Update: New Expeditions

It’s true, it has been approximately the half-life of argon since I last updated anything on the written (and original!) incarnation of the Indie Ocean.

Basically, I always feel pretty drained when I get home from a hard day sculpting pancake statues, draining canals with a straw, or whatever it is I do for a living right now. I can record and edit a video in typically under an hour, then leave it to render while I do something else. A written review, on the other hand, generally takes 3-4 hours to write, edit, format and post.

Shipwreck. The wreck might have something to do with the gigantic homicidal crustacean you brought aboard in your hand luggage.

Shipwreck. The wreck might have something to do with the gigantic homicidal crustacean you brought aboard in your hand luggage.

Having said that, I prefer doing the written stuff. I enjoy it more and find it more satisfying. Dare I say I think I’m also better at it. So the upshot of all this is that I’m going to try and knuckle down to a review every couple of weeks. Chances are, it’ll be whatever I’ve been playing lately, so it’s likely to be a combination of PC indies, console indies, (real) roguelikes, and occasionally mobile ports of board games. In your face, consistency!

Do I have any particular games lined up? Why yes; yes I do. Look out for Shipwreck; at long last the first real Zelda-alike on Xbox Live Indie Games (previously the closest we had was FenackStory which got an A for good intentions, a C for execution, and a kick in the face for length).

FenackStory. I reviewed this already, and typing the review took about 500 times as long as finishing the game.

FenackStory. I reviewed this already, and typing the review took about 500 times as long as finishing the game.

Continuing with the Zelda-apeing theme, you can also expect to catch a fleeting, sasquatch-like glimpse of some degree of comment about Lenna’s Inception, a quasi-procedural-ish action adventure game which uses visual assets that are different from, but strikingly reminiscent of, Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy.

Lenna's Inception. Went through a lot of changes before they cast DiCaprio.

Lenna’s Inception. Went through a lot of changes before they cast DiCaprio.

The gist here is that the written Indie Ocean is back in business, and if that means reviewing WazHack 75 times and posting rambles about how much I didn’t hate the ending of Mass Effect 3, then so be it. (Don’t worry, that was a lie. Except the bit about Mass Effect.)

See you soon, indie investigators. …Indiegators– Indievestig— Whatever.

Sushi Castle

Regular readers might have noticed that I like a bit of randomly generated exploration. Whether it’s Cursed Loot, Mega Monster Mania, Lair of the Evildoer, Dead Pixels or the newly released Spelunky, the phrase ‘randomly generated’ (or ‘procedurally generated’) sets my heart a-flutter like I’m a chaste maiden in a period novel. It doesn’t always work out, but the sheer animal magnetism is always there.

Sushi Castle, just released by Milkstone Studios (the developer of the delightfully antagonistic Infinity Danger), grabs pretty much everything I like about randomised dungeon crawling and throws it all together. In the manner of a roguelike, you have one solitary life in which to explore as much as you can of a series of randomised floors, killing everything that moves and picking up everything that doesn’t. There are a couple of catches, though.

The first catch is that the actual control works like a twin-stick shooter. None of this turn-based walking into enemies to damage them. Instead you open fire and circle strafe like it’s Infinity Danger all over again. The second catch is that in place of huge quantities of largely interchangeable loot, you instead pick up a small number of very different items that modify your abilities. Where many dungeon crawlers have you switching from Ragged Loincloth +1 to Reinforced Pantaloons + 3 as you pick up a modest junkyard’s worth of miscellaneous brick-a-brack, Sushi Castle doesn’t.  It eschews equipment in favour of one-offs that are usually found in special rooms only once or twice per floor, like the Ninja Cloud that enables you to fly and the stodgy snack that gives you a health boost but makes you walk like you have EA’s DLC catalogue strapped to your feet.

This guy is definitely wearing Back to Karkand sandals

The upshot of all this is that while many randomised dungeon crawlers promise replayability yet offer only repetition with minor variations, Sushi Castle is genuinely hugely replayable. The differences between playthroughs aren’t just a matter of fractionally different stats on your Orcish Linguini Spatula of Flaying but real, tangible changes that alter the way the game plays out. This also forces you to be adaptable. Sometimes you might be a damage sponge with a ton of health, while other times you’ll be a glass cannon with high damage but no means of defence. Sometimes you’ll rely on bombs to deal serious damage, and other times you’ll have to make use of your manoeuvrability. You have to be able to play in a variety of styles, because you never know how your character will end up developing.

