The Nintendo Switch eShop is home to some quality hard-as-nails roguelike titles such as Tangledeep, The Binding Of Isaac: Afterbirth+ and Darkest Dungeon but more permadeath goodness has landed on Nintendo’s latest console, albeit in a much smaller package. Bit Dungeon Plus stabs its way into the niche market and now sits along the likes of the big boys but can its cutesy look and simplistic approach make it stand out from the crowd?
Harking back to the dusty days of the NES and SNES, Bit Dungeon Plus pulls on the nostalgia strings and it plays a sweet tune in doing so. Booting up the game, it instantly reminded us of Gauntlet, which is no way a bad thing. Your objective as a 16-bit hero is to navigate through a series of randomly-generated rooms to defeat a boss among battling wizards, skeletons and other eerie sprites. Successfully defeating a chamber of the aforementioned monsters, you’ll be handed a key to move on to the next devilish room. Slain enemies will randomly (but not very often) drop much-welcomed health, magic and coins that you can exchange for improved gear in the shop section which is not too dissimilar to The Binding Of Isaac: Afterbirth+. Finding your way to the boss stage and sending him back to where he belongs grants you a save point and marks the end of that set of rooms.
Your pixelated knight is armed with basic gear as you start your adventure - a puny sword, flimsy shield and some next-to-useless armour. Bolstering your attire and inventory with stronger weapons and higher-stat clothing is key to beating the dungeons. Chests of loot are scattered throughout and with a quick press of Y, your hero’s’ range of attributes and statistics are displayed, along with a simple but functional map.
The process of finding higher numbered items and stacking them against your current set up is a tried and tested mechanic and its simplistic execution shines brightly here. Simplicity works well in this instance as you’re scanning for a sea of green digits making things super quick but also marginally advantageous in the long run. This feature works as intended and upgrading your inventory, by swapping out gear in almost every room, is a satisfying part of the game.
As well as nabbing health and magic potions from chests (along with a hefty selection of armour, capes and weapons), going back into a room of defeated enemies increases your chances of retrieving some randomised loot. Frequenting an already-cleared chamber, you’ll find numerous ravenous zombie-rodents who are happily chomping away on the dead carcasses of those that previously got in your way. Slaying them is fairly straightforward and effortless and paves the way for some quick-grab goodies. This is a welcome addition and not something often found in other dungeon-crawlers, like The Binding Of Isaac: Afterbirth+. Every precious sliver of health you can get your hands on is crucial to survival with magic giving you the upper hand, especially when facing the bosses. Backtracking never feels like a chore and, being easier to clear than a ‘normal’ room, you can get the job done quickly without much hassle.
Finding the boss rooms quickly is down to pure luck but, unfortunately, the ending battles are a little lacklustre. We would have liked to have seen some more imaginative monster variations to make these encounters more distinctive from the standard bad guys found in the other rooms. Their purpose is just to exist, a gaming necessity and rarely something to look forward to.
Reaching the save point behind the big guns is more exciting than fighting your way to it. But even if we stumble across the much sought-after red door, we often opt to complete the map and backtrack through the maze of rooms. Not only because we’re fond of turning over every stone, but more because of the elusive power-up orbs that pop up. A set of three orbs might appear when you clear a room of its enemies and it’s up to you to carefully choose from a max health increase, critical attack buff or attack power orb - a seemingly small reward but a much-needed one.
Traipsing our way through on our lonesome in single-player was indeed fun but grabbing a friend to help (or hinder) makes for some more intriguing and enjoyable play sessions. The game undoubtedly sharpens its pencil when you add other players into the mix. The game caters for up four players locally and while we only got to play through with another person for the purpose of this review, a thicker strategy can be implemented – something that simply cannot be exercised when you’re going at it solo. Frantically barking orders at each other in a bid to keep your health bar from depleting and make it to the save point is a real joy to be part of.
Your teammate may boast a magic aerial attack that, when timed right, marries up well with a swipe of your beefy axe. Or, in some circumstances, a combo of super speedy character movement could deter the dungeon dwellers all while the other Knight gets stab-happy with a critical-heavy sword. Playing with a friend is certainly recommended but be warned, there’s a high chance of snide remarks and expletives as there’s an even bigger chance that one of you is willing to rush for the shiny loot while the other is crippling under the pressure of a three-eyed slime demon that's shooting magic balls in your face.
You won’t see the same room twice thanks to the randomly-generated dungeons, gear and boss fights coupled with a quick process of jumping back in and starting over after dying was one of the pulling factors. It’s worth noting that the only text you’ll read are 'tips' and hints on weapon and movement controls on the snappy loading screens but it’s this instant accessibility that forms part of the simplistic charm that oozes from Bit Dungeon Plus. Fans of Tangledeep, for instance, will struggle with the lack of attention to details. There isn’t much meat on the bones in terms of story, lore or character development. However, we didn’t find ourselves playing the title to get emotionally attached to the hero’s we often sent to death; we were just frustrated that we lost out on a sweet-looking pink shield that attracted impressive stats.
One area that the game certainly excels at is its soundtrack. If you’re a fan of catchy chiptune songs then you may find yourself warming to the game instantly for this reason alone. Each set of rooms comes with a different song and you’ll find yourself bobbing your head and tapping your foot in time to the plinky-plonky sounds of what the title has to offer. Though one gripe we had was that the tunes sometimes faded in and out without cause - a minor annoyance but easily noticeable in the middle of battle.
Bit Dungeon Plus has a couple of modes to offer away from the standard dungeon-crawling single-player. There’s a Boss mode where, yep - you guessed it - your skills are tested against only the biggest enemies with equally larger HP bars. Tower Of Babel is essentially Time Attack. There are no bosses but clearing a collection of room grants you more time and time also acts as your currency, which can be used in the shop for improved items and health/magic. Gambling time for extra health or stronger weapons is an interesting feature, but the novelty quickly wears thin. If fighting against the clock and tough enemies is your thing, you’ll feel right at home.
Bit Dungeon Plus does exactly what it says on the tin and it does it fairly well. The title won’t draw you in with an intricate story of medieval rivalry and bloodshed involving a vast fantasy world, but the pick-up and play nature of the game will. Some might find its limitless nature frustrating and unnerving, but by improving your set of gear and tactics with each round after countless near-deaths is exhilarating in its own right. Make no mistake - the game is quite rightly harsh for the genre it’s sitting in but if you’re a glutton for punishment and you’re scouring the eShop for a simple, yet highly rewarding eShop dungeon-crawler that won’t break the bank then Bit Dungeon Plus is worth picking up for the attractive asking price.