Dicey Dungeons

Dicey Dungeons Review

Luck is definitely not on your side.

Rogue-lites have become increasingly common in the indie game space, but many fail to effectively justify their rogue-lite nature. Dicey Dungeons is one of those games; however, it’s not without its charms.

Dicey Dungeons is the newest project from Terry Cavanagh, best known for his highly intoxicating, geometric rhythm fest Super Hexagon. Cavanagh’s most recent outing certainly has a unique concept. Players play as one of several different dice-shaped contestants—each of which possesses a different in-game class—competing on a corrupt game show hosted by the devious Lady Luck.

Dicey Dungeons plays as a procedurally generated dungeon crawler featuring turn-based RPG combat. However, that combat is entirely enacted through dice. On any given turn, players and enemies each roll a series of dice and use those dice to activate their available abilities.

While this innovative battle system is initially difficult to fully comprehend, its possibilities are endlessly fun to experiment with and sometimes addicting. Playthroughs, or “episodes” as they’re referred to in-game, consist of several floors which each contain three to four enemies and a variety of shops and loot. Players then face a boss.

The fixtures of Dicey Dungeons are quite endearing. Lady Luck banters with the contestants at the beginning of each episode, and the various contestants—the warrior, thief, robot, inventor, witch, and jester—each have unique personalities. When Lady Luck asks each contestant what they’re competing to win, the warrior asks for a monster truck and the witch seeks more social media followers. I only wish these interactions were longer or more frequent, because they’re fun and the only reprieve players get from the growing monotony of dungeon crawls.

Dicey Dungeons utilizes its six quirky classes to thoroughly explore its unique mechanics. Each character operates in vastly different ways. The warrior is straightforward and excels with any kind of equipment and dice rolls but often prefers higher rolls, while the thief specializes in a select few pieces of equipment and aims for a large number of low dice rolls. It’s exciting to learn the strengths of each class, and that drive kept me returning to Dicey Dungeons—for a time.

The game’s enemies are often as cute as its player characters. Just to name a few: there’s a wizard whose socks come on and off as you fight, a mimic chest who blows kisses at you, and a hedgehog with a sneezy cold. However, I grew to loathe some enemies who became persistent obstacles to my success, like the walkman-adorned pelican and the dryad, each of which were frequent-offender playthrough-enders.

It’s here that Dicey Dungeons’ biggest issue becomes glaringly evident: it’s quite unbalanced. Certain enemies have grossly superior abilities, and some status effects, particularly poison, are much deadlier than other statuses.

Granted, Dicey Dungeons acknowledges this, and I suppose it’s the point of the game. Its combat is based on dice rolls, entirely luck-based events, and narratively, it’s clear that Lady Luck has no intention of making the eponymous game show fair. However, as a player, especially a player with limited free time to play games, frustration quickly emerges when a twenty-minute playthrough is cut short by the whims of the dice. This is compounded because Dicey Dungeons does nothing to reward failed playthroughs, making defeat even bitterer for players.

I have several other nitpicks. The game allows all equipment to be upgraded in a special shop, but several items inexplicably don’t change at all when upgraded. Dicey Dungeons also fails to adequately signal how difficult individual episodes or battles will be before players engage them.

Like many rogue-lites, Dicey Dungeons becomes repetitive pretty rapidly. There is a wide variety of strange enemies to encounter, but they do repeat after just a few playthroughs, and the dungeon floors are all quite similar structurally. I found myself lacking the motivation to continue competing in a game show with obvious odds against me. After unlocking the various classes, there’s little other reward for players to encounter besides increasingly insane trials.

I wish the narrative was drawn out further to provide a more meaningful desire to keep playing. I also wish that Dicey Dungeons let me spend more time developing a character. Its rogue-lite nature means that character progression is limited, but Dicey Dungeons’ distinctive combat begs for a more robust progression system to satisfyingly build out its player characters.

If the game’s adventures were longer and more purposefully designed, they could be far more appealing. As it stands, Dicey Dungeons exists for players interested in its idiosyncrasies and punishing challenges.

[Reviewed on PC]