The game’s greatest strength is its most conspicuous weakness. Some attempts can feel doomed from the start if you can’t find the right items to unlock shops, or you keep picking up stat reductions through sheer bad luck. The game’s scrolls and sushi have randomly assigned effects that can be very positive but also sometimes very negative, and it’s frustrating to have an otherwise successful playthrough suddenly fall apart because you unwittingly used a scroll that filled the room with live bombs.

The shoulder-mounted panda, a common sight in the Shogunate armies

This isn’t a huge problem though, and the benefits of this truly unpredictable approach to dungeoneering outweigh the drawbacks. For only 80 Microsoft points, there’s a lot of play time in Sushi Castle. In principle, you can play it indefinitely without having the same experience twice. I’ve already got my money’s worth out of it with hours of play time invested, and I’m still seeing new items popping up all the time. Just to add delicious icing to the cake, Milkstone Studios plan to add new features when they reach specific sales landmarks. It’s an interesting approach that is increasingly common in indie games, and personally I find it far preferable to demanding more money in exchange for negligible additions.

Oh, one more thing. I have to mention this or my journalistic credibility badge will be repossessed and used to fund nefarious criminal activities. For better or worse, Sushi Castle is Edmund McMillen’s Steam hit The Binding of Isaac. There are a few differences – the ability to fire diagonally, some of the bosses and one or two enemy  types – but 90% of the game is lifted directly from Isaac and just re-painted. The way the game generates everything in general, its item room/shop/gauntlet room set up, its bomb/key/special item system, the enemy types, the item effects – the majority of these things are exactly the same. Sushi Castle would be stretching the acceptability of being ‘inspired by…’ to its limits. Having said that, if your computer can’t run The Binding of Isaac, or you hate Steam, or you just prefer to play from your sofa rather than a rigid office supplies chair, this might be the game for you.

I recommend Sushi Castle because it’s good fun, it’s generally executed well, and the way it handles randomised dungeon crawling means it’s still entertaining after hours of play. For the price, you won’t get many better deals. It’s just a shame that all of its qualities are actually something else’s qualities recycled, with no voice of its own.

Avalis Dungeon

I’d rather not think about Avalis Dungeon, but I made my choice and must live with it. At least it was a reasoned decision with logical consequences, which is more than I can say for anything that happens in Team Shuriken’s insubstantial adventure failure.

Probably the first thing that will strike you when you play Avalis Dungeon or even glance at its cover is the recurring theme of under-dressed faux-anime women. A lot of the time there’s a vaguely S&M tone too, with various ‘enemies’ and ‘characters’ inexplicably being chained to things, and convulsing in a vaguely suggestive way when struck down by your long, sturdy spear.

Accusing Avalis Dungeon of being a shameless attempt to grab the ‘frustrated teenage boy’ market is like accusing William Shatner of being a hammy actor. Actually, it pretty much is the indie game version of The Shat. It’s cheesy and over the top, and consciously tries to play up its deficiencies to the point of caricature. Unlike Shatner, Avalis Dungeon’s efforts never manage to distract anyone for even a moment from the fact that it’s pathetically awful.

The amateur anime underwear model cheesecakery isn’t Avalis Dungeon’s biggest failing. It’s the thing I resented most – the assumption that I, the XBLIG-buying consumer, will lap up anything that contains some kind of semi-lifelike representation of exposed female skin – but it wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the complete absence of any form of logic to the ‘puzzles’ and ‘battles’. This game is about trial and error.

Priestess? Presumably functional clothing is the devil’s work.

Your character, the ‘priestess’ Athena who seems to believe that the path to holiness involves forsaking all worldly undergarments, is exploring some miscellaneous dungeon in search of an Evil Thing. In a cross between Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks and old first-person dungeon crawlers like Eye of the Beholder, you see the world through Athena’s eyes while navigating in unwieldy lurches that require you to choose a course of action. At the outset, for example, you have three choices of route – ahead, left or right – and must press the corresponding face button to select one. It’s deep and involving stuff, clearly. Still, as someone who owned (and still owns) a lot of gamebooks, this could hold a certain appeal. Unfortunately Avalis Dungeon laughs in the face of those carefully constructed adventures.

The Demon Lord’s elite troops. Apparently.

