Come try the latest ______ with RPG elements
I don’t mean to sound cynical, but just about every kind of game is tacking on RPG elements to add some perceived depth. Like a fool, I always dive straight into them.
Crossword Dungeon is one of the more recent games to do this to me. The promise of dungeon crawling mixed with crossword puzzles was just too much to resist. In the end, both elements are rather insignificant.
You start your time with Crossword Dungeon as one of three hero types; I chose to be a Barbarian. Each tile of the dungeon represents a letter within the giant crossword puzzle that you are walking about on. Like in a normal roguelike, you must dive down each level’s exit into the next floor. Most tiles contain enemies, and you defeat them by guessing the correct letter for the space you are standing on. If you guess incorrectly, you will likely take damage from an attack, but also deal damage to the enemy occupying your square. In this way, you can eventually unlock the correct letter by defeating the enemy.
At first I thought this was a great way to substitute a cheat mechanic into the game, just tie it to your character progression. Theoretically, more successful crossword players will unlock squares more easily, level up faster, and have a better chance when they are just flat-out guessing. While leveling up does matter, the RPG elements override the crossword. Because most words in Crossword Dungeon are simple, most players will cruise through dungeon floors without actually needing to fight. Enemies will still attack, though, and even if I am playing the crossword game perfectly I can be killed by a skeleton archer. The game doesn’t provide the player with enough RPG skills or abilities to overcome these potentially tactical battles, but it doesn’t mind throwing the enemies in anyways. I didn’t like this form of punishment, especially since the game features permadeath. Crossword Dungeon struggles with balance.
After dying, there isn’t too much incentive to dive back into Crossword Dungeon. The words repeat often, so it doesn’t feel like a unique experience each time, and there isn’t an “Amulet of Yendor” or objective to play. Players are dungeon diving for the sake of diving, and solving puzzles at the risk of losing their player. In the end, the two elements of Crossword Dungeon don’t feel fully reconciled. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a crossword puzzle and RPG hybrid in my heart, Crossword Dungeon just isn’t that game yet.
Crossword Dungeon is available as a Universal download for $1.99 on the App Store