


fruitsoftheforest.png#8: Fruits of the Forest
Written by Ido Yehieli in Java.
Homepage: http://yehieli.info/fotf/
Another opinion: Cymon's Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

This game is not real-time, it is presented in simulated ASCII, and it has no experience system. For practical purposes, it has no inventory. It is a very short game (maybe half an hour) that starts off very hard and gets even harder. Often, it seems to be very unfair at the start of the game.

If you thought Fortress of the Goblin King could put the player into unfair situations, well, this one has it beat easily.

The object is to feed all the villagers food berries, while surviving attacks from the horde of bandits that wander around just outside the village lane. To feed a villager, the player must find five food-type berries in the bushes around the village and then walk into a yellow villager. The player can only carry five of these berries at a time, so a lot of walking around is required.

The only way to regain hitpoints, similarly, is by eating a healberry, which are also scattered around. Finding a couple of healberries before the bandits can get too many hits in is an essential step towards a successful run of the game. Complicating this is the fact that bandits are very persistent pursuers, and will relentlessly track the player down the moment they first catch sight of him. The ability of the player to get a good start is directly dependent on how many healberries he can collect without leaving cover, and sometimes there's just not much the player can scavenge before the horde descends upon him. While this is certainly unfair, the playability of the game is helped considerably by the ease of starting a new game; almost like Decimation, the game is quick enough that a bad start can be remedied just by starting over.

One very interesting strategic element of the game is that all movement and attacks are orthogonal, that is, straight north/south/east/west. Nothing in the game can move or hit diagonally. Furthermore, there is no "rest" key; unless the player has a means at hand for wasting a turn (such as: walking into a villager, attacking a bandit, eating a healberry) he must move to advance the game clock. Bandits also always move unless they're able to attack the player. The result is interesting: bandits with an odd number of spaces between them and the player, measured in a Cartesian sense, will always eventually get the first hit in battle, because they'll never have the opportunity to move adjacent to him before the player must. Since the health of the player and bandits are both so limited, and attackers (either the player or bandits) always hit, this makes those few means of wasting a turn of surprising strategic importance. I'd like to think that the author did this on purpose. While it may not be realistic, the game's premise is a little absurd anyway. It does much to make Fruits Of The Forest seem different from other roguelikes, which admittedly, do tend to feature fairly similar gameplay.

Verdict: The tactical combat, considering that it makes it unable to move or fight diagonally, is quite deep. A nicely self-contained little game, it's fun to play yet very challenging.


chickhack.png#9: chickhack
Written by purpleflayer in 6510 machine code for the Commodore 64 computer.
Homepage: http://code.google.com/p/chickhack/
Another opinion: Cymon's Games
Victory post: rec.games.roguelike.development

The version reviewed seems not to be the most recent version; some bugs have been fixed since.

This game is not real-time, it is presented in Commodore 64 symbol characters ("PETASCII")., and it has a collection-based experience system. It has a limited form of inventory, but provides no scrambled item types. It is a medium-length game (maybe forty-five minutes) that starts off easy and gets a little harder. Generally, it is fair.

Originally planned to be kind of a joke, chickhack is a new Commodore 64 computer game created as a 7DRL project. Implemented in 6510 machine code, on the simulated floppy it's started with a BASIC program consisting of a single SYS statement, just like the old days. How professional! On top of it all, the game is one of the more full-featured games presented in this year's challenge: some monsters drop items upon killing them, chickadees are capable of throwing things at the player, and it's possible for multiple objects to rest on a single spot, a feature missing from some early Unix roguelikes, including Rogue itself.

The player takes the role of a young chicken on a quest to retrieve the Seed of Life. Along the way he fights animal monsters, finds better equipment ("bootees of waterwalking"), throws sharp twigs at foes as if they were arrows and even avails himself of wind magic gained by collecting flowers. It's really quite a charming little game; just when you think it's going to be a little too cutesy, your chick is set upon by a panther or a hawk, and the tooth-and-claw combat of the game comes to the fore.

One thing about the game is that equipment upgrading is all handled automatically. If you find a better "beak," then it'll replace the current one. If the beak you find is the same or worse than your current one, however, the game will tell you and refuse to pick it up. All of the equipment in the game is handled like this. In cases where a piece of equipment might be partly depleted and the player finds a fuller, but weaker, version, it'll automatically grant the player the best of both worlds: he'll keep the stronger equipment, but it'll be replenished with the durability/charges from the weaker one. It's a nice concession to grant the player, although it does reduce the strategy a bit.

This is another game without straight experience growth; instead, the player gains additional hit points (and maybe strength too, but it's hard to say) from finding "Phoenix Tokens" scattered around the game. These seem to be random items, so at least the game remains more varied than, say, DDRogue, with its non-random item-based advancement. Although there's no levels, the player does earn points for defeating monsters.

For all that it does well, the game is not quite perfect. The limited variety of objects to find means that, other than Phoenix Tokens, he'll probably have no need to collect more items by halfway down the 10-level dungeon, and once at the bottom there's still a Rogue-ish climb back to the surface to go through. If there were more items to choose from, or more variety in equipment-provided benefits, it'd help player decisions to remain more relevant throughout the full extent of the game.

One thing that needs to be said is that the game is really quite slow, almost unplayably so, if played at a Commodore 64's default speed. In VICE, the best way to play it is probably to switch to Warp Mode, since the game doesn't repeat held keys and all messages prompt for the player to enter a space to clear them anyway.

Verdict: Worth the download of an emulator to play. Worthy of continued development... provided the C64 has enough memory space to allow for play additions. (Being an old Commodore programmer myself, I suspect they can be squeezed in....)


Pixel Journeys is taking a break next month in favor of an extra @Play. In two weeks we'll review another eight games, and then the final eight towards the end of April, by which time I expect I'll be sick of the whole thing until next year's challenge. See you soon!

(EDIT: Explained "NaNoWriMo" in introduction.)