A 2D mish-mash of rogue-likes, in game cards, and dungeons is the main idea behind Card Dungeon! I was looking forward to seeing the meat of the game myself, as these gaming components are some of my favorites when tied together. You don’t often see them mixed, so I was curious to see what Card Dungeon offered. More still, Card Dungeon follows the style of a board game, so will the transition from reality to virtual go well? Let’s find out!
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What Card Dungeon offers is, well, a bit lackluster. Now in defense of the title, it’s a $2 game you can snag on mobile, it’s not going necessarily going to set standards. But, for what it’s trying to be, I felt there was lots of untapped potential.
But before I chew into that let’s talk game. If you’re not familiar, rogue-like (a phrase in today’s gaming world that’s used rather erroneously) is a term for games that sport high difficulty, randomized levels, and repetition. In other words, a player may use a character, go through a series of challenging areas while they collect resources, where eventually they’ll meet their end. However, upon restarting, they keep the resources gained and can use that to make themselves better for the second run.
That’s how Card Dungeon sort of works. When you start, you have two options: New Game or Continue. New Game shows you a map of various challenges to face and starts you in a 1-3 level (meaning you need to beat 3 levels to progress).
Before you start, your crusader (a knight basically) chooses two traits, one good and one bad. There’s a lot of locked slots, implying more can be discovered. Once you pick the traits, you’re placed in a randomized dungeon area, and must defeat a mini-boss to progress to the next level. In order to do so, you need to navigate through small rooms with several doors, which are generally filled with monsters, neutral beasts, and traps.
Dispelling these threats requires attacks, and this is where the card aspect comes into play. The crusader is given 3 cards at the start with different values and abilities. You will always spawn with the same three, a lightning spell, a melee attack, and a heal. There are a few things to note though, and this is where a little strategy comes into play. First, cards cost mana. The melee card for instance costs 3 mana, and in the beginning your crusader has 25 health and mana, respectively. Secondly, cards have “durability”, and over time they will wear out. So using a card 10 times may render it broken, meaning it can’t be used anymore. That can be pretty bad, especially if you have no way to attack anymore.
How is that managed? Defeating various monsters, picking up loot, and searching chests will often yield different cards you can trade out. It’s up to the player to choose what they think is most useful, and manage the resource costs accordingly. Once more, cards can’t be stored in an inventory, so there’s a bit of luck involved in getting the card you may need, and, having to make a proper choice in what card is useful.
As you progress, the challenge comes from surviving until the 3-3 dungeon level, in which you will be able to buy either a health or mana upgrade from a shopkeeper. This is useful as the dungeon boss must be beaten to progress to the next area.
From here, I find things start to become a bit of a mixed bag. As mentioned, in rogue-likes you start over from square one, but with better resources. In Card Dungeon, unless you get to the 3-3 part of the level, death will restart you with a new game. If you do happen to beat the 3-3 boss, you get a “knowledge gem,” which allows you to learn a new trait. But that’s all.
It’s not a terrible thing, but my issue stems from the fact that the gameplay itself may not be enough to warrant continued replays. Losing all your found gear is an especially aggravating blow, as learning a new trait (which is just a bonus passive, like regaining health every other turn) doesn’t feel rewarding enough. You don’t get to keep the extra health or mana you buy from the shopkeeper, which can be depressing and can make the replay value feel a bit hollow.
With the grit of the explanation out of the way, there are definitely some issues to address. Again, while I understand budgetary limitations mixed with the price tag doesn’t mean it has to be a masterpiece, but there are elements with a lot of potential that currently feel somewhat underwhelming.
I mentioned how players may not feel compelled to keep playing. The lack of loot keeping is probably an extension of the fact that there’s only one major map and players would likely clean it out fast with solid gear. However, that’s not the only hindering issue.
The art style is by far the games weakest trait. The monsters, crusader, and visuals are quite lackluster. While there is a nice blend of semi-3D with 2D elements, this isn’t enough to make it stand out. And, I should clarify, simple isn’t bad – you can do a whole lot with very little, but the issue is the artwork just isn’t all too interesting to look at. Yes, it’s clever how everything is propped up like a paper cutout, similar to an old school board game, but it does little for the imagination. Since this entire game is built on 2D visuals, having this as its weakest element, in my opinion, is a pretty severe problem. Not much is done to help it stand out and you’ll probably feel compelled to play something with better 2D visuals.
From that, things do get a little better. The audio is quite decent, sporting some charming, atmospheric music that alternates based on the threat you’re facing. It’s refreshing instead of dealing with a short, irritating loop. Attacks, magic, and monsters are also serviceable, and there’s a refreshing lack of stock audio here.
Control-wise the game handles okay. Admittedly the camera is a bit hard to get a feel for, requiring some awkward touch pad motions to rotate, but the game is responsive barring that.
Finally, combat is satisfying enough. It is enjoyable to start picking up powerful cards which cause a series of strange effects on the enemy, and positioning yourself correctly requires a little planning. But, aside from 2D particle effects there are no character animations, so you’re looking at mostly static objects hitting each other with flashing lights.
There’s a lot of potential to this title, even for an inexpensive one. Unfortunately, it just isn’t quite satisfying enough, to me, to want to go through extended plays in its current form. The loot you bring back, being a trait, isn’t too exciting. You only have one character to use, and I don’t know if I feel compelled to try and beat the map in one sitting. It’s got all the right ingredients for a neat game, they just don’t hit as strongly as they could. Nevertheless, this would be a neat little addition to keep you company and bring on some entertainment while waiting for your flight at the airport.
- Decent strategic elements and choices, such as the need to rotate out cards for dungeon
- Difficult, as rogue-likes should be
- Pretty good music, enough to fit the game
- Easy to start and continue, no dragging load times
- Art style features many static elements, needs more variety
- Lack of loot keeping beyond trinkets doesn’t feel rewarding enough
- No character classes or variety beyond the one you start with
- Beyond combat, nothing too complex here