Here's the thing: I love RPGs an awful lot, but there are plenty of times during my day where it would be somewhat futile to try to get anything done in bigger games. Yes, I could grind up a little, but that leads to my characters being overpowered, and that's not much fun. So I'm always on the lookout for something a little bit lighter that still provides a nice, classic RPG punch. The latest game to occupy that role on my device has been Mazes Of Karradash [$0.99], a dungeon crawler that feels both classic and modern in different ways at once. It combines vintage first-person dungeon crawling and turn-based combat with a simplified gear system and a splash of roguelike elements to create an enjoyable challenge that doesn't require a major commitment.

There is evil in the dungeon, and your job is to head into the depths and snuff it out. You will fail. The next generation will probably do better, but they're also fairly certain to fail. Although you start the game with few options, being forced to play as a human fighter with the most meager of equipment, between the gold you gather and the relics you find in chests, you'll find yourself more well-stocked with each attempt. The gold you collect can be used to improve the facilities in your town, which opens up new races, classes, and various buffs and bonuses. Relics come in different types, but by collecting a certain number of them, you'll unlock a new piece of equipment you can use. Death is permanent in the sense that if you die in the dungeon, your run is finished along with that particular character, but your power will also be consistently moving up with every attempt. So if you're looking for a nasty roguelike dungeon crawler, I'm sorry to say this isn't it.

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The dungeon layouts change with every attempt, though a few elements are usually in the same place each time. Once any character has bested a floor boss, you'll never run into them again. Since the exits are typically in the same spot even if the routes to them change from round to round, it's pretty easy to make a break for them once you're familiar with a floor. Of course, once you've beaten a floor, you needn't bother with it again at all if you're so inclined. You're able to immediately jump back to the floor you died on with your next character. You might not want to, since that character will start back at level one, but you can.

Combat happens randomly as you're wandering about the dungeons. When you're attacked, you enter a turn-based battle where you can attack, defend, use skills, or consume items. Aside from curative spells and items, your only means of refreshing yourself is by pitching a tent in the dungeon and resting. This carries a risk of being attacked, and a rather heavy one, at that, but it's better than nothing, right? The bosses are visible on the field, so you won't ever be blind-sided by an ultra-powerful enemy unless you advance floors too quickly. There's not a ton of depth to the combat, but the variety of classes and skills at least keeps things fresh from game to game.

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Naturally, it's all a bit of a grind, especially once you get the cheap upgrades out of the way, but it's a pleasant one. Sooner or later, your reach will exceed your grasp, and you'll be back to the town to do a few upgrades before starting all over again. That continuous progress, combined with the fact that you can head back to the highest floor you've reached whenever you set out, means you never really feel like you wasted your time or energy on a run. Even if it's only a few coins in your purse, you're sure to come back with something useful. And whatever that may be, it will help you move a little bit farther on the next run. In total, you can unlock eight classes, eight races, and too many equipment upgrades to count, to say nothing of other improvements you can make in your town. The dungeon itself has 25 levels, and its constantly changing nature means that even if you beat it, you can still enjoy coming back for another go.

While its presentation isn't going to take home any prizes for its variety, what's here is pretty good. The visuals have a nice 16-bit feeling that calls back to one of my favorite eras of computer RPGs, and the soundtrack is a delightfully nostalgic bit of synth. Most Americans are probably going to associate that type of sound with SEGA's Genesis, but computer gamers, particularly the Commodore faithful, will surely prick up their ears at the familiar instruments used to compose the music in Mazes Of Karradash. The UI isn't quite so nice, though it's almost as retro. You'll have to use little arrows to move around in the maze, and menus and other things aren't as apparent as you might hope. There's also a little bit of loading time whenever you change areas or open your menu. Happily, the game will save your position if you need to quit in the middle of a journey. You'll start right where you left off the next time you open the game.

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Not quite a main course but heftier than a snack, Mazes Of Karradash is a great little bit of adventuring that should slot nicely into any RPG fan's busy schedule. It's hard to separate where it's being nostalgic on purpose and where it's simply a matter of limited resources, but either way, the game makes a really good run with what it's got. I appreciate that even though the developer could have easily skewed its balance and included IAP, what you see in Mazes is what you get. You'll die, you'll grind, and you'll suffer some tragic runs of luck at times, but you won't be able to blame any of that on the monetization system. Rather, it's simply a somewhat gentle reminder of the crueler days of yesteryear, and that suits me just fine.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarNone
  • spader623

    If review scores really have gone away... Prepare for a lot of angry commenters.

