Slot machines and RPGs make good bedfellows, as the King Cashing series has taught us. Dungeon Plunder [$1.99] takes that combination and applies it to the roguelike, creating an interesting pairing. On one hand, the semi-random nature of slots works nicely in the otherwise randomized world. On the other hand, I like my combat to be quick, you know?
If you can get around the speed issue, Dungeon Plunder's slot-based combat is clever, just one of several smart features that make it one of the better roguelike experiences on iOS. It's even welcoming to the less hardcore among us, with a legacy system that means you make progress even when you draw the short end of the permadeath stick. It's lacking in the looks department, but that's just how roguelikes tell you they want to be taken seriously.
Not that Dungeon Plunder is particularly serious. The premise of an evil wizard hell-bent on sending the world into a new ice age is just a good excuse to send your sprite off to fight. That sprite might be a mage, a warrior or a rogue, each one as generic as the last. Frustratingly, you have to buy cosmetic IAP to unlock female sprites, but the lack of consumable purchases more than makes up for that disappointment.
One way or another, after you pick a class and sprite, a name, and a starting rune (a kind of permanent stat boost), you're off to do battle on a randomized map with all sorts of big bads and creepy crawlies. There is nothing turn-based about Dungeon Plunder. Enemies are static on the map until you bump into them, and combat is simultaneous. You spin the reels of the slot machine, then you and your enemy both take whatever damage you need to take. The one with hit points left at the end of the process wins, and the other one retires for good.
The slot-machine combat needs a bit of explanation. There are five reels, and a number of symbols that represent things like damage, healing, money and defense. You spin the reels, select as many as you'd like to hold on to, and re-spin the rest. Two or more of any symbol is a win, with more of whatever it is you matched being granted for each extra symbol.
This might sound like the results of combat are extremely random, but there's strategy at work. You need to pay attention, to focus on damage when your health is high, to keep your shields up, to manage your class's special abilities and so on. You can only control as much as the reels allow, but re-spins make the system surprisingly flexible.
So you toodle around killing orcs and brigands, wandering through random dungeons and collecting treasure. Then, nearly inevitably, you die. You get a final score and that's the end of that character. It isn't the end of the road, however. You can begin your next character with some of the last one's gold and maybe an artifact or life scrolls to heal you in a pinch. If you make it far enough you can unlock a new rune to add to all your future characters' stats. You also begin at level based on the highest one you've reached with that class so far.
Death isn't a total write-off, it's a step in Dungeon Plunder's journey. Eventually you'll make it so far that success will be a foregone conclusion—if not on this attempt, then on the next. It can get old, settling in for game after game of lengthy slot-machine combat, but there's always the thought that you might get a little further to keep you going.
Dungeon Plunder is a bit rough around the edges. Death could be telegraphed more obviously, the interface could be better laid out, and so on. All surface stuff in a pretty deep game. The most important thing is this: if you play, you will die, but you will want to pick yourself up and start all over again when you do. That's the mark of a good roguelike, that incentive to never give up, no matter how stacked the odds.
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