Dungeon Souls is a new dungeon crawling, rouge-like, action adventure game from developer Lamina Studios and publisher Black Shell Media. The game draws from various influences, including Risk of Rain and Nuclear Throne. It unabashedly borrows many of the elements but does so in its own way. The player takes control of a hero with a unique play style and tries to make its way through multiple randomly generated levels of the eponymous dungeon. As the player works their way through the labyrinth, their character collects random artifacts and levels up, creating a unique build each time. However, progress isn't reset on death. Instead, each playthrough allows the user to unlock new classes, stockpile gold for upgrades, and even craft items for later playthroughs.
Dungeons Souls is available on Steam for $12.99
Dungeon Souls is pretty light in the story department, basically running on an excuse plot. Let's be honest; most gamers interested in this game aren't looking for a gripping story. What bits of the story there is, are mostly collected in find-able diary entries that are scattered through the game and are sometimes located within side areas that are easily missed. The game does offer a decent amount of variation in the levels, however. The bosses all function pretty similarly but have enough differences to be memorable and the few scattered pieces of lore give some of them more background information.
Upon booting up the game, I was struck by the game's retro-pixel art style. Though this retro-chic look has become increasingly popular among smaller developers on Steam, this game pulls it off nicely. Characters and items are clearly visible and I never had trouble figuring out what was going on. The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward. The player uses a combination of the WASD keys to move and the mouse to aim and attack. The controls, by no means innovative, function well with the gameplay. Characters can choose from multiple classes (initially just three), and each class has three attacks; one for the left mouse button, and two for the right mouse button that is switched between using the scroll wheel. The game also allows the player to use their inventory, menu, and level up with single button presses, which is useful in the brief pauses between frantic mouse clicking.
Each game throws the player into a randomly generated level after they choose a hero and a difficulty setting (the first two of which are unlocked by default). Though randomly generated, the player progresses through a series of themed dungeons, each ending with a boss fight. The boss fights themselves have a strong bullet hell feel to them. Each level tasks the player with activating all the magical 'marks' in that particular level. These marks, once activated, summon a party of enemies to attack and surround the player. After all the marks are activated, the player is menaced by a countdown timer indicating the arrival of the death-like Redeemer. Once the Redeemer arrives, the player is instantly killed if they don't escape through the portal at the beginning of the level. Though a minor detail, I feel the Redeemer encourages players to strategize how and when they will activate the marks, and stops players from grinding for experience on the re-spawning enemies. As well, a number of randomly spawning enemies, such as ghosts, teleporting monsters, and special 'red' special enemies offer some variety to the game. However, enemies are not the only threat to prospective dungeon delvers.
Each level also comes equipped with randomly generated traps. The traps come in several varieties, including explosive traps, exploding boulders, fire launchers, and arrow turrets. However, the traps can also be used against the enemies. This creates an interesting tactical option where players can use traps to take out mobs bunched in choke points. Another minor, but none-the-less, nice detail. A shop appears in most maps too, offering players a chance to spend their hard earned loot on items to help them through their current run.
The first classes available are the Barbarian, Archer, and Thief. The Barbarian uses an ax and focuses on close range, melee combat. As well, the Barbarian can unlock Shout of Rage, which increases attack speed, and Thunder Axe, which allows the Barbarian to throw an exploding lightning ax that stuns enemies. This makes him a potential tank with a strong focus on rushing the enemy. The Archer, however, has incredible accuracy and good speed, as well as skills such as Rain of Arrows, and Pentuple Arrow, which allow him to rain hell from far away. The Thief, as one may expect, is a speedy dagger thrower whose skills Invisibility and Thief Bomb allow him to dodge and corral mobs into an advantageous position. In addition, each character has an upgraded version of their first attack. These skills are leveled up individually alongside character stats when a character levels up. This allows players to build a character as they see fit. These initial classes feel distinct enough to offer a unique play style each playthrough. In addition, new heroes are unlocked by completing specific conditions, offering even more unique heroes and play styles.
An interesting addition to the game is the Arcane Forge. The Arcane Forge, along with character unlocks and passive bonuses (which are bought for gold) reward the player for multiple runs. Specifically, if a player is lucky enough to find a recipe in a hidden side area and they collect the required components from either slain enemies or broken objects, they can craft new weapons for the heroes. This gives them new weapons with special abilities that will give them new play styles.
The game's greatest drawback is its repetitive nature. Despite the character classes and randomized levels, most runs fall into the same routine; find the marks, plan your escape route, fight, and run. The bosses help break this up, but some gamers may still find the gameplay a bit monotonous. However, gamers who enjoy rouge-like games and grinding for loot will probably enjoy the Arcane Forge and the characters to unlock (who admittedly, all play differently). After a few runs, I felt like I had fallen into a routine. Even switching classes or builds didn't feel as fresh as the first few runs.
Graphically the game is visually appealing. Though the retro pixel style has become a trend, this game still manages to look fresh and slick. The character designs are simple but clear. Unlike Nuclear Throne however, the game is notably lacking in humor. Most of the items found are practical or magical items, with the occasional goofy item for variety. However, the graphics are vibrant and easy to make sense, even when the pace picks up and the gameplay becomes frantic.
I did run into a few graphical glitches, though. Firstly, some of the larger enemies seem to get stuck in the walls or in between objects. Once I found a wall that looked like the texture had disappeared. As well, the map felt a bit difficult to navigate, as the retro-pixel look has trouble translating the HUD map to something easy to follow. I also noticed some slight slowdown during the boss fights, when bullets begin to fill the screen, which will no doubt annoy hardcore bullet hell fans.
The sound is adequate. The music is somewhat atmospheric, though seems to loop rather quickly. The sounds of combat are appropriate, but nothing spectacularly impressive. One notably odd choice is the lack of any music in the last stage. Though arguably an aesthetic choice, it felt like an incomplete level rather than an atmospheric experience. Some of the bosses even contain some voice over work, though they are very retro sounding. With relatively few lines, they began to repeat over and over.
The game itself is integrated into Steam decently well. It offers nine achievements and steam controller support (though personally, I prefer the keyboard and mouse controls). The game also offers hot seat co-op, though there is no option for online or network play. This is something I feel greatly hurts the game as this game is basically ideal for online co-op play. I did not encounter any major bugs or errors well playing, however, some players have reported losing their progress after 20+ hours due to memory issues.
All in all, Dungeon Souls is the sort of game that fans of the genre will enjoy. It offers a very solid amount of heroes, items, and levels to explore, as well as the novel inclusion of crafting, which helps replay-ability. The game greatly shines with its 'pick up and play', straightforward gameplay that rewards the player each time they come back. The retro style graphics and sound nostalgia juxtapose nicely with the modern style progression system and RPG elements. The game is worth a buy at its budget price and is an absolute must for fans of rouge-likes.
|+ Lots of heroes, items, and weapons||– Repetitious, grinding gameplay|
|+ Beautiful, vibrant art style||– Some glitches and bugs|
|+ Crafting adds replayability||– Lack of online multiplayer|