Before I jump into the meat of this review, I want to lay to rest a false, yet justified accusation regarding Card Dungeon by Playtap Games. When looking at the Steam page for this title, I saw comments and threads saying that Card Dungeon is a rip off of the more popular game Card Hunter. Not knowing anything about either title, I put on my detective hat and took up the case. In order to ensure that I had all the facts, I personally reviewed Card Hunter. After spending a solid amount of time with both games, I can safely say that the rumors surrounding Card Dungeon are completely false. That being said, I understand the confusion and why people would draw those conclusions, but I can promise you that the people posting these comments have never played this game. Besides similar names, both games share a unique style artistically. Each game based their gameplay off a card system, the characters and enemies look like cardboard cut outs, and both games feel like board game simulations more than they do video games. That is where the similarities end. Unlike Card Hunter, which is a turned based RPG, Card Dungeon is a turned based Rouge-like. Now that we successfully yanked Card Dungeon away from the firing squad, let’s dive in to determine if this title is worth your time and money.
You play as “The Crusader” who is on a quest to purge his soul of the many demons that plague it by slaying the abominations hell-bent on destroying the kingdom he calls home. Like all rouge-likes, you start off with basic skills and struggle your way through a barrage of enemies, attempting to finally reach the final boss and return home as a hero. Whenever The Crusader is killed, you lose all of your progress and are forced to start over on level one. Naturally, the thought of starting from square one every time you fail is daunting and aggravating, but the reason why the rouge-like genre succeeds is due to the heightened replay value. A great installment in this genre gives the player a reason to not only play the game over and over, but also compels the gamer to look forward to it.
Card Dungeon attempts to achieve this using three main methods; randomly generated levels to ensure that no two play-sessions are exactly the same, starting passive skills that are unlocked by picking up gems during your play sessions, and the base nature of the gameplay mechanics. Any great rouge-like has to rely on the gamer’s desire to constantly play the same levels repeatedly in order to complete the game. That is why I will focus my review on those three elements to determine if Card Dungeon can be seen as a successful rouge-like, or an aggravating experience that isn’t worth sinking your time into.
The major reason I can see myself logging in a large amount of hours into Card Dungeon is due to the style of gameplay in this rouge-like setting. The Crusader always starts out with two passive abilities, which we will discuss in detail a bit later. He also begins the game with three ability cards, and can only hold three at a time. Whenever you defeat an enemy, interact with various objects on the maps or open a treasure chest, you acquire a new card with a different ability. Since you can only hold three cards at a time, each item you acquire comes with a tough decision; should I trade one of my three abilities for this new skill, or should I stick with my existing strategy.
Since choosing to trade or drop an item causes it to disappear for good, this decision is crucial to the outcome of each play session. On a side note, you can pick up pieces of equipment that alter your base stats from these item drops, which also follow the same logic. Since you don’t have a bag to hold items, once you replace or drop a piece of equipment, it’s gone forever. Another reason choosing the right ability cards is important boils down to the game’s use of the durability mechanic found in many roleplaying games. Each ability has a limited number of uses. The amount of uses a card has depends on its type and rarity level. Once you reach the max amount of uses, the card becomes unable to be utilized until you find a fountain that recovers your health, mana and durability.
When you find yourself backed into a corner with limited abilities available, choosing a weaker spell in order to survive can be brutal and nerve wrecking, since you never know when you will have the chance to recharge your existing spells. This alone caused myself to continue playing longer than needed, curious to see what the next session had to offer. I feel this system is the backbone of the game and the sole reason Card Dungeon has a chance to draw you in. The main thing I feel could have been improved in this section of the game is the item drop formula. The items dropped are always random, and the farther you get into the game, the larger your chances are of finding higher tier cards. My issue is the amount of crappy cards you find from bosses, chests and higher level enemies, even in the later stages of the game. I feel like finding useless cards is important to maintain a level of tension and difficulty, but having unique boss cards and higher-tier cards dropped from chests and strong enemies would add stability to the overall randomness.
Randomly Generated Levels- 3/5
Following in the footsteps of almost every great rouge-like, Card Dungeon added randomly generated levels to increase the replay factor of the game. There are seven dungeons, each having at least three levels. Every room’s layout, enemies and interactive environment are randomly generated based on loose guidelines. For example, in level one of the first dungeon, the first room will never have more than one enemy. It will normally look different, and the enemy may be different, but it will always only be one. The type of enemies and the list of item drops are different for each dungeon, and each one had a different theme and unique challenge to help keep the experience entertaining the whole way through.
Sadly, this did not help the feeling of repetitiveness that ultimately washed over me. Although the level’s design and enemy placement varied during each run through, I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing the same level every time. Successful random generation causes the tension and surprise of entering a room for the first time to stay intact, regardless of how many times you experienced the same level. Card Dungeon was unable to maintain that illusion, and after the third time playing the first level, I felt like I knew exactly what to expect and how to beat the dungeon with ease.
Unlockable Perks- 2/5
The Crusader always starts out with two passive abilities, one positive and the other negative. You start with only one passive for each set, but more can be unlocked by finding gems during your play sessions. These passives mainly affect your stats (making it harder to damage, granting health regen, etc) and provide the options to tackle your objective from multiple angles. Sadly, you always seem to start with the same three ability cards. I wish you were able to unlock different starting cards to choose from, or at least cause the abilities to randomize in some fashion. Starting each play through in the same way caused myself to grow bored with the first section of the game. This would also make the unlocking system more rewarding. Although the various passives are helpful and allow for different tactics, I don’t feel like changing which passive I used altered the gameplay enough. When it comes to a rouge-like, the whole concept is to find ways to make playing the same game multiple times increasingly entertaining.
The passives unlocked in Card Dungeon simply feel like a level up rather than a new skill. Don’t get me wrong, I love the system and don’t feel like it hinders the game at all, but I believe that this system needs to be accompanied by another, like the option to start with different abilities. Since adding another perk system is not impossible, I will have to keep my eye out for future updates.
Card Dungeon brought its own style and approach to the rouge-like genre, and it deserves a chance to win you over. When comparing it to the other giants in this genre, I don’t see myself choosing to play this over other similar titles. If you are a rouge-like addict, and looking for a quick fix, Card Dungeon brings a unique prospective that you may find enjoyable. If you are someone that can’t help comparing every game to their superiors, or would rather utilize your time by playing the best games in a given genre, I would advise against buying this title since the game’s current mediocrity will diminish any enjoyment that you could gain. If you would like to check out the game for yourself, which currently has a price tag of $9.99, you can find it here.