Review: Picdun 2: Witch's Curse (3DS eShop)

Dungeons & Drawings

As a part of INTENSE CO's GO series, the original Picdun brought a unique take on first-person dungeon crawling to DSiWare. A portmanteau of the words "Picture" and "Dungeon", the game turned the genre's traditional map into a pixel art canvas, where players would fill in a picture as they explored their environment. Picdun 2: Witch's Curse keeps this same basic formula and adds an interesting partner battle system, and while not much else has changed from the first go, it's still a fun, accessible adventure that's well worth playing for dungeon crawling and puzzle fans alike.

The heart of most dungeon crawlers lies in character customization, grinding, and tactical turn-based battling, but Picdun 2 forgoes these aspects almost entirely. Instead, the focus is on thorough exploration and light puzzling. As you traverse the game's 60 mazes, the auto-map on the bottom screen fills in each tile of the dungeon you pass over. Your goal is to hit every single square on the floor - once you do, the tiles turn into pixels in a colourful, animated sprite based on the shape of the level.

These pixel-pictures represent animals, food, tools, symbols, and more, and while floors start out simply, plenty of puzzles quickly make things more interesting. You'll find hidden doors, switches, teleporters, moving barriers, one-way tiles, and icy floors straight out of the Mahogany Town Gym, among many other obstacles. Picking up the "pedometer" on each floor will let you know how many spaces still remain before the picture's filled out, and hints throughout the levels can help you guess the design ahead of time - if you know you're trying to draw an apple, for instance, you might realize that the tiles you're missing come from an unexplored stem.

You'll come across more than a few worms during your apple explorations; there are plenty of monsters wandering around, and Picdun 2 features a simple but very enjoyable real-time battle system that lets you take them on in style. One of the biggest additions to Picdun 2's combat is the partner system. Rendered unable to attack by a curse early on, our hero is quickly relegated to defensive duty, and has to rely on three partners to fight for him: the Archer, the Whipper, and the Spellcaster. These three warriors, who share an inexplicable fondness for both the game's faceless protagonist and wildly ineffective battle armor, each wield a different weapon type, and you can swap between them at designated areas.

There are three options for attacking: a vertical chop that targets a single enemy, a horizontal slash that hits the whole row, and a power move that deals massive damage to everything on screen. To perform a power move, you'll need to block an enemy attack with your shield just before it connects - if you time it right, a string of button commands will appear on screen, and completing the sequence quickly will unleash a volley of arrows, whips, or magic. Each partner excels at a different attack: the Archer is best at targeting single enemies, the Whipper shines with sideways swipes, and though the Spellcaster has the weakest normal attacks, her spectacular power moves are the best of the bunch.

Picdun 2's combat system is easily one of its best features. It's fun, fast, and very hands-on - miles away from the turn-based menu-slogs common in dungeon crawlers. And though it can't match titles like Unchained Blades or Etrian Odyssey for depth, there's still room for some strategy: do you strike with a volley of normal attacks, or shield yourself and try for a power move? Every enemy type has a different attack pattern, so learning how to time power moves for each animation is essential. You'll also be able to upgrade both your shield and your partners' weapons as you find new equipment in the dungeons, and gain experience as you battle to level up.

Unlike its DSiWare predecessor, the stylus plays no part in Picdun 2, and combat as well as movement is handled with the 3DS' buttons. Everything works well, but the lack of Circle Pad support is puzzling, as is the mapping of the attack buttons. The A and X buttons perform a horizontal strike, while the B and Y buttons handle vertical attacks - it's certainly functional, but we struggled to overcome a logical preference for associating X and B with the vertical axis and Y and A with the horizontal.

First-person dungeon crawlers can be a notoriously difficult genre for newcomers to crack, but to its credit, Picdun 2 is a remarkably accessible experience. The combat system is easy to understand, the difficulty curve is perfectly smooth, character progression is linear and automatic, and the only stat you'll ever have to worry about is your health. Judiciously placed healing fountains and the ability to save anywhere outside of battle also help, and an option to restart any floor from the beginning means you won't be able to save yourself into a corner. And while a level won't be marked as 'complete' until the entire picture is mapped out, you're still free to advance to the next floor as soon as you find the stairwell, so it's possible to skip any particularly difficult puzzles if you're ready to move on.

One notable omission in Picdun 2 is an easy way to go back to previously completed floors. There are elevators in certain levels that can take you back, but a simple level select menu from the title screen would have been a welcome addition for when you just want to re-map out a pixelated potato. Similarly, it would be nice to be able to view completed pictures in a gallery - as it stands, the only time you get to see the low-fi fruits of your labour is in the few brief seconds after finishing a level.

Much like its stylish pixel art, Picdun 2 looks good even if it doesn't impress on a technical level - it's more of a subtle evolution than a radical improvement from the series' DSiWare days. The animated enemy designs are cartoony and fun, and the two-dimensional artwork works well with the 3D backgrounds. The music is jazzy, catchy, upbeat, and - unfortunately - incredibly repetitive. That problem isn't restricted to the audio side of the package either. With tile after indistinguishable tile of dungeon paths, relatively few enemy types, and one unchanging character portrait per partner, Picdun 2's entire presentation suffers heavily from repetition. The visual theme and background music change every ten floors, but that still feels like too long to be looking down identical hallways, listening to the same minute-long music loops.

Conclusion

A lighthearted dungeon crawler with an original hook, Picdun 2: Witch's Curse is as intuitive an introduction as you could hope for to the genre. Engaging real-time combat and a smooth difficulty curve make it easy to jump into, and its pixel art trappings give it a cheery personality. Hardcore dungeon devotees looking for character customization and deep mechanics won't find much here, but anyone after some light puzzling and a fresh, simplified take on the classic crawling formula would do well to pick up Picdun 2.