There’s something to be said for a game with a simple concept. A piece of software that knows what it does, does that thing well and never tries to be anything else. It’s both a comforting constant and a reminder of just how grander and deeper said game could be if it mixed its recipe up a little bit more.
It’s this dichotomy that sits at the heart of Ratalaika Games’ new roguelike RPG platformer. Devious Dungeon rarely tries to riff on its core mechanics, but is still an immensely fun experience if you’re happy to sit inside the same dungeon-exploring feedback loop. That cycle is your classic roguelike setup, with all the fantasy tropes you could possibly hope for - so, naturally, you play a knight tasked with defeating the evil that lurks in the dungeons beneath a castle.
With each dungeon layout randomly generated every time you descend into its depths, you’re effectively given an infinite line of maps filled with all manner of monsters, treasure and hidden items. Every one of these dungeons has a key, which you’ll need to find in order to unlock a gate located elsewhere on the map. It’s possible to zip through each level, flitting from key to gate, but exploration and combat will always reward you with the dual nectar of XP and coin.
As you might expect, the more you fight, the more you level up and improve either your strength (damage inflicted), stamina (health) or dexterity (chances of making a critical hit). And the more enemies you kill - and the more boxes, vases and other scenery you destroy - the more coins you can collect. Your current health bar carries over to each new level, so you’re effectively running a gauntlet (while wearing gauntlets).
When you eventually pop your chainmail clogs you’ll be resurrected back in the castle, but you’ll keep your XP and any cash you’ve swiped along the way. You can spend these with shopkeeper Olaf (who also appears every so often in between a dungeon transition), purchasing new armour, weapons and items that slightly buff your attributes. Hit a certain level and you’ll be able to start from that point rather than the start, with each set of dungeons eventually leading to a fun - if a little basic - boss fight.
It’s a satisfying loop, but without any real sense of danger or threat to your precious progress, it eventually begins to lose its lustre. It’s an issue both helped and hindered by the basic nature of its mechanics; a 2D Metroidvania platformer with plenty of melee combat is always going to appeal, but it’s held back by a stern refusal to add any tangible depth. Combat is reduced to using one melee weapon at a time and a single button to use it - better weapons are faster and inflict more damage, but with no means to block or dash (and no additional weapons for ranged or magical combat) you’re left to hit, jump and repeat.
Thankfully, there are a few extra features in place to add a tiny pinch of spice, however small that pinch might be. There are in-game quests that award you cash for meeting certain objectives (such as killing a select number of monsters) and there are special books that, if found, fill your XP meter like crazy. There’s also a cute in-game achievements system to help urge you to meet certain milestones, but without any tangible reward (bar an inflated sense of self-worth) there’s very little incentive to keep you chasing them.
The one area in which Devious Dungeon does hold its best cards is enemy design. There’s a bestiary of creatures to defeat, each with their own attack style and movement speed to consider. From towering Wolfmen with long strike ranges to Orcs whose axes can still hurt you if they throw one before you kill them, their presence keeps the game from falling even further into mediocrity. There are even plenty of enemies with ranged attacks to keep you jumping to evade damage, but in the end it’s just another reminder of how basic your own repertoire really is.
Considering the wealth of other games with roguelike elements on Nintendo Switch, Devious Dungeon ends up feeling disappointingly shallow. Without the depth of combat found in Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove or the wealth of movement afforded by Flinthook, Ratalaika Games’ solid yet ultimately simple effort feels far less essential and much harder to recommend over its competitors.
Devious Dungeon is far from a bad game. Its feedback loop of exploration, levelling up and gear acquisition makes for a fun and rewarding experience for the first few hours, but its lack of tangible depth ultimately torpedoes the endless potential of its randomly built dungeons. Still, for less than £10, there are certainly worse dungeons to explore.