The outcomes of your choices here are nonsensical. When you encounter an obstacle or enemy you have to press a face button to attempt one of several actions. Faced with a half-naked mermaid, do you cast a fire spell, cast an ice spell, or just ram your spear through her face? It doesn’t matter how much logic you apply to your decision, the correct answer is completely arbitrary. In some situations a fire spell will be ‘too slow’ and get you killed but an ice spell will not. RPG fans might think there’s an elemental weakness theme here – that firey enemies can be killed by ice, or icey/watery enemies can be killed by fire. But no. There’s no reason to any of it, just arbitrary whim. The only way to progress through the game is to guess, and if you guess the wrong option you start over and guess anew. Similarly, a corridor blocked by bladed pendulums can be passed successfully by jumping over them, despite the on-screen picture showing quite clearly that there’s no space to do that.

Ariel gets cross when you don’t leave the money on the bedside table.

Who is this intended for? To whom is this blind guesswork fun? There’s no sense of engagement; nothing obliterates immersion quite as effectively as having the game make no sense. There isn’t even any sense of achievement when you finish the game, because you didn’t achieve anything. You guessed often enough to hit upon the correct answers by chance, and did this over and over until the end. It’s futile and pointless. Maybe the persistent semi-nudity is meant to distract from the non-existent gameplay, but all it does is accentuate the problem. Instead of feeling merely stupid and pointless, it feels stupid, pointless and cheap.

Avalis Dungeon: it’s not a game because there’s really no playing involved, and even if you just want amateurishly drawn semi-nudity you’re better off trying Google. Don’t give Team Shuriken your 240 Microsoft points. Even buying your avatar a selection of ugly matching accessories would be a better use of your money, and you won’t feel like you need to bleach yourself afterwards.

This time you Bit off more than you could Crunch

Bit Crunch.

Bit.

Crunch.

There’s something very apt about that choice of words. It invokes incompleteness and despondent finality. In other words, the game is about as appealing as a plate of baked scrotum. I could leave it there, but I’m not going to. After all, what is a review for if not to dilute my own grim ordeal by foisting chunks of it off on unsuspecting readers?

I hoped I’d like Bit Crunch. Its visuals are awkwardly charming, in the same sort of way as 30 year old photos of your your parents with big hair and humorous trousers. I quite like them, but I can’t in good conscience describe them as ‘good’. Maybe it’s the remnants of nine year old Alan reminiscing about long weekends spent sitting alone in his dad’s spare room, wrenching that joystick while cowboys and miners twitched across the screen before his red-rimmed eyes.

Atari has a lot to answer for in my childhood.

Bit Crunch goes out of its way to look like it’s on an Atari 2600. Sadly, it also plays like it’s on an Atari 2600. A depressed one that’s trapped in a loveless marriage. When looking like it was made 30 years ago is your game’s best feature, maybe it’s time to reconsider charging for it. Or even giving it away for free. Or indeed showing it to your friends. Or enemies.

Your little Atari alien/blob/person moves from room to room in search of a colour-coded key that opens a matching door, beyond which are more rooms and more keys. The layout seems to be procedurally generated, which was what first drew me to the game, but they might as well not be. Rooms are very simple and usually full of annoyingly fast enemies that swarm you and are difficult to hit with shots from your Atari-era brick catapult. But they aren’t the real obstacle between you and the randomly-placed keys. Oh no.

The real obstacles are the walls and the act of leaving the room.

Frostbite 2 could take lessons from Bit Crunch

Passing within spitting distance of the walls kills you instantly. It’s unclear whether they’re meant to be on fire or dripping with acid or something. From the crackling sound and irritating flickering effect I’d guess they’re meant to be electrified, but with graphics that represent everything as either a block or a line there’s really no way to be sure. I’ve opted to believe that they spray a cloud of anthrax upon contact with anyone who looks like a Kinder Surprise toy. It’s a specialist security system but apparently an effective one, and I can sympathise with the agenda.

The second major obstacle to success is simply leaving the room. Almost every room is crammed to bursting with respawning enemies that converge upon you to headbutt you in the face old-school style, and the randomised layout means you have no idea where to go and end up backtracking quite a lot. Now add to this the fact that when you return to a room– No, I can’t say it. It’s making me angry just remembering it.

Breathe.

Okay, I’m ready now. When you return to a room…all the enemies are exactly where they were when you left. Remember, these bastards chase you right to the edge of every damn room unless you wipe out the lot of them, in which case they’ll reward your achievement by all respawning in about ten seconds. This makes your odds of safely re-entering a room about equal to your odds of safely re-entering anything else. The atmosphere, say. Or Prypiat.

