Mysterious Morsels

HIGH Figuring out the first multi-floor puzzle on my own.

LOW Getting stuck overlooking a pattern.

WTF Why don’t all puzzle games offer a hint system like this?

There is an art to restraint.

It might seem counterintuitive to think something elegant and small is tougher to make than something expensive and huge, but in my experience that’s exactly the case.

I’ve seen plenty of big-budget games that have loads of fat to trim – things that waste a player’s time and offer little in return, ideas that aren’t fully fleshed-out, elements that lack balance or systems that just don’t work as well as they should. In contrast, many of the best games are ones where every element plays a key role, every system adds value, and nothing’s present that shouldn’t be. Eliminate everything that’s unnecessary, and what’s left is solid gold.

With these ideas in mind, I find Dungeons of Dreadrock to be a masterclass in design. It’s small, it’s tight, it’s absolutely fat-free and every bit of it pops.

In this top-down, 2D pixel-art puzzler, the player is a girl from a small village located near a dungeon. Once per year, the village’s elders send a lone boy into the dungeon in hopes of killing the skeleton lord at the bottom, but none have been successful. When our heroine’s brother is chosen to lead the next attempt, she breaks tradition and goes in after him.

The dungeon itself contains 100 floors, each one the size of a single screen on the Switch. While every area is perfectly compact and easy to absorb, that doesn’t mean they’re simple or bare — some are observation puzzles, requiring a keen eye. Other floors hold combat challenges, there are timing challenges, devious brain teasers and more.

For example, lateral thinking becomes a factor once the player starts thinking they’ve seen everything Dreadrock has to offer. There are several times when a floor has obvious no way to advance — the trick is to think about the level that came before and see if any elements can carry over. Can something be dropped from one floor to another? Is there a way to herd an unbeatable monster up the stairs? It felt like a stroke of genius when I connected the dots in some of these challenges, and the developers do a lot with a little — despite the small size of each chunk, each one is dense.

In support of this design are straightforward controls — the character moves in the cardinal directions, they bump into an enemy to attack, they can throw their weapon and carry a few items. By having a clearly defined and limited set of actions, the player is better able to figure out a potential solution, even when faced with brand-new challenges.

In a meta sense, the developers are mindful about not wasting the player’s time. If there’s nothing of value on previous floors, the player will not be allowed to go back and flounder for an answer that isn’t there. If they overlooked a key item, they’re not allowed to leave until they have everything they need for future success.

There are also some great nods towards overall quality of life, which are appreciated. Apart from the short amount of playtime required to feel a degree of satisfaction, there’s a player-controlled hint system which goes a long way towards keeping frustration at bay. The hints can be turned off entirely, set to be offered after five minutes of being stuck, or they can be accessed on-demand. Over the course of 100 Levels I used the hints maybe ten times or so, but I was glad to have them readily available instead of having to pull out my phone and call up a walkthrough.

While the story isn’t the main reason to play Dreadrock, there are several cutscenes which are often cute or humorous, and the pixel-art graphics are great. it’s all wonderfully detailed and expressive, and the overall vibe of the experience is energetic and light, even in darker moments.

I love when a game comes out of absolutely nowhere to knock my socks off, and that’s exactly what Dungeons of Dreadrock did. Every aspect of the experience shows a notable degree of thought and care — everything’s here that needs to be, it’s all been tuned, and the entire package ticks like a Swiss watch. Without a doubt, this hundred-floor descent into the depths of the earth has been one of the most enjoyable and pleasant adventures I’ve taken all year.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Christoph Minnameier. It is currently available on PC, Switch, Android and iOS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. I mean, technically, sure there’s blood and violence here but it’s so cute and tame that I can’t be too concerned about it. I’d let a kid play this, no problem.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and had no issues whatsoever. Information comes via text that cannot be resized. No audio cues are needed for play. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game’s controls are remappable.

Brad Gallaway
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