Tiny Dungeons (RetroSouls) Review | - Everygamegoing


Tiny Dungeons
By RetroSouls
Spectrum 128K/+2/+3

Tiny Dungeons

I've never cared very much for the 'rogue' style of game. That is, the style of game where a band of heroes set forth to defeat an evil Necromancer by using spells, stealth and the special skills of their team members. Something about the way the action freezes to show messages like "Dwarf gets +15 energy", "Warrior loses -10 energy" and "Wolfman gains Entrapment spell" gets right on my tits. In fact, in all my many years of reviewing, I've stayed well clear of this style of game. However, RetroSouls has now released Tiny Dungeons, and, if anyone can convert me to this type of game, it's going to be Denis Grachev. So I buckled up for a dungeon-master experience and, well, Tiny Dungeons, delivers one.

The instructions are short and sweet: "Three brave heroes set out through the ancient dungeons to defeat the Lord", and a summary of game controls. Pressing the Space bar puts you straight into an overhead maze in which colour is very well used, and where absolutely nothing will happen until you start to move around. You can use Z, X and C to switch between the three heroes and QAOP to move around the dungeon. Now, not being very familiar with this type of game, and with the instructions being scant, I had to work quite a bit more as I went along. Perhaps that's intentional on the part of RetroSouls, I'm not sure. So, at the risk of giving away some spoilers, here's a little bit more elucidation of how the game engine actually works...

The three heroes all occupy the same space on the map. When you press up, down, left or right, you are moving their whole party, not just one of them. If you switch between characters, a helpful indicator at the bottom of the screen lights up the character you're currently controlling. Although the instructions don't give them names, let's call them Warrior, Princess and Wizard, for sake of ease of reference. So... you start as the Warrior, and the icons on the top row of the screen display therefore show the health, the shield and the magic potency of the Warrior. If you switch to the Princess, these icons switch to hers, and likewise if you switch to the Wizard. All good so far.

Tiny Dungeons

Each stage of the 'tiny dungeons' has a goal, whether that be to go through a door, stand on a certain square or kill all of the creatures. It is vital that all of your heroes remain alive to the end of the stage. If the health of any hero drops to zero, that's instant 'stage failed, game over', so keeping an eye on those icons at the top of the screen is mandatory.

Now as for the game itself, it is all plotted with 8x8 CHR$. This does rather give it the look of a BASIC type-in and, indeed, it's a turn-based game which means you're not under threat if you simply stop pressing game controls. You have a lot of time to think about exactly what to do next. For example, if there's a ghost in your path, you might decide to (a) run directly into him, sustaining health damage but conserving magic points, (b) use magic on him, losing magic points but conserving health, or (c) try to simply give him the runaround by moving back and forth and ducking around him. This last option can work to your advantage as the bad guys don't always make a move when you do. Sometimes they just stay where they are. So if you don't need to liquidate all the nasties to win that particular stage, you can conserve the health and magic potency of each of your heroes by just attempting to lure nasties out of the way by doing the digital equivalent of the Macarena.

As you juggle the attributes of the characters, and explore each dungeon for the necessary health/shield/magic bonuses you'll require, you'll also find keys. A touch I quite liked is that it doesn't matter which character you've switched to when you find a key, as far as Tiny Dungeons is concerned, the 'party' now has that key and so, when you come to the door it fits, even if you've switched character, you'll be permitted to go through it. This avoids the tedium of having to switch to the character that picked it up!

Tiny Dungeons

The atmosphere of the game is quite unique. It's 128K only, good visually and, with yet another new suite of music from Oleg Nikitin playing throughout, has all the polish we've come to expect from RetroSouls. In fact, it's not 100% 'rogue'-like in its playing style. You don't get those annoying messages like I described earlier. Instead you see the odd number flash up like '-5', '-1', etc, when you actually collide with an enemy, or use magic upon him. To use magic, you first press SPACE/Fire, which enters the 'Magic Mode' and then a direction key to 'loose' the magic in the direction of your foe. If all of your characters run out of magic, then the only option is to run headlong into your opponent and have a scrap. A lot of the skill therefore is selecting the opponent who is currently the toughest, and switching to another character if his health gets dangerously low. Denis Grachev usually produces puzzle games, and Tiny Dungeons is actually a 'roguelike' puzzle game. Each stage of the game is a different dungeon, and therefore a different puzzle to solve, but, unlike his other puzzle games, there's not just a single solution. The scrolls that litter the dungeons also provide helpful hints and playing tutorials, meaning even a Rogue-novice like me can work out quickly what to do.

The only flaw I found with Tiny Dungeons was that it didn't always respond immediately to my keypresses, especially the Fire command. Sometimes a double or even triple press of the game control was necessary before it registered. If it didn't have the character status bar at the bottom of the screen, I'd have a go at it for trying to pretend that changing a few pixels in an 8x8 CHR$ matrix actually counted as a new sprite, but the status bar has some rather bigger sprites to compensate for this so it's no problem at all.

So overall then, Tiny Dungeons is an interesting, if not entirely compulsive, type of puzzle game. Like I said, it's not really my type of game so I enjoyed it less than RetroSouls' gravity and inertia-based puzzlers; but if you're a Rogueaholic you may well think it's the greatest puzzler since, um, Tetris [What are you talking about? - Ed]. And I have to admit there really is something quite genial about the imagination of Denis Grachev. After all, it's quite a leap to go from his usual frantic action, arcade-style stage-based puzzlers to a Rogue-like game split into stages and yet still manage to impress those self-same gamesters by retaining the stage-based puzzle format within it. So, if, like me, you've rarely (or never!) ventured into a dungeon before, this game might well be the ideal first step.

Dave E

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