Presenting me with a character that looks like a pixelated Mario in his underpants, I really did not know what to make of Dandy Dungeon when I first started.
It grabbed me right from the get-go all the same; its obscurity as charming as its rough pixel art style. A simple RPG infused with a hilarious reality-twisting story, I can guarantee that you won’t have played anything else quite like Dandy Dungeon – and it’s all the better for it.
Playing as underpants-wearing Mario-lookalike Yamada, the game starts as our protagonist loses his job as a video game developer. But it’s okay: now he can stay at home all day working on his indie game project – Dandy Dungeon. The gameplay takes the form of you beta-testing Yamada’s game, moving through dungeons, unlocking new items, and gaining EXP for Yamada, which in turn allows him to add new features to the game.
Dandy Dungeon itself is incredibly simplistic yet brilliant. Each dungeon is nothing more than one grid made up of squares with a few obstacles and enemies filling some of them. Your task is to draw a path through each of the squares, starting at the entrance and ending at the exit. You’ll get a bonus if you can pass through each square, killing enemies and collecting loot along the way. Once you’ve set your path there’s nothing else you can do besides use a limited number of items in your inventory, or fast-forward the action.
Like any good RPG though, the true meat of Dandy Dungeon comes through collecting new items and upgrading what you’ve got. You only have four pieces of equipment: a weapon, a helmet, body armour and a shield. But finding higher-level equipment, ones that offer better skills, and levelling them up to improve them further, is the real joy of the game. You’ll forever be chasing a new piece of armour, or a particular item that you’ll need to upgrade your current weapon.
Certain pieces of equipment are part of a ‘set’ – i.e. a samurai helmet and body armour that, when worn together, will offer a special bonus. Those bonuses will increase one or more of your stats in some way, be it more health or damage, or a boost to your critical hit damage or luck. Higher level items might also have their own unique skills – for example, there’s a shield that, when levelled up, will make you resistant to sleep attacks. Finding pieces of equipment that offer you these bonuses is key to success.
Progression through the game depends wholly on your equipment. Aside from Yamada’s level as a developer, you have no permanent levelling system as the hero. You do gain XP as you progress through each dungeon, but you’ll always start at level one each time. That means the only upgrades to your damage, defence and health come from your equipped items.
Upgrading equipment is a core area of Dandy Dungeon. Upgrades cost money, but they also require other items to be absorbed. Pretty much any item in your inventory can be used to upgrade; some items exist purely as upgrade material, but other pieces of armour or weapons can be used up to upgrade another, too. Every one has a rating out of five stars; the higher the rating, the more upgrade experience it’ll pass on. The higher level your item already is, however, the more money it’ll cost to upgrade. High level items can cost thousands to upgrade, so some strategy is required in being as efficient as possible with an upgrade. One five-star diamond, for example, can fully upgrade an item in just one go, costing you the minimum 60 coins for upgrading a level one item. But if you use five common items to upgrade, which may only take you from level one to two, it’ll cost you 60 coins per item. That 60 coin cost massively increases with each level, so if you aren’t savvy, you’ll end up spending tens of thousands on fully upgrading just one item.
Once items reach their max level, some can be evolved into a more powerful version of that item. To evolve, you’ll need a specific series of items, some of which will be unique – and that means farming particular dungeons to find what you need. Once you’ve evolved an item, it’ll start again at level 1, and will have a higher level cap to upgrade to.
Dandy Dungeon‘s upgrade system, then, is both a blessing and a curse. Finding high level upgrade materials, or the specific items you need to evolve an item, means repeating the same dungeons multiple times. Playing through the game, I reached a couple of walls that meant farming for gold and upgrade materials in order to be able to get any further. It can be a little frustrating to have to keep going back and repeating the same actions, but each dungeon only takes a couple of minutes to complete. Finding rare items is always a boon, and when you are finally able to upgrade your items enough to progress, it’s a real feeling of achievement.
I’ve briefly mentioned it, but Dandy Dungeon‘s quirky presentation is (almost) enough by itself to make this a must-play game. Packed full of humour, hilariously over the top characters and a delightful story that covers both Yamada’s “real world” and his in-progress game world, it’ll have you chuckling throughout. The characters that Yamada meets in the real world end up fused into the game – his old work boss, for example, becomes a dungeon boss; and his love interest is the princess that needs to be saved. Even the quaint “great-o!” and “amazing-u!” proclamations that are sounded out when you complete a level are hard not to smile at.
For £20/$25, Dandy Dungeon: The Legend of Brave Yamada packs in plenty of content. It’s taken me about 15 hours to see the credits roll, but even now there’s better equipment for me to aim for and higher scores to aspire to. It’s not your usual dungeon-crawling RPG, and it might not be much of a looker, but Dandy Dungeon is a hell of a lot of fun. It’ll get its quirky little claws in you and refuse to let go.