So, the quick rundown: a game that makes backtracking simultaneously essential and fatal, while surrounding you with instant-death walls and wearing wizened old graphics like they’re a fashionable hat. Not a blurb you’d want to read on the back of the box. I was tempted to escape from playing Bit Crunch by fleeing the room, but I knew it would be waiting just inside the door to headbutt me in the face when I got back. The bastard.

Bit Crunch, then, is the best game I’ve ever played. If by ‘best’ you mean ‘not quite worst’. (Which reminds me: fuck Goolin.)

The Never-starting Story

For a while I wasn’t sure what to call this game. A string of characters I can’t read is problematic, even in the privacy of my head. Fortunately, I found an answer while clearing out my hard drive. Though officially titled フェナックむら ものがたり this game’s save data is labelled FenackStory, so that’s what I’m going with.

FenackStory is one of the handful of Japanese-only Xbox indie games. I gather from an assortment of hazily-remembered sources that Microsoft’s console gaming colossus is more of a yappy little terrier in Japan. There are some good articles out there on the impenetrability of Japan to western games, and the Xbox seems to have fallen foul of that. The console just doesn’t sell very well there, and as a result there aren’t very many games in Japanese on the indie channel. One particularly idle evening, I was craving a fix of a Zelda-like top-down adventure game, and I thought Japan was the most likely source for one. Thanks to its box art of a character who looked like Link if he’d been drawn hastily in MS Paint, FenackStory got my attention.

My initial assumption was broadly right. This game wears its Zelda aspirations not only on its sleeve but all over its face. If influences were clothes, FenackStory would be wearing a Legend of Zelda t-shirt, carrying a triforce-shaped wallet in the pocket of its Goron brand jeans, and hiding its own forgettable facial features behind a creepy Link mask.

I think she's saying "It's dangerous to go alone. Take this."

Don’t get me wrong. While FenackStory‘s role model is obvious, it succeeds perfectly well at doing what it sets out to: being a low budget Zelda clone that will set you back a mere 80 Microsoft points. The puzzle types will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played a top-down Zelda game – hitting switches to move statues into position, throwing pots, finding the right item to open up a new path. Similarly, the combat is very familiar. Swing your sword (upgradable a couple of times to shoot projectiles) at the enemies confined to each room, and equip a secondary item of your choice for a magical effect. There are even winged shoes that allow you to run faster while holding RB.

The game’s plot is incomprehensible without knowledge of Japanese, but the gameplay doesn’t suffer for it. Whatever the story is, it’s clearly only a justification for our wannabe-Link protagonist to wander through some dungeons. It doesn’t take long to work out that certain characters heal you and save your game, and none of the puzzles are difficult enough that your inability to read the accompanying signposts will hamper you.

I don't care how weak it is, I refuse to shoot you in the eye.

FenackStory starts off with a brief stroll through a village, then a couple of introductory dungeons comprising discrete rooms that unLink can pass between but enemies can’t. So far, so Zelda. I was actually having a pretty good time and thinking my 80 MSP had been well spent. After these introductory dungeons, there’s a boss. Like most first bosses, it’s pretty straightforward. Dodge its attacks and hit it until it dies. I came embarrassingly close to dying, but killed it on my first try. That’s fair for a first boss.

And this, I’m afraid, is where it all falls apart. I slapped down that first, easy boss and…the credits rolled. The short sequences of rooms populated by weak enemies and simple puzzles were not introductory dungeons. They were the entire game. I expected FenackStory to be short, as an indie game costing less than a box of value bran flakes. What I didn’t expect was for it to last barely longer than it takes me to eat a bowl of the aforementioned milk-sodden brown shards.

Play the trial, by all means. It’s pretty fun, if easy. Go on, give it a try. Let me know when you’re done.

I think it says-- Oh wait, I used that one. Er...oh look, no chickens!

Welcome back. Did you manage to get out of that first short castle dungeon? I know I did. Congratulations, you have completed 50% of the game within the eight minute trial period. Now play the trial again, and this time imagine that at the end you spend a minute or so running left and right to hit a large enemy.

Congratulations again; you have now, to all intents and purposes, played the whole of FenackStory.

I don’t want to be too hard on this game. It does what it sets out to well enough – it’s a low-grade but fun clone of the old Zeldas. I did have a good time with it. It would be churlish to complain at an 80 MSP game lacking the hours and hours of content you’d find in a real Zelda adventure. There’s no denying, though, that even at this tiny price, a mere 15-20 minutes of play isn’t enough. And that’s including the two or three minutes I spent trying to work out what the items in the shop might do, and then trying them out on enemies. It’s also including some degree of backtracking to make sure I visited every room and opened every chest.

