If you know Game Stew, you’re probably already enamored with their high innovation to pixel ratio. There is always much fun to be had in their 8 bit styled titles and Dungeon of Madness($1.99) is no exception. They burst onto the scene strong with 2012’s Tower of Fortune($0.99) and have been carefully extending their visual charm to various game types since then. Game Stew has successfully built a franchise in which they can now deliver various game types under a very solid unifying motif. The one in question today definitely lives up to expectations.
Before we get into this game, Lets get some thing straight here. Game Stew is not a huge AAA corporate game dev. They have been an indie dev that has survived for the last 3 years continuously putting out reliably good games. I get that some people don’t like the indie dev style, but there is substance under the pixellacious veneer. Like all of the best indie games, gameplay is the front and center attraction and it doesn’t disappoint. If you are one to become unduly disturbed that a game may get extra recognition if it has this specific graphic style, worry not, white knight of modern graphics. This game could have been made with ascii characters or with hieroglyphics or cutting edge body movement capture technology. The fun transcends the medium.
Dungeon of Madness casts you as the hero (or heroine) into a series of grid-based maps where you can only indirectly interact with enemies, items, and even your own character who are all constantly moving in a predictable pattern. What you do have control over is the floor tiles. By spinning tiles, you can lead your avatar towards victory or ignominious defeat. What is truly amazing about this game is that clearing each floor is only part of the challenge and steering your character is only part of the control you can exert over the game. What you will come to find out is that the challenge starts to really ramp up after you think you’ve become comfortable.
I mentioned the pixellificent graphics and, to be sure, there is no doubt this is a Game Stew game. If you have lived under a rock for the last few years and have never played Tower of Fortune, well that’s just a little sad I suppose. For the rest of us, the iconography is strong. At frequent intervals I have found my self having flashbacks of ToF 1 and 2 while playing through DoM. While they are frequent, they are also by neccessity short because the action is frantic in DoM. You have very little time to accomplish your goals before Grim Reaper enemies start showing up and taking your life points away.
The mastery of tile flipping is not in how you direct your character, but the scope of what all you can control. The game board is full of npcs that also must follow the rules of pathing. Once you can master an entire game board, your ultimate goal of not only advancing, but getting loot and saving the maiden in distress become closer to attainable. I won’t sugar coat it, this game becomes very difficult if you are a completionist. Scraping by levels with just your life is fine, but I know and you know that it’s not really a win unless you 100% clear a board. This is where replayability of the game shines, because getting everything in a level is just SO hard. You usually have very little wiggle room for error and even less time to get everything before Grim Reapers show up and ruin your day.
Engaging gameplay with an escalating difficulty curve is normally enough to sell someone on a game, but Game Stew tossed in some very piquant extras that put this title over the top. There are a bunch of alternate avatars you can use which are not just cosmetic, but can level up and have various in game bonuses. There is also an endless survival mode that is unlockable.
With an eerie ambient music and only 14.5 mb space, it’s an easy game to get into. Once you do, that gameplay is going to dazzle you. I really love Dungeon of Madness and it is not only worthy of the Tower of Fortune visual theme, but brings some amazing puzzle muscle to the line up. Did I mention it’s a buck? Go buy it!