Cardinal Quest [$3.99] is a roguelike that hit the desktop scene last year, and it has most of what roguelikes usually entail. It has the dungeon delving, the random layouts and loot, and, more or less, the permadeath. But consider Cardinal Quest Roguelike 101. There's no learning curve, next to no inventory management, nothing that would draw the sort of investment that could make death really sting. You can feel free to dive on in—if you die, that's one more thing to avoid on your next trip down.

The joy of roguelikes is that the experience is never the same. Each time a dungeon floor is generated, the rooms have moved around, the stairs are off somewhere new, and the monsters spawn in new locations. You'll find all of this in Cardinal Quest, mapped out as you go and wiped fresh each time you die. You'll also find treasure chests filled to the brim with equipment, new and old, and spells littered everywhere.

Whether you'll like the way Cardinal Quest handles equipment depends a lot on what you're looking for. If you're looking for a deep experience that gives you a lot of control, you're not going to like it. But it's a brilliant solution for this very streamlined game. Every time you pick up a piece of loot, the game decides whether it's an upgrade. Upgrades get equipped, downgrades get sold. If there's any question of whether it's an upgrade or not, it ends up in your inventory. So you won't need to spend precious moments organizing and reorganizing your equipment—sweeping through every so often to clear out the sidegrades is good enough.

Instead, you can focus your energy on managing your spells. Cardinal Quest has quite a variety of them, and they show up randomly along your journey. You can equip any five at any moment, keeping the extras in your inventory or discarding them for coins. You don't have a mana pool, so stronger spells are limited by their cooldowns. Those cooldowns drop every time you move, so faster characters can cast again sooner. The fighter isn't much of a caster, the wizard is, but the speedy thief can pump out a surprising volume of magic too.

Cardinal Quest isn't really for me, though. That's not a slight on it—it's a well-designed game—but more of a personal problem. I've never gone all-in on roguelikes, so while I enjoy the feeling of risk when it comes to permadeath, I hate the feeling that I've achieved nothing. All I need is some way to track my progress, to see how well I've done and maybe compare it to others. Cardinal Quest has nothing of the sort—no stat tracking, no leaderboards, achievements, nothing. Even the gold is pointless. I find this calls attention to the treadmill; with no permanence I can't even fool myself into thinking I'm achieving something by playing. For you, that may not be a problem.

There is some objectively bad news, though: if you're only planning to play on iPad, you probably shouldn't get this game. Not yet. In my experience, something has gone wrong with that version. The interface elements are unresponsive, possibly because they are somehow misaligned. The scaling looks downright awful. The tap controls for movement, which are totally comfortable on iPhone, are really awkward on iPad because of the extra distance involved. It's just not good, so hopefully we'll be seeing a patch soon. On iPhone, you're pretty much in the clear. Cardinal Quest completely fails to respect the mute switch and there are a few ugly bits (the main menu comes to mind), but the port is pretty solid.

Check out the trailer for Cardinal Quest on PC, which looks essentially identical to the iOS version:

So here's the bottom line: if you're looking for a quick, intense take on the classic roguelike dungeon crawl, Cardinal Quest is your game. Like a shot of pure, distilled RPG, it goes down smooth and doesn't leave much of an aftertaste. The atmosphere is right, dark and foreboding with music to match. It's perfect for those times you're anxiously sneaking through a dungeon, hoping your cooldowns will trigger before the next monster finds you. This isn't a game for the control freak, or for anyone looking for a truly deep experience, but for a nice, light death or two? Load it on up, and see how far it takes you.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • oooooomonkey

    I'm holding out for this one until it gets an update. I need stats or records, leader boards etc.
    Other than that the game sounds very cool.

  • http://twitter.com/drelbs drelbs

    Maybe "Roguelikes 102" - I think the iOS version of Sword of Fargoal still has "101" down pat.

    Both are excellent games!

    • REkzkaRZ

      Hate Fargoal, too 'game-light' for me...

  • ZEROFACES

    The dev announced last week that he discovered the problem on iPad, fixed it, and already submitted the patch. Should be out in the next week or so.

    • Ido Yehieli

      It's out now!

  • JCat_NY

    I loved this on the PC -- but I'll wait until the patch for the ipad is out.

    • Ido Yehieli

      iPad patch just approved by apple today!

  • Adams Immersive

    "Upgrades get equipped, downgrades get sold.”

    Now that’s the kind of busywork computers were invented for :) I approve. Comparing items to each other to decide which is better drives me nuts in some games.

  • jeremyborthwick

    iPad-fix update just landed! It plays great on the new ipad actually, just got sucked in for an hour. Great fun. 

  • ZEROFACES

    Yeah pretty much right after my last post, I got a notification saying Cardinal Quest was updated!

    The iPad controls have been fixed, I tried them out and the game now plays great!

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.brown.7923 Daniel Brown

    It's a fun game, although when picking up gear and coins at the same time the coin text is on top of the gear text making it hard to see what item you are getting.

  • noamr

    You read through the review, you get a feeling this is going to get a 3 start or less score, and then you notice the 4.5 star, makes no sense these star rating.

    Break it down to 4 types of score, play-ability, fun, graphics, whatever, but stop giving it a 4.5 when the review itself sounds like a 3 or less.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      It got a 3.5 not a 4.5.

      Reads about right, too. Fun core game but lacking in meaningful features. Not her particular cup of tea, but game itself is fairly good despite some quirks.

  • Edward Gein

    You are really not getting the way you are supposed to move. It is brilliant and fresh. You drag your character around from two squares away, like you are pulling him on a rope. It works great, and the game is very fast paced once you click with the idea. This isn't a game where you are supposed to ponder your every move, in Cardinal Quest you are flat out hauling ass through the dungeon, all the time.

    Crappy, lazy Port to be sure. Still a great romp.

    • Joshua Day

      The movement scheme was the main innovation for the port -- the spark for it came from the desktop version, but a lot of what the desktop version now does is actually a back-port from mobile!  A lot of limitations came in from our decision to stick with some components we were already using, and a few others (like the ugly main menu) came from an attempt to keep the retro look even where we probably shouldn't have, and we were so worried about making the game run at all on some of the weaker devices out there that we really couldn't exploit the advantages of some of the better ones.

  • REkzkaRZ

    Confused why someone who says 'rogue-likes are not my thing' would review the game?!?

    Would they give Diablo three stars?!?

    Don't review the genre, review the game!!

Cardinal Quest Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 3.5