Ancient Dungeon is simply done right. No grandiose storylines, or complicated character development. You’re in a dungeon, there are monsters, you have a sword. ‘Nuff said.
It’s Dangerous To Go Alone…
Ancient Dungeon starts you off at a base camp of sorts outside the titular dungeon. After a short tutorial about the unlockables like being able to find more gold in pots, or added items at the in-dungeon shop, you will enter the dungeon. At first, you’ll be equipped with a sword and throwing knife. You can swap the weapons between hands, or put away the sword entirely, for those of us that prefer to throw with our sword hand instead of dual-wielding. However, you may notice almost immediately, and certainly after your first monster encounter, that you have no shield and only three hearts. Now, you can use your sword to block some projectiles, It’s difficult to master. Thus begins Ancient Dungeon’s brutal gauntlet. It lures you in with its deceptively cute graphics, then drops the guillotine. Like a quokka executioner.
There are (with no exaggeration) an astonishing amount of choices in this game. As you make your way through the Ancient Dungeon, you’ll come across treasure chests, locked doors, and locked chests. The game does not tell you what to do, using its easily comprehended style to allow players to intuit the use of keys picked up from defeated enemies or chests, crates, etc. Keys and gold are your main pickups, with keys being the rarer of the two. You can use the keys to open locked chests and doors, however, you may choose to save them and take your chances on a randomized slot machine in the dungeon shop. Finding the shop may prove to be a challenge in itself since the dungeon is procedurally generated.
That is just the tip of the choice iceberg (choiceberg?) that is Ancient Dungeon. While you have a map if you look at the back of your left hand, it only maps rooms you’ve been to, and the map obviously changes each run through. Some of the paths require you to fall down short cliffs with no ladders back, and other paths collapse behind you. So choosing your path can sometimes mean you won’t be able to get to the shop until you reach the next area and try again. I’ve gone through several runs myself not finding the shop at all.
Other decisions come in the form of upgrades either for your stats or an ability you can acquire that will charge by defeating enemies. Such abilities could be the power to create an explosion that damages enemies or summoning a wisp to attack monsters with you. Frustratingly, you can only use one power at a time, meaning if you come across a new ability, you have to choose to take it or keep the one you have. The stat boosts can come at a cost as well. One I came across recently gave me the ability to lose all 3 of my hearts but gain double in armor. So I got 6 hearts (which can be handy since many enemies only do a half heart in damage), but armor doesn’t replenish by eating as hearts do. This means 6 hearts was all I was gonna have for the rest of my run. Tough call.
While you do get the ability to save and exit after defeating each floor’s boss, I have often found myself just exiting entirely if I have to go do something else and starting fresh next time, just for the random unpredictability of what I’ll come across. Runs have lasted for me anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour and a half. Ancient Dungeon is a game I know I can just start up if I have a spare 15 minutes or so, and just have some monster-killing fun. Or I could end up getting really lucky with my item drops and a run could last most of the night if I wanted. It is a blast to play, even if some of the enemies can be frustrating to figure out. There is a reason it’s consistently at the top of my recently played list.