A dice-rolling roguelike that is a cut above the rest.
With how prolific roguelikes have become in modern video games, the repetitive style of play sometimes feels burdensome. Every now and then, a Hades or a Dead Cells comes about to take the world by storm, but it can be difficult to get excited for another game that puts you through similar runs ad nauseum. Dicey Dungeons, from VVVVVV creator Terry Cavanaugh, carves a path that makes it stand out among the crowd. It’s a far more lightweight roguelike that manages to condense the beauty of Slay the Spire’s card combat synergies into a friendlier dice-rolling turn-based combat game where the visuals and audio are incredible.
To start, you play the most straightforward of the six playable classes: the Warrior. Play is spread out across a few floors of point-to-point combat, stores, and treasure chests. The turn-based combat starts off with dice being rolled, and then you place the dice on different equipment cards to trigger attacks and abilities. These vary from simple attacks that just do the amount of damage that is shown on the dice to wilder stuff where you can trigger status effects or split dice into two. The intentionality of how Dicey Dungeons unfurls is impressive. You’re directed to go class-by-class and play their first episode, which is basically an introduction to the way the character is played. The Warrior is relatively simple, while some of the other classes are almost completely game-changing, including the Robot that can overheat if your rolls are too high or the Inventor, which has to scrap a piece of equipment at the end of a battle to become a one-time-use bonus for the next battle. Each class requires you to approach the game in a different manner and honestly, if the game was just those six classes with one run each, I’d be content.
However, each class has six separate episodes. After the first one, the episodes all have different modifiers that make them unique. One Warrior episode has you lose health at each level up instead of gaining it. A Witch episode gives you random spells every battle. A Thief one predetermines what rolls you get each turn. Despite the overall repetition, the combo of the varied classes and episodes made everything stay fresh for hours. Your mileage may vary on how enjoyable this is. I’d consider myself a moderately good player and I generally finished most early episodes anywhere between one and four runs. A few gave me a lot more trouble and sometimes the random number generator gods doomed me early on. Even when I quickly finished episodes, a lot of the battles went down to the wire and required me to learn the ins and outs of the class and modifiers to successfully maximize my damage or defenses to survive. Some of the later episodes definitely up the challenge, but regardless, putting a plan together of overloading a character with poison-inducing abilities and then laying down a successful and dominating double poison buff is eternally rewarding. A lot of the abilities can be harnessed together to do incredible damage.
On top of the raw fun of the combat is the presentation. Visually, it has a lot of pop in its artwork and animation. The overall hook is that you’re a dice on a gameshow hosted by Lady Luck. It appears to be rigged, but over the course of the episodes you start to see what’s really going on. However, the icing on the cake of the presentation is the dynamite and incredible soundtrack from Chipzel, a musician who previously worked with Cavanagh on Super Hexagon and also worked on the soundtrack for WayForward’s River City Girls. The music is bouncy and fun in a way that is additive to the entire experience. It’s something that will work its way into video game music playlists of mine from here on out.
I came into Dicey Dungeons with high hopes and I was thoroughly blown away. It’s so smartly designed in how the classes and equipment all work together to create consistently unique and creative instances where you have to squeeze the usefulness out of almost every play style and strategy. The episodic design fits it very well, because it makes the early parts far more approachable, while keeping the variety up enough that even later episodes slow you down, you still have so much to enjoy. Dicey Dungeons is an amazing game that I’d almost call a roguelike game for people who don’t like roguelikes. You do have to like turn-based combat, though. And dice.