Normally I’d comment on the visuals and sound, but there doesn’t seem to be much point. With even just three dungeon-then-boss sequences, FenackStory would be easy to recommend as a cheap, short Zelda-alike. As it is, even 80 MSP seems a bit steep for a game that is barely more than a tutorial level.

No wonder he looks annoyed. Those switches are the size of his whole body. I hope he's been hitting the gym lately.

I really want to recommend FenackStory, but I can’t in good conscience actually advise anyone to buy it. There just isn’t enough there, and that is a woeful shame. Still, if you have 80 MSP to spare that you’re happy to use for 15 minutes of entertainment, go right ahead. I’d like to think we might be encouraging the developer to make a longer sequel. Certainly the Xbox indie channel needs more of this sort of adventure game – just please, give us some that last a little longer than a more leisurely than average dental brushing.

Just Another Manic Monster

Xbox Live Indie Games isn’t starved for roguelikes. What it is starved for is games about hyperactive, ice-skating square heads swinging swords like obelisks in frantic drive-by slashings of kamikaze baby seals.

Initially, Mega Monster Mania gives the impression of being a dungeon crawl. There are a few of those on XBLIG, perhaps the most reputable of which is Epic Dungeon (now updated as Cursed Loot). If you loosen the definition to include games that aren’t strictly roguelikes/dungeon crawls but share many qualities with them, such as Lair of the Evildoer, the number is quite healthy. Mega Monster Mania fits best into this latter category; it has elements of a dungeon crawl, others of a traditional roguelike, and some qualities of a sugar-fuelled child convulsively beating its fists against every object in sight because it just has too much energy not to.

And that’s what really sets MMM apart from its fellows, in the simplest terms: energy.

An unusually small weapon. So to speak.

Roguelikes traditionally centre around trawling for loot through a series of randomly generated floors, the layout of which is revealed only through exploration. Mega Monster Mania does tick all these boxes, but it doesn’t stop there; it continues ticking right to the edge of the page and onto the table, giggling all the while. The most traditional games in the genre (on XBLIG, Dungeon Adventure comes to mind) are quite slow, deliberate affairs despite the rapid pace of their combat. They emphasise slogging along lengthy corridors, mapping out each floor until you find the exit or tire of looking for loot. Even Epic Dungeon, which accelerates the pace somewhat, has the feel of a steady trudge. This isn’t a criticism; that’s just the nature of the genre.

Mega Monster Mania, in contrast, is the cocky blue hedgehog of dungeon crawls. It looks into the tarry stew of the roguelike, and spices it up with the tabasco of Gauntlet. Everything happens very quickly. Enemies charge at you full-tilt whenever they see you, and many of them move faster than you do. Some shoot fireballs in various patterns. But the sense of speed comes mainly from two features.

Firstly, literal speed of movement. Your character skates around everywhere like the 80s never left us, and you will often find yourself accidentally ploughing headlong into a throng of monsters. It’s particularly noticable in the ice stages, which follow the traditional game ice route of dramatically reducing friction. Your character feels like a pinball in these levels. It’s not just you, either; many of your enemies move similarly, giving them an erratic edge that cranks up the panic when you blunder into a room that’s teeming with them.

Secondly, the control scheme resembles a twin-stick shooter. This makes sense when using a bow; you nudge the right stick in any direction to launch an arrow that way, or hold it for sustained fire. More often, though, you’ll be swinging a sword the size of a small car, and this too is done using the right stick.

Me choosing my haircut by bashing a huge grey block. Barbers are so passé.

These two features combine to give Mega Monster Mania a frantic pace. Personally, I coped with this by developing a joust-like style of combat: after popping off a few arrows from a distance to soften up my enemies, I charge in headlong, narrowly avoiding my target and carving it up with my sword as I pass, before pulling a skidding 180 to make another pass.

Action definitely seems to be the name of this game. When MMM‘s developers threw the traditional trundling pace on the junk heap, they followed it with character levelling. Of course your character needs to grow in power to cope with the increasing challenge, but this is done entirely through equipment. The game’s item drops fall into three types: usable items (a handful of trinkets that offer short-term bonuses or quick damage), money and equipment. Even your gear isn’t permitted to slow the manic pace, as new weapons and armour can only be equipped in the shop at the end of each floor. So there’s no need – or option – for inventory management, or even simply glancing to see what you just picked up. All you can do is charge onward to the exit. Once there, you can weigh up the damage, protection and bonus status effects of the gear you grabbed, sell anything you don’t want, and move on.

