Yacht Club Games and Vine are fusing roguelite concepts with a light Wario's Woods-esque framework.
Wario’s Woods fans exist. There are dozens of us. Naturally, the reveal of Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon shortly before PAX East 2020, a game that looks similar to the NES/SNES puzzler from Nintendo, excited me. After playing a few runs of the game, I’m blown away by how this game takes the basic interface of Wario’s Woods and turns it into something blazingly modern and novel—all with an adorable Shovel Knight veneer.
Let’s walk it through: you control Shovel Knight in a grid-based puzzle screen. Enemies and items slowly drop down into place. You can move all around the grid (you’re not limited to the blocks like in Wario’s Woods) and when you run into an occupied space, you attack. Running into an enemy will do a point of damage to both you and the enemy. Doing that to an item will trigger the item. Early items I saw were potions that healed you and shields that provided protection from damage. The different enemies and items can collect together in chains where attacking one part of the chain will hit them all.
It took me a few rounds to wrap my brain around the nuances of the game, but once the mechanics clicked into place, playing Pocket Dungeon was magical. The enemies keep falling, so you need to be quick as you go around the screen clearing out space. Stages requires you to collect keys that drop over time and then unlock chests and doors. The chests provide power-ups; the doors an exit. I also ran into a shop that lets you buy items with accrued in-game currency to give you an advantage in your travels. Some that I came across boosted attack power against solo enemies and made it so potions wouldn’t cluster together, letting you heal more.
The shop starts to highlight the other part of Pocket Dungeon’s alchemy. It’s a roguelite where you build up equipment to try to get all the way to the end. And yes, you have to restart when you die. It’s tough, but definitely fair. My losses in the demo were because I left myself too vulnerable and underestimated enemies.
After PAX East ended, I came back home and dug more into the game’s co-developer: Vine. While not a dev that many have heard of, if you’re curious about how Pocket Dungeon plays, you can check out Puzzle Knights, a $3 itch.io project that likely was the inspiration for Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon. It’s a good representation of the demo I played, though the Yacht Club-published version looks to have a lot more flourish and depth.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon might not be the game everyone expected from Yacht Club Games, but it seems like another unique and interesting side project that deepens the world of Shovel Knight while also shining a light on another developer and gameplay style. I look forward to exploring more of this cute puzzle world when it comes out sometime in the future.