When you hear real-time strategy and tower defense, you may think these types of games are exclusively intended for playing on a PC. However, there are exceptions. With its unique take on the genre, Amplitude Studios proves that Dungeon of the Endless is a port worth playing on the Nintendo Switch.
A ship full of prisoners and jailers gets attacked near a planet called Auriga. After a crash landing, our two heroes find themselves in the middle of an ancient dungeon. Then, they must manage their resources and explore/escape each room of the facility.
There is not much more to the story. Endless games share a universe and have a lot of potential to create a lively game world. However, Dungeon of the Endless uses its setting at best as a background. The atmosphere would have benefited immensely by the addition of the now rich cultures and narratives of the Endless universe.
Of course, apart from the occasional elevator banter, you don’t notice anything in a playful or narrative way. This would have been an opportunity for atmospheric depth. Dungeon of the Endless’s gameplay always starts with our destroyed escape ship. Players must work their way through the floor from a top-viewing angle to make their way to the exit and head to the next floor. A supposedly manageable task, but it has its surprises. Dungeon of the Endless hides astonishingly complex and demanding challenges, despite the short opening.
The gameplay is a mix of dungeon-crawler, strategy, and tower defense. You control from one to four heroes at a time giving them instructions on how to advance through each room. Once you explore enough, you will find the elevator room. This is where you need to transport the core of your escape pod to advance to the next floor.
Next, let’s check out how the genre mash-up works. The dungeon crawling part means that you will be controlling a party of two to four characters. The movement and combat are automatic. You need only to select a room to move, and your team will do the rest. Enemies encountered in a room will be automatically attacked. This makes controlling various characters an easy and quick task while you manage other parts of the gameplay.
Some elements of a dungeon crawler exist here. For example, making a party, going through labyrinthic dungeons, looting chests found inside the rooms, killing monsters, and random events. However, it misses some other important ones. For instance, there are no quests or sidequests here, nor are there puzzles to be solved. There is nothing extra that makes the player be in the adventure.
Then, while you move through the rooms, you will need to power them up to protect your core crystal and crew from the enemies waiting in the dark. Each time you open a door you need to put your defenses up for anything that may appear.
The game presents us with four types of resources to manage. Here is where the tower defense like gameplay gets in. There are four major resources that include Industry, Science, Food, and Dust. Industry creates our modules(turrets and structures). Science allows you to research advanced modules and upgrades. Food heals and levels up your characters. Finally, Dust powers up the rooms you open while exploring.
As tower defense goes, it is possible to create different types of modules using the Industry resource. This includes traps and turrets, or modules to produce extra resources. Usually, in tower defense like games, waves of enemies spawn each round. In this game, hordes of enemies potentially spawn when you open a door. Another change is that you do not receive a reward when defeating such enemies. Also, your resources will have always a limit for each floor. It is not possible to create the perfect room filled with turrets or traps.
While the first three resources can be obtained each time you open a room with a fixed rate, you can build modules that let you get more of a determined resource. To do this, one of the important resources, the Dust, comes in to play. You obtain dust randomly and you have a limited amount. You cannot power up all the rooms on each floor, so deciding which rooms to power up is also another strategic task. Why is powering up rooms important? Each time you open a room and pray that it may not be infested with enemies, there is a decent chance there will be. There’s a probability that for each unpowered room a wave of enemies spawn and go directly for you and your crystal core.
Managing your escape route, deciding about powered and unpowered rooms, which modules to build, and other strategic decisions, make this game exhilarating. It helps make the survival ambiance realistic.
Now into the RPG elements of the game. These ones are very well done. You start by choosing your escape pod. Each pod gives different modifiers to your characters, like healing costing less, automatic production of resources, and such. You start with a standard escape pod, and progressing or finishing runs will unlock more options. Next comes your party selection. Each character possesses different attributes and skills, and you can play as a ranged or melee fighter. Your Food resource allows you to level up your characters, raising their stats, empowering their skills, or event granting new ones. Remember that for each time they level up, the cost will be higher.
So as far as the battle mechanics can take us, this is a game where you can’t ignore the options that you have to survive. You could invest in Food and level up your characters a lot, but in the end, this will not give you an advantage over the hordes of enemies. Building modules like crazy in each powered room can prove not helpful at all with low leveled characters. The gameplay can be described as intense, in that you can never take victory for granted. You always have to maintain a defensive stance for what may be thrown at you. It will not be easy at the beginning, but if you like the thrill and the satisfaction of leaving each floor with your heart pounding in excitement, this game will give you many moments like that.
Graphics and Sound
Next, the ambiance created for the game is awesome. The pixel art looks great and gives the feeling of a foreign mystery. The art style really sells you on the idea of being in a hostile world where anything could happen. The exceptional use of shadows and palate colors works amazingly well, and the game strikes an excellent balance of visual details and minimalism. The game also helps the presentation of the characters, ranging from well-behaved librarians to weird Sado-Maso mercenaries, and even a war-pug. The music is, unfortunately, more forgettable than the visuals. Yet it still provides a steady, spaced-out ambiance that adds to the alien look and feel of Dungeon of the Endless.
Even if each run is labeled as “very easy” or “easy” the game doesn’t give you a proper sense of advance or reward between runs. The best rogue-likes that the genre has to offer make you feel as though you’re getting stronger with each run, and as though the next run will surely result in you getting further than the last. Here it doesn’t feel that way. Sure you can improve your strategy and skill while playing and getting deeper into the game, but the game doesn’t help you at all. You could unlock more escape pods and characters for more strategic options when starting a new run, but without permanent upgrades or something you can carry over from one run to another, you are only at the mercy of the game’s RNG.
Lastly, one of the biggest points of contention for Dungeon of the Endless is that it heavily relies on random elements. This can be a huge issue as the floors begin to feel dauntingly large and escape elevators begin to feel impossibly far away. At times like this, the game won’t give you what you need to properly execute a defensive strategy that’ll sustain you as you explore. Having a bit more stability within the framework of a run itself, or in the overarching progression, would’ve gone a long way to mitigating some of the more frustrating elements of the game.
In conclusion, it’s a complex, challenging, and engaging experience. While its design lacks some elegance, this is a perfect game to have loaded on your Nintendo Switch. It thrives in pick-up-and-play bursts. You will be compelled to hone your strategies and improve. The game has plenty of options with characters to choose and escape pods to play. The presentation is represented amazingly well, and the game runs without issues. Its biggest issues are the music is too bland, and it relies too much on random elements. This is a game with a great price, all DLC currently released, and has tons to offer on your Nintendo Switch.
Final Score: 8/10.