  • Puke Aces

    Why are there no stars ;~; it's freaking me out!

  • Adsinjapan

    No stars? I'm cool with that! Draws away focus of actual scores and instead what the reviewer is TELLING people about the game.

  • Rattyfus

    This is marked as a news article rather than a review and there are no stars. I HATE this. But I guess you call it progress.

  • Brendan Charles

    Great review! I might pick this one up- looks like a simplified SNES version of Legend of Grimorck.

    I'm not sure if the absence of a star rating is on purpose or if it will continue on the site, but I think it's a change for the better! So many games don't easily fit within a 5 star rating system, and the heart of the review is in the description and the reviewer's thoughts, not in a cold numbered system.

  • spsummer

    Come on Shaun where are the stars. Show me the stars.

  • Papa Deuce

    I almost didn't even want to read the review as I thought it said "Kardashians" at first glance...... Seriously.

    • dancj

      Not a Star Trek fan? 😉

    • http://www.googlepants.com/ Wizard of Odyssey

      Me too. I expected the goblin to have a giant ass-shelf.

  • BrothaMann

    Looks like a decent take on the classic dungeon crawl.

    Also, keep it up with no review scores. Going to get a lot of feedback in the comments on this, Shaun, Eli, etc. and just know its the way to go. LOVE IT.

    Though where will Carter's 3.5 go? Maybe he keeps the star rating, but its always set at 3.5.

  • coolpepper43

    Please bring back the ratings.

  • Luciano1084

    Stars prease ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • http://www.googlepants.com/ Wizard of Odyssey

    You mooks want stars? How many stars is "a somewhat gentle reminder of the crueler days of yesteryear" worth? Obviously it's a subjective opinion, and if you can't make a decision based on Shaun's words, maybe this game isn't for you.

    3.5 stars "good"
    Does that help anyone at all? I don't think so!

  • Schpank

    I know y'all have taken some flak for star reviews, but the score is first thing I look at before deciding to read further. I am likely to fully read 5 or 4 star reviews of games I'm interested in, skim the occasional 1 star review for the schadenfreude, and will pretty much blow off 2 and 3 star reviews because, face it, mediocrity is boring (sorry writers of those reviews). Because scores are coarse and subjective, they're not a reliable way to choose games, but they're a great shortcut in an infoglut world.

  • ggallin

    I agree the stars is a great shortcut
    I respect the decition of get away stars, but iam already missed this 😱

  • Dragan

    Reviews without stars are opinions and if the stars stay away i will change to Pocket Gamer.

    • Schpank

      Well, scores are opinions too, but based on some, hopefully sound, gameplay/graphics/UI/story/audio... metrics. They're a very useful ballpark hint. I'm with you, if there were no scores on TA, I'd likely go to another site for the snapshot, and maybe read the review here for validation... maybe.

  • ScotDamn

    It looks like Shaun just accidentally filed it under news instead of reviews.

  • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

    Hilarious to think of scores going away and people actually having to read reviews instead of just looking at the stars! 🙂

    • Rattyfus

      Er, we do rad the reviews you dick but star ratings are helpful, that's all. Also a review in the news feed is unhelpful, so crawl back in your tiny hole.

      • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

        Ok I'll crawl back into my dungeon. Bit defensive?

  • Rattyfus

    Fixed now. 'Nuff said.

  • Far_Out

    Shaun once again described this perfectly, while also adding his informed opinions. I find this to be quite charming with a warm vibe. You get that RPG fix in a very modest, understated way. Apparently this is the effort of one guy, which I admire.

  • allana

    I am on the third level and have not come across any randomization yet. Is that just a mistake in the review or is it only later in the day at the randomized maps come into play? It is also not mentioned in the description. It is ok game so far. I think it is going to get boring very quickly and without the different maps.

    • allana

      It looks like if you use a different character, then the dungeon layout changes.

      • Shaun Musgrave

        Ahh, interesting. I had thought it was random, but come to think of it, I did run a different character almost every time I played. Thanks for figuring it out!

  • cstaufer

    The load times in this game are pretty bad, worse than the review suggests. Would love this title more if the Developer found a way to speed them up.

Mazes of Karradash Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4