And we thought Yakuza 0 was going to be the weirdest game we’d play this year. This delightful oddity from Little King’s Story and Chulip creator Yoshiro Kimura centres on a lonely, disillusioned 36-year-old salaryman, Yamada, who quits his job at a social-gaming company to be a bedroom coder. The game he makes is the one you play: a dungeon-crawler that accrues new features as he receives inspiration from an array of visitors including former workmate Yasu and his furious ex-boss (we’ve had a few insults hurled our way by game villains in our time, but “bumbling turdbag” is a new one on us).
More importantly, there’s his new neighbour Maria, with whom Yamada falls instantly and hopelessly in love. His affection can seem uncomfortably ardent, but a terrific localisation paints him as a naive fantasist who is nevertheless acutely aware of his shortcomings. Any triumphs are usually undercut by a sharp note of selfmockery, such as when he creates a dungeon with randomly generated features, claiming it as a new idea before its name is revealed as Yamada The Wanderer.
Dungeons comprise several floors, each set on a 5x5 grid, upon which you must draw a continuous line from entrance to exit. You can spend as long as you like working out the route, but once you’ve pressed finger to screen, you have a limited time to plot a course before you’ll receive damage – and you’ll take a hit for each square you don’t cross. Cash bonuses incentivise perfect pathfinding, and with Yamada’s level resetting between expeditions – thus keeping you on your toes even when revisiting previous haunts – you’ll need that money to buy better gear to survive later quests.
That loop is irresistibly moreish, and though it may seem straightforward, Kimura steadily gives you more plates to juggle and decisions to make. Yamada’s backpack, for example, only ever holds five items, each of which is subject to a cooldown once used and liable to break through overuse – but can you afford to throw away a vial of medicine for a thunder scroll? And would that rice ball you were saving for an emergency continue not be better served to a hungry ally who’ll brave the trials of a bonus dungeon to grab you some rare loot?
Like its designer’s earlier works, Dandy Dungeon has robust depths beneath the outer layers of nuclearstrength whimsy. Such a concentrated dose of off-kilter charm might be cloying to some players (admittedly, we’re in a reasonably good position to identify with a doughy thirtysomething in his underwear furiously tapping away at a PC), but you’d have to be a bumbling turdbag not to at least give Yamada the chance to win your heart.
Familiar iconography – green pipes, pink dresses, a moustachioed hero with a paunch – positions Yamada and Maria as an alternate-universe Mario and Peach. Here, the princess isn’t in another castle, but in its lead’s imagination