Dungeon crawlers are in my blood. One of the first games I ever played for the NES was Dragon Warrior, also known as the first Dragon Quest. Sure I needed some help to actually beat it, but I eventually learned the concept of grinding out experience so that I was stronger, and the great feeling of conquering my foes with a newer better hero. Oh and the loot — the fabulous loot — that works in tandem with your newfound abilities to compound your strength. It’s something I’ll probably never get tired of. That experience doesn’t always translate well to a smaller screen, but somehow, the developers of Hammer Bomb (Free) found a way.
If you’ve never played a first-person dungeon crawler before, you’re missing out. In essence, Hammer Bomb draws from old school classics with a decidedly mobile spin to it, in that the control scheme is similar to Temple Run and its ilk. Players will swipe the screen to turn left or right, swipe up to jump, and swipe down to trigger a 180 degree turn. It all works perfectly, and that’s just as well, as you’ll sometimes need pinpoint reflexes to dodge enemies or avoid traps.
Hammer Bomb‘s setup involves a level-based dungeon system with a start and a finish, which is easy to understand at first glance until you start to add in all of the puzzle pieces in-between. Labyrinths are filled with helpful items and exit-revealing crystals, sure, but there’s also hazards to account for, roaming enemies, and on some occasions, boss fights. To combat all this players will have access to weapons like bows, swords, hammers, and bombs, with one major catch — you have to actually find them in a treasure chest. Even then, equipment generally is limited to a specific number of uses, so actually deploying a bomb or even attacking with a sword is a choice. It sounds frustrating but chests usually provide ample rewards, so you won’t be hunting around for minutes at a time for something useful.
For the most part, especially in earlier levels where you’re equipment-less, you’ll have to rely on your wits. Enemies can be dodged with good uses of the quick turn system, or avoided altogether if you spring for the radar upgrade from the shop. Sometimes turning a corner might put you face to face with a pit of spikes, forcing a swift leap, and then immediately throw an enemy at you to illicit a sword thrust. It’s fast, fun, and methodical all at the same time.
Traversing each dungeon, which is randomly generated, is also a treat. Random layouts are accompanied by interesting themes, like a Greek labyrinth, underground dungeon, or a wine cellar-like environment. Boss fights also help break up some of the more exploration-based stages with a simple small layout culminating in a close-quarters combat situation. There are quests per se littered about each stage (and found on scrolls in chests), but they’re usually something silly and fetch-related, like “find the fish sticks" or “find the turkey." The operative word here is “silly," as said food items are anthropomorphic and run away from you. It’s little things like that, that Hammer Bomb really nails.
The loot system is dependent on your individual run and all items are lost upon death, but upgrades, which can be purchased with gold, are permanent. That includes things like extra ammo for weapons, more gold finding abilities, and so on. Most of the early items are reasonably priced, and there’s a ton of upgrades in all to unlock, to the point where it would take hours upon hours to buy them all. Thankfully, each one is substantial in its own way, so players won’t feel like they’re wasting money. Then there’s an XP system that ranks players up after each individual dungeon floor, which grants bonus loot packages after reaching a new level. There’s a lot of positive reinforcement afoot.
As a free game, Hammer Bomb is remarkably fair. I’ve played for over five hours and have never once felt inclined to spend money. There’s an option to remove ads for $1.99, buy cosmetic weapon skins for $0.99, and the IAP gold purchases also don’t go overboard like some games, and stay in the reasonable zone of $4.99. At the end of my session I didn’t mind forking over a few bucks to essentially buy the game, and I had more than enough gold to keep me interested through normal play. Note that if you are going the free route there are video ad bonuses, like extra gold and a single revive per playthrough.
With a fair monetization scheme, gameplay that’s hard to put down, and a fun retro aesthetic, Hammer Bomb is something I’m going to be playing for quite a while. I didn’t expect it to be that deep going in, but as we all know looks can be deceiving.