By Jason Quinn / November 8th, 2019
|Release Date||August 23rd 2019|
Plunge is a rogue-like/rogue-lite developed and published by Spooky Buns. The premise is fairly simple. You’re a newly convicted criminal about to be sent to prison, but the prison is overcrowded, so you get sent to wander a dungeon and maybe fight your way out to earn your freedom. That’s basically it as far as story goes.
Plunge on the surface plays like most other grid based rogue-likes. Navigate a dungeon floor to find items, defeat enemies, and search for stairs to proceed to the next floor. The big gimmick in this game, though, is that when you move in a certain direction, you’ll move as many spaces as possible until there is something obstructing you. Think of it like permanent ice physics, but far less annoying than that sounds. With this weird movement, simply navigating each floor of the dungeon becomes a little puzzle in itself. Fortunately, floors are very small, so it’s never tedious to navigate them.
Enemies are also there to pose as obstacles, and they all follow fairly predictable behaviors and attack patterns. Some of them can move randomly, but it’s pretty easy to tell what they’re gonna do. Planning out how you approach enemies is key. Speaking of keys, you have to find one on each floor in order to progress. The key is usually just hanging out on the floor somewhere, but enemies will pick it up if they move over it, so you have to defeat them to get it.
Actually killing enemies is mostly optional in this game. There is no leveling system, so the only benefits to killing enemies is just removing them, or getting an item they have. Enemies can have food, which restores health, and pieces of armor, which essentially act as extra hit points. More interesting are potions, which have a wide range of effects. Some can heal you, some can increase your damage, some can make you invulnerable for a time. All the effects are temporary though, and when you pick up a new potion it will be unidentified, so you have to use it to know what it is. Fortunately if you pick up the same potion again, you will know what it is immediately. I’m not a big fan of this sort of system, but most potions are beneficial in some capacity, though there is one that can poison you. Dying because of that always feels incredibly cheap, even if it is infrequent.
The dungeon is separated into several sections, each one containing 30 floors. Every 10 floors in each section you get the opportunity to get an ability, free of charge. This can be simple stuff like just doing more damage, or doing more damage based on how many squares you moved towards the enemy. There’s also weirder stuff like dealing more damage on even-numbered floors, or making it so when there’s one enemy left, any attack you or the enemy does is an instant kill. I never had a run where I ended up with just totally useless abilities, so it all seems fairly well balanced to me.
Also worth noting is that floors in this game aren’t completely randomly generated. The layouts used are all intentionally designed, though the order they appear in is random, and what enemies they have are also random, with some exceptions. The first handful of floors in each section are all predetermined so that you can get used to whatever new enemies and traps that section has first. Traps include stuff like spike traps that will just do damage to gas traps that will reverse your controls for one turn. The 30th floor of each section is a boss fight, and beating it will unlock the next section. Once you unlock it, you can start future runs right from there.
Overall I don’t think this game is too hard, but it does test your patience, more so than a lot of other games. Because of the predictable nature of enemies, if you end up in a position where you can’t avoid taking damage, it’s usually because you just weren’t paying attention enough or were trying to rush. You can play this game very quickly. Before too long, I found I could clear floors in mere seconds.
This mentality can backfire pretty hard though. You can go from breezing through the game to running headlong into your own demise pretty quickly. It can be a frustrating game to play, but mostly because you know that your deaths were entirely your own fault. Death is just a momentary setback though. A run through a section probably won’t take you more than 15 minutes. This game being as fast as it is, I always found myself thinking “alright just one more attempt” whenever I died. Before I knew it, I had spent several hours playing it.
To add to the variety and replayability, you also have a bunch of different characters to play as, with different abilities. The starting character gets a lot of health. One character gets armor, while another allows potions to last longer. My personal favorite character was one with low health, but after you attack an enemy, they take extra damage in subsequent turns. I do wish the game told you what the requirements were for unlocking characters. I unlocked a few after each run but after that it felt random, though I assume there were some requirements I had to meet.
Visually the game looks nice enough. The dungeon has a fairly simple look so that it’s easy to parse. There’s a sort of intentional “griminess” to the art style that compliments the game taking place in this dilapidated prison dungeon. Plunge delivers a bit less on the music department though. Each section just plays a single track on repeat, and they’re not bad, but they’re not exactly memorable tunes either. I ended up muting the game and playing it while listening to podcasts and such.
Overall I don’t think it’s one of the best rogue-likes I’ve played, but I think it stands above your garden variety rogue-like. Its gimmick makes playing through the game really fast, yet it still demands careful planning. For just $8 on Steam and the Switch, it’s not a bad deal at all if you’re looking for something on a very low budget. It’ll probably last you 10-20 hours or so, depending on just how good you are at playing cautiously.
Review copy was provided by the publisher.
nintendo switchPCPlungerogue-likerogue-liteSpooky Buns