There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Paper Dungeons. This small package (once a desktop exclusive now on mobile devices) contains a wealth of content ranging from a Boardgame mode, Campaigns to sample both on and offline, RogueLike randomized play modes and even a Puzzle option. All of this falls by the wayside however when you notice that you can create and share your own campaigns.
In a nutshell, Paper Dungeons is a one stop shop for simple dungeon based RPGs that echoes back to the days of the pen and paper epic. More ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ than ‘Vampire: The Masquerade’, this app allows you the freedom to play games made by the developers, yourself or others who have shared their dungeons online. The game itself plays more than a little like indie darling ‘Desktop Dungeons’ which turns dungeons into a kind of puzzle for the player to solve, but adds dice rolls and random loot to the mix to make things interesting.
Graphically the game is very simple, there’s a choice of male of female knight as your lead character, a handful of different monster types and the dungeon itself which is rendered in blues and greys to better give the impression of a tabletop game. Everything has an unanimated 2D illustration representing it which are charming to look at but simple in design. Imagination here has been channelled into the concepts and systems rather than the setting. We have knights, orcs, goblins and . . . rocks. It’s all as fantasy-lite as possible. Dice and elements of the dungeon are rendered in three dimensions and appear to use a physics engine of their own, making the game feel more like a paper cut out you’d print off and enjoy with friends. Buttons and menus are visually pleasing, but a little small for use on a phone, especially when you need to double-tap anything. I imagine players on newer more sizable devices than the 5c would have less of a problem with this issue.
Sound effects are quite simple, clicks emanate from your device as you play and bags ruffle as items are added to the menu but honestly they are very lacking in variety. You’ll hear the same few effects over and over again within a few seconds of play and that can cause you to turn the sound off in frustration. Musically the game uses some nice ominous synth tracks that loop after a short while. The title screen sounds like the opening scrawl of a Sindbad movie but falls silent way too quickly without feeling the need to loop itself.
The story of the games main ‘boardgame’ mode is fairly simple but charming in its own way. The king of the kingdom you inhabit has lost his crown, which possesses great magical powers. You are tasked with getting it back but it has fallen into the hands of a Demon who uses it to wipe your memory after you clear each dungeon before he scarpers to another one. This has the comical effect of explaining why your level drops back to 1 for each new mission as well as serving to drive you between multiple locations on a linear path to a final reckoning with the demon in question. It’s simple but charming fluff that grounds the game experience and tutors the player in the basics of how everything works whilst giving you a chance to unlock all of the other modes Paper Dungeons has to offer.
And there are quite a few modes. Aside from the ‘boardgame’ there are ‘Rogue’ and ‘Puzzle’ modes which put different spins on the same basic themes. Rogue turns the game into a Roguelike using the same assets as the main game and essentially expands the experience past the initial campaign into endless territory. Puzzle on the other hand allows for you to approach a series of cleverly designed areas and beat the designers in a contest of wills. Where the game really shines is in that it allows you to create and share your own campaigns online using a handy ‘maker’ option as well as log onto the net and download as many player created campaigns as you want to tackle. The game comes packaged with two official additional campaigns created by the games designers themselves and the campaign section is split into three tabs. Those you created, those by others you have downloaded and those from the studio, indicating that they plan to release more content soon. Dungeons function by tapping to move, setting a path and then tapping again to confirm it. Walk over an item or up to an enemy to interact with it. Items are added to your inventory and are largely unknown, requiring that you spend gold to identify them in the menu. You can equip three items and a spell at any time, with three basic spells always at your disposal. These are one-shot use spells for the most part that allow you to escape a battle, heal and chart where monsters are hidden in the dungeon. Spells are arranged handily along the top of the screen as tabs and any chicken-legs you pick up (base level restoratives) also stack on their own tab here. You can always see your stats on the far right and zoom in/out of the screen with buttons at the bottom right hand side of the screen. Combat revolves around rolling dice against a monster’s own dice. This resolves quickly and you can equip different dice sets to better tackle certain enemy types as you unlock them. Most sets consist of two dice, one deciding damage type and the other amount of damage dealt. Combat ends when you win/die/leave as decided by fate and if you’ve used your escape spell expect to be locked into it. All enemies are usually asleep when you encounter them, waking when you’re a tile away making sneaking past them an easy task, which is handy as they display their levels openly meaning you know when you can’t take down a monster. The ultimate task of each dungeon is to find and kill the boss, with exploration tile by tile revealing the map and some missions requiring you to head-butt your way through walls at the cost of health to proceed. Overall it works very well within the simple confines of the games mechanics.
I won’t pretend that the game is flawless. There are a few bugs I’ve encountered on start-up and more than a few ideas cribbed from other titles, but it does bring a great deal of content to the table. If it receives the community and developer support over the course of this initial year it will become a force to be reckoned with.