Friday, July 18, 2014

Feature Friday #18 - Dungeon Plunder

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. 


Okay, no more soccer games for a while, I promise. Actually this week I’ve been playing a game that’s really unlike anything I’ve seen in a while. Dungeon Plunder is a semi-open world roguelike that oozes old school. It does a great job of mixing chance and strategy, and offers way more depth than you might expect. 

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t hot on Dungeon Plunder at first glance. The icon could use some work and both the pixels and somewhat clunky controls threw me a bit. It’s nice that you can choose your class from two or three options (this varies based on the game version - more on this later), and although not immediately apparent, your choice makes a pretty big difference. The game basically consists of your character roaming around fighting monsters and collecting rewards, pretty standard stuff. But Dungeon Plunder’s combat system is probably the highlight of the game, and really deserves a closer look. 

When you engage an enemy you’re presented with a five reel slot machine. The same symbols appear on all the reels even though each character has an item only they can use. Turns are fast and play out basically like a hand of five card draw: one spin gives you items, you choose how many you want to keep, then you spin again and keep the results. Any item you have at least two of will affect play that turn - two weapons deals damage, two hearts heal you, etc. - and the more you have of each item, the more its effect is amplified. Each character class also gains stat points and special abilities by leveling up - e.g. amplifying damage or gaining extra spins. Combine these with the reel selection in battles, and players have a good amount of agency, keeping play fresh a long time. 

This is all helped by the roguelike element, where each death is permanent, but some traits and items carry over to your next game. I haven’t been able to determine exactly when or how, but if you progress far enough in one game, you get to start over at a higher level the next time you play with that class again. You can also find runes randomly throughout the game - item drops that permanently immbue your character with stats - to help advance progress farther each time. 

True roguelikes frustrate me, so I think this is a pretty good compromise. Between the art and the fairly barebones nature of the game, I’m assuming that Dungeon Plunder was a fairly low budget game. In this context, roguelikes are a great way to save money - most players won’t be able to advance too far, or at least not before you’re able to expand the game. Though as I’ve already mentioned, Dungeon Plunder is really fun and fairly deep, because the developer allowed enough of your progress to carry over. Well done. 

I think the thing that impresses me most about Dungeon Plunder is how it handles multiple elements of mobile so well. Sure the graphics and leveling up are more reminiscent of NES or old PC gaming, but there’s more. All too often these days, developers try to implement a gambling or randomized element into their games, and rarely does it create a fun experience that doesn't feel slimeyDungeon Plunder’s slot machine style battles are a perfect example of how this can be done right: they’re fun, strategic, and un-monetized. Equally important is the fact that the entire game is untimed and mostly playable with one hand. These are crucial features for mobile games - even ones with core elements - because they emphasize strengths of the platform: playing on the go and in short bursts. All the enemies in Dungeon Plunder are stationary, and even battles can go as quickly or slowly as you allow. All of this mixes extremely well with semi-roguelike to create an experience that’s immersive, but not too serious. 

My biggest criticism for this game isn’t even content-based, it’s one of confusion. There are two versions of Dungeon Plunder in the App Store - one paid, one free - but both offer IAPs for additional content. Fortunately, a quick google search produced an explanation the developer gave on Reddit

"Sorry for the confusion - here's a rundown of the differences:
Free has 2 classes with ads, Paid has 3 with no ads. Ads will be removed off the free when you spend $3 worth of classes/skins.
Free version has IAP runes and scrolls available, paid doesn't have them.
Full upgrade (platinum) with all classes and skins ends up costing the same as it's priced $2 cheaper on the paid but if you're just interested on the missing classes you'll save $1 by using the free version ($0+$3) vs Paid ($1.99 + $2.00).”

That may not all make sense without having played the game much, but it’s actually a fantastic answer. The developer not only provided a fully functional free version, he created a more robust paid edition and left a way to get the same full game no matter which you originally chose. 

Dungeon Plunder looks mediocre at best, but in actuality is way better than that. Such a deep experience, built explicitly for mobile, does a ton to cover up what are ultimately superficial shortcomings. This is a game that crosses several genres and really captures the best elements of all of them. 


Dungeon Plunder is only available on iOS but has equally cool free and paid versions. It’s definitely worth checking out the free one, and from there you can decide if and how you want to upgrade your experience. 

Josh Dombro Community Manager

Friday, July 11, 2014

Feature Friday #17 - Pixel Cup Soccer: Maracanazo Crush Brazil

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. ~~~ I didn’t write a post last week because Friday was the Fourth of July, but we’re back and the World Cup is still going, so let’s finish it off with another soccer game. This week it’s Pixel Cup Soccer: Maracanazo Crush Brazil (say that three times fast), a pretty fun soccer sim that captures the old school arcade feeling, but doesn’t really bring enough to the table. Pixel Cup Soccer: Maracanazo Crush Brazil starts with a quick intro video, alluding to the real-life match giving the game its name (I’ll abbreviate that going forward, but the full title is relevant here, plus it’s also necessary to differentiate it from the company’s other game, simply Pixel Cup Soccer). The Uruguayan developers at Batovi Games Studio made a really cool pixelated video that both provides context for the game and highlights their country’s triumph. Fittingly, they’ve set the player as their home team, pitted against the soccer powerhouse that is Brazil.
No hometown bias at all...
The soccer part plays very much like an old NES sports game with only two buttons and player quality that’s dramatically varied, and it’s great! Many sports games today are able to handle realistic detail and nuanced play, but just as often, the games seem to trip over themselves in the process. Too many controls, pass variations, chip shots, et al. often complicates gameplay and crushes the overall experience. Pixel Cup Soccer keeps it simple and creates a very playable game - on offense you can pass or shoot, on defense you’re able to switch players and slide tackle. That’s it. 
Scoring isn’t too difficult - it basically requires doing laps in front of the goalie until you get him out of position, or curving a shot past him. In a weird twist, one goal is all that’s required to “win”, because a single Brazilian goal ends the game. This shifts the challenge from whether you can score, to how many times you can net the ball. 

You can also pay to keep playing

The 45 minute clock is sped up to two minutes of real time, and each goal you score subtracts 10:30 from the time elapsed. With goals possible in less than five minutes of game time, your potential high-score is limitless, though I’ve had trouble reaching double digits consistently, and 154 is the mark to beat as of this writing. I enjoyed the gameplay and have had a good time with Pixel Cup Soccer, but with virtually no customization available, it gets old pretty fast.

Pixel Cup Soccer isn’t a bad game, and it succeeds in capturing the old school feel. The art is great, gameplay is super easy to learn and not too difficult to master, and the Game Center competition makes you want to keep playing. If you’re looking for a retro experience and a couple hours of fun, this should cut it, but the game lacks depth. For a free game that doesn’t bludgeon you too hard with ads, that’s not the end of the world, just would’ve liked to see a little more given how well it started. ~~~ Pixel Cup Soccer: Maracanazo Crush Brazil is free on iOS and Google Play. It’s aforementioned counterpart, Pixel Cup Soccer, can be found on both iTunes and Amazon App Stores for $1.99. 

Josh Dombro Community Manager