little_socrates's Dungeon Raid (iPhone) review

A pleasant surprise in the IOS market.

It's hard to ignore the ubiquity of match-three gameplay these days. No matter what platform you're using, PopCap has moved a match-three game of some type to your gaming platform; if not, Nintendo's even had you covered with its perhaps less-intuitive Panel de Pon games. Maybe Q Entertainment's Meteos is your cup of tea. But even the biggest innovation in the style of the last few years, Puzzle Quest, is becoming ubiquitous, the combination of match-three and RPG elements becoming a common way to "enhance" your gameplay.

 This pretty effectively displays the experience of Dungeon Raid.
Yet Dungeon Raid (currently available for $3 on IOS devices) still feels somewhat fresh, partly due to its approach to the actual matching. Perhaps it's commonplace these days, but Dungeon Raid is enhanced by the fact that its matching does not have to be in a direct line, but instead can follow a complicated path across the grid. As you can see in the accompanying screenshot, you can follow rather complicated paths through the grid to collect coins, gather shields to boost your armor, gather health potions to boost your health, or attack monsters (represented by skulls) with your weapons.

The game doesn't completely succeed at always making collection feel useful, however. Oftentimes, the screen will wind up flooding health potions and weapon icons (from now on referred to as "swords.) Because of the amount of armor you usually have, you don't need nearly as many health potions as they like to give you, and excluding the appearance of larger, you only need one or two swords to kill an enemy; this number is reduced further by the inclusion of an uppercut feature that occurs when you attack from below an enemy up through it. Sometimes, you'll be a bit frustrated because you have to remove swords to make a more useful move possible, only to reveal a series of monsters you would have used those very swords against. Some of these problems are leveraged by some of the abilities you unlock, but towards the start of a game, it can be very frustrating.

When you begin a game, you choose a character class. Other than different "motivations" for entering the dungeon (a notably amusing one being the Warrior's addiction to health potions) that appears classic Mortal Kombat text style, the different character classes allow different upgrades for when your character "levels up" from killing enough monsters. The XP-based level-up system allows you to increase your stats (health, base armor, base damage, luck) and also allow you to unlock new abilities, perhaps similar to the spells from Puzzle Quest. The other two meters, wealth and armor, operate very similarly, in that when they fill up they offer you a chance to buy a new item or upgrade one of the ones you already own, and these offer stat upgrades similar to those you gain from leveling up.

The upgrades work well; you encounter more powerful enemies as you move forward (not sure if it scales to your level or if it just raises naturally) and you need to upgrade your armor and damage pretty often if you want to get far in the game. The health upgrades seem a lot less effective, however, as when you start actually taking damage instead of having your armor lightly damaged, you're usually taking so much damage that you're going to die in one or two turns anyways. Meanwhile, many of the abilities you unlock seem inefficient in comparison to the powers of the boss monsters, which makes upgrading your stats seem even more important for those looking to score well.

The game ends when your character runs out of health; for me, this is averaging around level six or so. Your character is then entered into a scoreboard, detailing your total armor collection, wealth collection, experience, and the like. The game does carry Game Center and OpenFeint support, making it possible to compare your high scores against your friends online. It does seem like you can somehow reload an old character based on some of the prompts in the game, but I haven't been able to find a way to do anything other than create a brand-new character each time I play.

It's worth noting that there is literally NOTHING exceptional about Dungeon Raid's presentation. Where Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes goes out of its way to fill itself with almost ridiculous exposition, and where Meteos has different graphical styles and theme songs for every race you play as, Dungeon Raid's visuals are incredibly bare, and its sound effects are grating when they're not unnoticeable. Those who need more than a gameplay conceit to spend time on the iPhone should steer clear.

However, for those who appreciate some good puzzle gaming at its core, Dungeon Raid is (mostly) an intelligently designed game, and it makes good use of the IOS platform throughout its design, and serves as a nice break from the most basic of match three puzzlers on the market.
Posted by Little_Socrates

SUBSEQUENT NOTE: About three months later.

My understanding of the game, having spent absurd amounts of time with it now, is a lot deeper, and I feel a need to add an addendum to my review. The uppercut feature I mentioned above is exclusive to the warrior class, a fact I had forgotten after playing the warrior for a long time writing the review. Also, the game definitely scales naturally rather than to your ability, and the "level" displayed at the end of each game is not relevant to your performance in the game. Rather, your level is an overall "reward" that increases by defeating boss monsters that allows for more customization between matches; this is a slow process of leveling up compounded by how often you "level up" by collecting XP in the game. Also, you cannot import old characters; the "continue" prompt is simply related to pausing play to answer text messages or save power.

There are multiple unlockable classes, all with their own unique skills, perks, and flaws; unfortunately, none of these are as good as the "raider" class. While many other classes approach 10000 points in their upper levels of customization, the raider class easily approaches 15000 around level 2, and becomes even more powerful as the game goes on. This is largely thanks to the raider's class skill and perk. The first game you perform extremely well using this class, you will be relatively pleased, but after that the game will very quickly become kind of rote. Unfortunately, no other class is even close in terms of power level, so those excited by high scores will wind up playing this class for the rest of the game. If there were individual class leaderboards, that might help, but if you play ten or fifteen games with the raider class, I wouldn't be surprised if you never saw a high score with another class on that difficulty again.

There are power-ups that convert icons of one type to another, such as turning swords to shields or turning coins to swords (one particular variation of this concept is precisely what makes the raider class so powerful) and these do help with the "Help! I'm being flooded with potions/swords" problem, and as the difficulty ramps up you'll be wishing for more of both icons than shields. However, these definitely limit your ability to select some of the more creative abilities if you're chasing a high score, adding to a more repetitive cycle in chase of a high score. However, three months later, I'm still playing the game more than my other mobile titles, as I seem to have hit a wall in Tiny Wings and I'm only getting better at this.

Posted by Popskinz
@Little_Socrates: Wouldn't it just be easier to edit your review and add those subsequent notes?

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