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Desktop Dungeons' 3D remake loses some charm, but there's still a lot to like about it


Four cartoon fantasy heroes are backed into a fiery corner by a horde of enemies. Will they survive?
QCF Design

Remaking a game is such a tricky thing because, in doing so, you risk losing some of what made it special in the first place. Games are a collection of things, elements, and if you pull even a small part of that stuff apart, the whole thing can change into something else.

Desktop Dungeon is a case in point, a 10-year-old Roguelike known for looking a bit like Minesweeper, and with a cult following. It's won awards, it's well regarded, and now it's been remade as Desktop Dungeon: Rewind, and it's out this week.

But it's not top-down and flat any more: it's 3D. And in changing that perspective, it's lost some of its inherent charm of the original - some of app-ness and puzzle game immediacy of it, and some of the hand-drawn charm on the world maps. Now it looks like many other 3D dungeon games, and quite murky, unremarkable ones at that, and because of it, it's much harder to forgive the rougher edges and clunks.

This is the new 3D remake in action.

It's a shame because spend some time with Rewind and get past the clunky opening, and the core of what made Desktop Dungeons is still there, and it's as compelling and fiendish as it ever was. At its distilled purest, this is still an exercise in finding the optimum turn order to clear a dungeon out. And now there's a rewind mechanic to help.

Quick recap: in Desktop Dungeons, you move through a dungeon one tile at a time, clearing it of enemies until you are powerful enough to kill a boss. And to become powerful enough, you need to level up by killing enemies and collecting power-ups and potions. Enemies appear with numbers on them, denoting their level, and if you want to fight them, you click on them - you are always the attacker. You trade blows until one of you walks away or dies.

A fairly typical map screen in a fantasy game. There are some buildings, some trees, some grass. How poetic of me.
A Minesweeper-like game with little fantasy enemies that have numbers on them. Most of the area is dark around them.
A Minesweeper-like game with little fantasy enemies that have numbers on them. Most of the area is dark around them.
This is the original Desktop Dungeons. There was a simple clarity to the presentation of the dungeons.

One other thing: as you remove the fog of war shrouding the level, you restore health and mana, depending on how many tiles of fog of war you remove.

It's a simple premise but there's an underlying science to it, and soon - and at the highest levels - you will need to consider every aspect of your approach in order to find the edge you need to win the fight.

And as you play, the calculations will broaden infinitesimally as you unlock many more modifiers on the world map above - buildings with new hero-types and equipment and so on.

All of that is still there in Rewind. But why did it need the remake at all? Perhaps it all stems back to the big cloning issue from 2010, when Desktop Dungeons was cloned to iPhone by someone who wasn't South African developer QCF Design, and it became a cautionary tale for people making indie games. Perhaps a remake is a way to finally be rewarded fairly for the idea.

A tiled, forested, game space, with a hero's portrait in the top left of the screen and some icons - abilities - on a hotbar below.
And this is Desktop Dungeons: Rewind. Zoomed out like this, you can see how it's similar to the original. But it also now looks lot many other games, which can be confusing when it doesn't play like them.
A tiled, forested, game space, with a hero's portrait in the top left of the screen and some icons - abilities - on a hotbar below.
A forested scene with a small town in the middle of it. This is the map on a fantasy-inspired game.

Or, it might simply be to bring Desktop Dungeons into the current age. The old game barely fills a quarter of my screen now, and to make it bigger means stretching it.

There doesn't seem to be any greedy thinking behind the idea. QCF is giving Rewind away for free to anyone who owns the original, and if you don't own the original, you can buy it for £3 right now, because QCF has discounted the original game by 75 percent especially.

So I believe something has been lost in the transition, but the spirit of Desktop Dungeons undoubtedly lives on. And long may it.

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About the Author
Robert Purchese avatar

Robert Purchese

Senior Staff Writer

Bertie is a long-time writer and now podcaster for Eurogamer. He loves telling a story and listening to them.

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