Popup Dungeon is a clever and entertaining game. As a profoundly customizable dungeon crawler, Popup Dungeon offers a “just one more turn” feel, with satisfying progression through silly and nerd-humor saturated adventures, even before adding user-generated content. Nevertheless, the question remains – is this a game worth playing? Is my opinion – a stranger of questionable sanity and morality – worthy of your attention and consideration? Find out below – this is our Popup Dungeon review!
I’m going to take the suspense out of this review by saying, I really like Popup Dungeon. It’s a near fully customizable rogue-like adventure that features plenty of developer created content and the possibility of endless user content. The visuals are expertly crafted and, dare I say, far and away worlds better than what I would have anticipated from an indie title. Popup Dungeon’s visuals are designed to look like paper terrain (similar to what you might find here) and boy, do they? I was not too fond of the hero avatars at first, but I then realized that they were crafted to allow for content creators to design their own… more on that later. The audio was is well designed and thorough, with a plethora of sounds and voices for creators uses.
The premise, as it were, is that you, the player, are in a game of death, of sorts, with the game’s dungeon master. You must conquer his tower of rogue-like levels, and in the process grow stronger (by winning and buying charms that boost your party’s stats). Players will also explore alternate game modes and get a sense for some of what’s possible in Popup Dungeon’s engine. This gave me Neverwinter Nights kinda vibes, and I liked it. Each of the developer’s offerings in terms of the games has thus far felt cheeky in its humor, and rife with puns and references.
The writing is well done and well thought out. It is clear that the developers put considerable thought into how they wanted dialog branches, consequences, and the adventures overall to flow. The care with which they put into gameplay comes across as fluid and well thought out dialog and story arcs that had twists and turns that I couldn’t have and wouldn’t have guessed. And it all felt good, honestly. From landing a spaceship on a planet and fighting ‘mythical’ fantasy beasts on a way to a cave with a post-apocalyptic diner and a portal to some other dimension that released crazy electricity beasts, each decision has the potential to dramatically shape gameplay. That said, I haven’t replayed any adventures yet, but I expect that if I did, decisions such as ‘where do I go in the village’ could play out with substantially different storylines.
Throughout gameplay, it is reasonable to expect combat. From what I have thus far experienced (given that there is much to experience), some maps are like a rogue-like level in that exploration may yield combat upon entering a room, or a decision at the adventuring-choose-your-own-adventure level might yield instant combat. One module has ship-to-ship combat represented in a turn-based style through dialog options, complete with ship stats. The designers really stress that creativity and customizability are hallmarks of Popup Dungeon, and I am inclined to believe them.
However, that’s not always a good thing. Coupled with a lack of documentation (to my awareness), understanding some of Popup Dungeon’s systems is difficult. There is a learning curve, such as understanding what various buffs, boons, weaknesses, and debuffs mean and do. That’s important, because some of those buffs may contribute to both combat and a story segment where a d20 rolls, potentially leading to safety or treasure, vs. damage or debuffs for your next combat. FYI, RNG will screw you, but it does feel fair, unlike my personal D20, which I’m pretty sure has a spirit attached that I must have offended at some point. I digress.
The customization portion is similarly complex to the rules and mechanics. I played around with character and ability creation but stopped there due to time and puzzlement. I did create a rockin’ necromancer dude but never got to play him because I didn’t realize that created content is off by default (or was for me). I also created an ability that allowed my necromancer to reform when killed, healing himself for a substantial amount of health, but with a cooldown and a limited number of uses for balance. I suppose one could try to way off-balance an ability, but it seems like auto-balancing is done in some way to ensure some degree of parity with other abilities.
Popup Dungeon’s website touts multiplayer, but I have not dabbled with it, so I can’t speak to that, but the developers did express concern about balance, and a subsequent decision to not include PVP. That said, stacking bonuses in your favor, whether those bonuses come from items, abilities, or charms (which are accrued after adventures and provide overarching bonuses such as shielding or auto-resurrection) that carry through to future battles.
There are, however, some pockmarks on this otherwise flawless game. I did experience some difficulty with hangs, but polish otherwise was unremarkable. The ease with which one can stack a party to create a death star seems kind of ridiculous, but sometimes that feels necessary to survive some fights. An inability to move or shoot through occupied squares dramatically slows down the action but does provide alternate tactical considerations. Perhaps my biggest gripe is that heroes reset to default between adventures. I suppose it makes sense, adventures are not necessarily tied together in any meaningful way, but still – I like to follow my heroes over time in epic adventures. Maybe that’s not what the designers were going for, but I’m spoiled that way.
I suppose it’s worthwhile to say, however, that despite the drawbacks, I had a blast with Popup Dungeons. I often do not continue playing a game following a review, as I feel like I’ve accomplished a goal upon doing so, but Popup feels fresh enough each time I play that I suspect this will be in my Steam library, getting its exercise, for some time to come.
This review was completed with a Steam key provided by PR.