Card Dungeon Review
This game has a pro and a con that I never thought I'd see go together.
Con first: Card Dungeon is one of the ugliest games I've ever seen.
Pro: It's one of the most clever, engaging, and fun Rogue-likes I've ever played.
It's the first time in a while that I have been thoroughly surprised by a game's quality, especially when it has tried so hard to scare me off with its hideous art assets. Nice try, Card Dungeon, but I know underneath it all, you're a fantastic game.
This game's concept is crazy and cool
Card Dungeon is mostly a traditional Rogue-like, in that you have a randomly generated dungeon, one-square-at-a-time turn-based movement, high-level difficulty, and permanent death. It's a time-tested formula that has been around since the original Rogue in 1980. Because of that, a lot of lesser games like the one I reviewed a few days ago just try to copy it and add nothing new. Hundreds of horrible knock-off cash-ins pollute my Steam queue every year.
That's why I'm pleased to say that Card Dungeon mixes it up in ways that makes it very compelling. If you guessed cards were somehow involved: good job, smart guy. You read the title.
Yes, the inclusion of cards is the main reason this game stands out. Everything is a card: the heath potions are cards, the enemies are cards, the character traits you select for the hero at the beginning of each run are all cards. But most fascinatingly, your attacks are all cards. You start out with a few default cards, like a quick slash that does 2 damage for a few mana points, a small healing spell, and a shocking spell that damages and stuns. You can only hold 3 of them, and they degrade with use very, very quickly. Every time you find a new card, you have to decide whether to replace one of your old cards or discard it forever. The variety of cards is humongous: you get everything from poison knives and basic sword moves to land-shark summons and spells that turn the floor into lava.
This means that your entire moveset will change potentially several times in a single floor. You start out as a sturdy paladin and a few minutes later be a warping necromancer that throws shuriken at people. If you get a loadout you really like, you're always making a gamble to keep it longer or switch out the cards again before they disappear. I've ended runs before because I ran out of all my offensive spells. Your strategies have to constantly evolve to match your new skills.
The art is really awful
The card designs are charming and humorous, each one an irreverent deconstruction dungeon-crawling tropes. I'd appreciate them a bit more if they didn't look like some middle-schooler drew them in MS Paint.
Come on guys, there are thousands of online artists out there who would kill for a chance at designing cards. Surely you could have found someone with a little bit of drawing talent? How could you make a game all about cards and junk and not have decent artwork on the damn cards? This stuff is like the ass-end of Newgrounds. If you're going to have art that sucks this hard, you should have just gone all the way and let some kindergarteners doodle some cards for you. That would have been cute and funny. This is just bad.
But Yea, the music was glorious
And then I heard the music, and I stopped caring about the crappy art.
Truly, I am dumbfounded at this studio's sense of priority. For the art design, they hire somebody who can barely art. For music they hire Ian Dorsch, award-winning composer behind Gears of War 3, Escapist magazine, and Zero Punctuation among many others. Boggles my mind. Ian must have owed a life debt to somebody on the team, because how the hell else does this kind of thing happen?
But somehow, the sound of epic choirs and wailing guitars calms my rage and makes me love every second of this dungeon-crawling mess. It's a music for singing the songs of mighty heroes, for upholding good and smiting evil. It's freaking badass. Bethesda oughtta call this guy to do the music for the next Elder Scrolls game. Holy schnikes.
Hell, everything's good
Aside from the disappointing artwork, this game is a parade of good decisions and smart design. The monsters are imaginative, varied, and tricky to fight. The movement is strategic, yet fast-paced. The combat is predictable enough to be fair, but hard enough to be tactical. I died lot, and not once did I feel that the game screwed me over. That's not something I can say of a lot of Rogue-likes. Also something I can't say about a lot of Rogue-likes: this is one of my favorites.