Review: Diorama Dungeoncrawl

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Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect

There’s something of a balancing act between features and fundamentals in games. Obviously you want every aspect of your game to be as good as possible, but if perfection isn’t possible then you can cover for few features with solid fundamentals, or weak fundamentals with a wealth of features. Diorama Dungeoncrawl leans on the former, a title with little in the way of game systems or complexity, in favor of focusing on basic platforming and combat. Unfortunately there are enough flaws here that they really don’t stand on their own, and absent additional systems to cover for them, it becomes really hard to recommend this one over more robust indies.

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A powerful necromancer lords over the Living Castle, an enchanted edifice that can appear wherever the weak and innocent are vulnerable to disgorge monsters upon them. As a burly hero type with a great big warhammer, it falls to you to assault the castle and put an end to its reign of terror. The minions of evil are legion, though, and often perched on the edges of perilous platforms and walkways. Your journey will be full of battle and also careful navigating, leaping from ledge to ledge as you work your way through the castle’s many halls, chambers and towers. And if you survive the ascent, you’ll get your chance to free the land from the dread necromancer once and for all.

If you’ve been out of grade school long enough to forget, a diorama is a sort of contained model viewed from the side, like if you made a little cardboard scene inside a shoebox set on its side. Diorama Dungeoncrawl is so called because all the third-person platforming and pummeling is viewed from the side, gazing into a dungeon chamber. This effect is more pronounced in the earlier, simpler levels but it does make for a charming presentation, especially mixed with the chunky, evocative textures. Controlling your hero is generally comfortable enough, with clear shadows to judge depth by and very little obscured by the camera angle.

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For the first few levels, everything should flow pretty well as you clobber foes and leap chasms. The first frustration I ran into was connecting my attacks with enemies, because as clean as the movement is, your weapon swings are very limited and hard to align. This becomes more of an issue as you start to encounter giant leaping slimes, hordes of swift bats, and tall armored enemies with spears in tight passages. Combat gets less forgiving right before the level design does as well, limiting your path to narrow walkways lined with archers, spiked floors with little margin for error, and traps that cover huge amounts of space. The challenge definitely ramps up as you approach the game, and while the curve isn’t unreasonable it happens very fast due to the small scope of the game.

Once frustrations started to creep in, I began to notice other issues. The big one for me is that for most of each level, you don’t even have to fight anything. The doorway to the next room is almost always open, and your dude is nimble enough to juke past the enemies in almost every case. There’s no character progression or items to collect, so skipping fights really just serves to save you health for un-skippable fights. You can find special attacks that enhance your charge attack, and those cost points to use, but have very little impact on gameplay and are lost on death anyway. Oh, and there’s contact damage on all the enemies, which is another reason to skip fights since your positioning for your attacks has to be so close and so precise, you’ll often get dinged just for being too close.

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In a vacuum, Diorama Dungeoncrawl is a decent little third-person action title with a sharp difficulty curve. It’s not bad, but it has enough flaws and annoyances to discourage the effort needed to see it through to the end. The thing is that it’s one of many, many, many games out there you could be hacking and slashing through, and I guarantee you’ll be thinking about your alternatives every time you get bounced into a pit or slime-humped to death. In the grand scheme of gaming there’s simply not enough to recommend here, not even a basic scoring system or engaging enough combat to get you to actually attack monsters. A little more meat on its bones would have made Diorama Dungeoncrawl a quality adventure, but it’s about as skeletal as one of its filler skeleton foes.

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