I can’t give a fair look at Mega Monster Mania without commenting on the visual style. This was the first thing that struck me when I started playing, thanks to its oddness. Initially I couldn’t decide whether it was intentionally distinctive or just lazy. Your character is a square, with some hair and a pair of eyes to indicate that you’re meant to be looking down on the top of someone’s head. No visible limbs or animation, just your little square guy and enemies that are often (though by no means always) similarly geometric. It was a little baffling at first, but once I got used to the style I actually quite liked it. These visuals combined with the rocket-propelled pace of gameplay give the game a quite distinctive feel that cements it in my memory much more firmly than its forgettable title does. Besides, colourful yet minimalist seems to fit MMM‘s general demeanour.

Sadly, Mega Monster Mania hasn’t managed to shed the main failing of the roguelike dungeon crawl: repetition. Even the best of this genre fall prey to the eventual feeling of battling through yet another floor full of enemies, opening chests and swigging potions, and MMM is no different. Its pace helps to stave this off, but the trade-off is the lack of depth that would be provided by customisation through levelling – the method by which others like Epic Dungeon fight to hold our attention.

Clearly a reputable wholesaler.

Unlike most of its counterparts, MMM hasn’t really bothered to implement a save system. A save would be good. On the opposite side of the scale, no save at all could work – have each adventure be a fresh one, pushing as far as possible into the dungeon from the beginning. The problem here is that the game sits uncomfortably between the two. It remembers which floor you reached and lets you keep your equipment, but your items and gold are reset to basics (ten potions, no other items, no gold). The lack of gold is particularly troublesome; a few floors down, you’ll need every potion you can get, and the game doesn’t play very fair in cutting you down to ten with no way to buy more just because you decided quit and come back later. Even your character’s appearance has to be selected anew, and while this is entirely cosmetic and simply a matter of selecting one from a handful of options, it’s still an unnecessary inconvenience.

The other major problem with the game is the clumsy item selection system. For the most part the controls are minimalist, and effective for the rapid battles. Flick between weapons (which you will mostly only have two of) with RB, and attack with the right stick. Easy. Unfortunately, there are several usable items in your inventory, and these are selected by the same method as weapons – you cycle through them with LB. Considering how quick combat is, having to tap the button four times to reach a potion or bomb can get you killed. Not to mention the hassle of memorising the sequence of items so you don’t have to risk your life glancing away from the action to check whether you’re about to drink a life-saving potion or give yourself a speed boost right into a monster’s spiked face. It wouldn’t be so bad if we could work around it by selling off items we never use (in my case, the aforementioned speed boost) but, unlike equipment, these consumables can’t be sold.

No motion blur here. Thanks, Xbox.com! Ahem.

These flaws aren’t fatal though. Mostly they’re minor niggles, and even the awkward middle-ground semi-save is only a noticable problem if you frequently leave and return – and you probably won’t. It’s not that sort of game. It’s one you’ll play in occasional bursts of an hour or two. As to the other problems, the use of consumable items becomes key to your success as you progress further, and you’ll soon learn which ones you use most and be able to select them on the fly. A lot of the time you’ll be able to tell when you’re about to enter an area crawling with enemies, and can have a plan in mind to use a certain item before quickly switching to another. I’m not excusing the clumsiness but it doesn’t ruin the game, and it’s hard to think of a better to way to implement it that wouldn’t necessitate letting go of one of the sticks in the middle of chaotic combat.

Taken as a whole, Mega Monster Mania comes recommended. It’s easy to learn and easy to play, but not easy. It provides the procedurally generated exploration hijinks of a dungeon crawler, but streamlines everything and cranks up the speed to an alarming pace. Its odd visual style is quite charming once you adjust, and if you have a friend who fancies tackling a high-speed loot trawl with you, there’s a two-player mode, though it seems to be local only.

If you have the slightest interest in charging through dungeons full of enemies in search of treasure, you should give Mega Monster Mania a try. And if you’ve tried the likes of Epic Dungeon or Dungeon Adventure and found them a bit sedate, this might be right up your street. With even the full game costing a mere 80 MSP, you really have nothing to lose by giving it a go.