Dandy Dun­geon


An­droid, iOS

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

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