Ranking the Rogue · Reviews · Roguelikes

Ranking the Rogue: Pixel Dungeon

My first game for my Rank the Rogue series is the roguelike–Pixel Dungeon! If you are lost as to what this “Rank the Rogue” means, I detailed that here. Basically I’m reviewing roguelikes and I’m ranking them. It’s super important and you better listen!


Pixle Dungeon Screenshot 03.jpg
Rock Paper Shotgun

Pixel Dungeon is available on the PC for free, iOS, and Android mobile devices. I first bought it for my iPhone, and then today downloaded the free PC version. I gave this game more than 20 runs, easily, and have come back with some knowledge as to how the game works. As always, this type of game requires a substantial amount of gameplay in order to fully comprehend its mechanics. However most roguelikes aren’t really about completion, although that’s generally the goal. They’re about seeing how far you can get as the player. With that in mind my 20+ runs gave me a definitely adequate enough of time.

I just finished up my most successful run, which was 17 floors. The game has 25 floors that the player descends, and each fifth floor presents a boss fight. I played as the warrior for most of my sessions, as he is the most beginner friendly. The other three are mage, thief, and huntress, with the latter being unlocked only after defeating three bosses. The classes feature small differences that would be expected: The warrior has more health and a better starting sword, the rogue is more accurate and dodges attacks more frequently, the mage starts with a wand and uses wands with greater skill while attacking faster, and the huntress uses a long range boomerang and hits with ranged weapons much harder. The greater health pool gives the warrior a beginner’s advantage but each class has enough going for them that they’re fun to play. I certainly wouldn’t call one class a huge detriment however I have had the most trouble attempting to use the thief.

The game is standard RPG fare, with enemies like mice, skeletons, mages, goblins, and so on. It is turn-based, featuring RPG style leveling in which your character’s health and accuracy improves with every level. There are potions, scrolls, weapons, and armor to find throughout each level, as well as seeds that grant various benefits once planted. The potions and scrolls are always unknown until the player uses them once through a playthrough, so using them as soon as you find them is often beneficial to discover their effects for later on when you find them. Weapons and armors are usable once you find them, but their full abilities are masked until you properly identify them by using a scroll of identification. So there’s a lot to discover here, and this randomized disguise insures that you have a different run every single run.

pixle dungeon screenshot 01.png

Pixel Dungeon is certainly a successful roguelike. The controls are fluid and make sense, the art style is clear enough to present what’s going on, and the gameplay is quick enough that I always feel like starting another run whenever one fizzles out in a wad of flames. And that will happen often! Just like a proper roguelike, success is often dependent on RNG (Random Number Generation). So you will have bad runs, and you will die. My most successful run was so because I got a LOT of health potions and because I got really good armor very early on. Sometimes you’ll get runs that give you nothing but fire potions, and other times you’ll get runs that refuse to give you rations. If you don’t get rations you will starve, and as you starve you take one point of damage every few turns. This isn’t extremely damaging, as my character was starving throughout may floors during my last run, but you will want to avoid starving as much as you can. Characters will heal automatically every few turns if you aren’t starving. You want that.

pixle dungeon screenshot 02.jpg

There are few NPCs in the game that provide quests, as well as items. There’s a merchent that shows up on designated floors. There’s a blacksmith that shows once, offers a quest, and exchange gives you the option to use two of the same weapon type to forge a better one. And there are some who roam the floor and offer specific quests in return for something quite useful, which usually boils down to finding and killing a specific enemy, take their loot, and return back with it. In exchange you usually get a really good weapon or piece of armor, so it’s usually important to do these when you can. It also provides a nice breakup of gameplay, since usually you’re just exploring the dungeon in search of loot and the exit.

It’s important to find everything you can before you move on to the next floor. Enemies will improve every single floor, and you will need powerful equipment in order to defeat them. Usually I can find equipment, as long as I explore the entire floor, to keep up with the enemy scaling. It can be a drag to find myself dead purely because the game decided to give me nothing, or because one enemy trapped me and I had no tools to help myself, but the pre-explained swiftness of this game provides enough time to NOT get pissy. That’s perhaps the best part of this game. It’s interesting as a roguelike in that everything is effectively random making for short runs leading to death or long runs usually ending in death. Even the long runs don’t take much time at all, and that’s great. I can’t tell you how many roguelikes I don’t play frequently just because their runs feel way too slow.

Pixel Dungeon doesn’t really have persistent upgrades. There are achievements you can unlock for achieving things like killing bosses or finding a certain amount of gold, but these don’t get you anything except badges that you can look at in the main menu. There is one character to unlock as stated, the huntress, and she’s unlocked after beating three bosses. I haven’t tried her yet but she seems interesting. I’m going to do a run with her now.

Three minutes later and I’m dead. She was a really good character, with a powerful boomerang that is upgradeable and infinitely reusable as long as you retrieve it if you manage to miss an enemy. I equipped a Ring of Minding -2. That negative number dictates that it was the negative side effect of wearing that piece of equipment. Usually, the ring speeds up your character’s automatic healing. This one decreases it. Also, it was cursed, meaning I couldn’t unequip it until I found a potion of uncursing. I, of course, didn’t know this ring would do that to me, or I wouldn’t have equipped it. It was unidentified. What I didn’t know, because usually I don’t equip things that are unidentified, is that character’s will sometimes discover what they have once they’ve spent enough time with it. That’s a neat feature. Another reason I died was because a rat got a critical hit on me.

jack laugh

If this game sounds simple, it is. And that’s great! I think there is room in this world for simple, quick games. It takes a very short time to get used to this game and understand everything though, but once you get there you really feel like you have a grasp on what’s going on. Every time you die, you know why you died. And even though there is some randomness in the way combat works with critical hits and accuracy, I feel like everything is straight forward enough that it becomes quick to learn and hard to curse once you do get fucked over in a one floor run like I just did. You just run into people for melee combat, and you use ranged weapons from afar. Try not to position yourself so you don’t get surrounded. Don’t wait to consume scrolls and potions, so you know what they are. And don’t get too distraught when you die easily for a couple runs in a row. This game is designed to make winning rewarding, so when you do, it will feel great. Otherwise you’re just seeing how far you can get.

Now I said at the beginning that this game is available for PC and mobile devices. I first tried it on iPhone, where I purchased it on the app store for something like three dollars. It wasn’t a terrible purchase but I don’t like how this game plays on mobile. Something about the way the touch screen interface doesn’t jell well with me there. On PC it controls just like a rougelike would, albeit with some nice mouse integration. Touching a tiny screen with my average sized fingers doesn’t feel as precise as I’d want it to. That might be my clumsy fingers or the size of my dinky iPhone 5, but regardless I think PC is the way to go here.

If you want to play this game on PC, you can find the download for it here. There is an option to donate if you’d like to support the developer, and you could also purchase the game on steam for five dollars. The developer certainly deserves the money as the game is a fine one. It has received many large updates adding features and fixing bugs (the last of which dropped December of 2015) and there is a deep modding scene around the game as well, given that its source code is totally open. The game is especially well suited for coffee breaks or pallet cleansers in between games. The roguelike formula works especially well here, making it quite addictive. I find myself playing it while watching YouTube or Twitch, because multitasking suits my NEEDS. MORE INFORMATION MORE STIMULATION MORE!!

old man shrug cyclopse

After my time with this game I find myself able to recommend it. Over my 20+ runs I have not tired of the game, and I can definitely see myself returning for more runs. It is great time! And because of this I rank Pixel Dungeon #1 on my extremely scientific list of rougelikes. Let’s see how long it stays there!

Rank of the Rogues

1. Pixel Dungeon

a pile of bones





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