The Uprising blundered into its second day with Sententia, a game whose place in the promotion was by virtue of it being developed by one of the men running the promotion; a detail sinisterly left out of any pre-Uprising press. Perhaps it wouldn’t seem so vile if Sententia was a good game, unfortunately it is far from such and rather than showcasing Xbox LIVE Indie Games at its very best, it showcases it at its most average, and most broken.
All that can be hoped is that people aren’t tricked into buying it, and that those poor souls that are don’t hold it against the rest of the games that make up the remaining schedule.
Diehard Dungeon is the third game, made by the supremely talented tricktale, and it’s a real return to form for the Uprising and Xbox LIVE Indie Games.
The game mixes elements of Rogue with elements of top-down Zelda games and throws in a dash of Spelunky to form the core of the main game. Each room is procedurally generated, and you must find a key to unlock a door to the next room. Sounds simple enough, but the enemies and various other hazards are there for no other reason than to stop you, and stop you they will, as if you’re a terrorist trying to take over an airport and they’re Bruce Willis. Of course you can try and stop them, but at the start of the game your sword attack is weak, its range slight, and so death is always around the corner.
The game doesn’t casually include the word “hard” in its title for nothing, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if you die fairly soon after beating the game’s first boss, because the difficulty really starts to ramp up. When you die, it’s back to the start, and you begin again. And again. And, of course, again. Getting a little bit further each time is as compelling as it ever was in Spelunky, and developing your skills and knowledge of the world and its inhabitants is essential to carrying you further, because nothing carries over from game to game aside from what you yourself learned from the last time you died.
With the risk that the repetition could get tiresome, things are kept fresh with minigames. New skills (more powerful weapons, etc) are earned by completing small challenges which take you away from the main game for a moment and test your skills in other ways. A Pac-Man-like game tasks you with collecting 100 flames while avoiding an enemy; your reward is a stronger weapon, or throwing knives, or plenty more if you can manage to raid far enough into the dungeon.
Diehard Dungeon contains a second mode, away from the main game, as a bonus. Aside from the graphics, it has almost nothing in common with that main game and, oddly, is a twin-stick shooter. Even more strange is the fact that this side mode is better than every other twin-stick shooter on Xbox LIVE Indie Games – it just gets everything right.
Games are capped at three minutes, meaning there’s never a risk of them going on too long. Indeed, the risk comes elsewhere. A combo gradually builds as you avoid being hit by enemies and reduces should you be attacked. The higher the combo, the higher the points you’ll receive for each kill. It means there’s a constant balance between needing to attack enemies to build up your score, and playing defensively to avoid your combo dropping. That the game is finite adds to the pressure, because any wasted second is a place lost on the leaderboard. It’s three exhilarating minutes of constant risk and reward, and it’s really very good indeed.
It’s actually good enough that it could be a standalone game in its own right, and alongside the main game mode there’s an astonishing amount of value here for your 80 Microsoft Points. If you did accidentally spend 80 Microsoft Points on Sententia, just pretend you spent 160 on Diehard Dungeon instead because it’s more than worth it, and maybe that dismal second game in the promotion will be easier to swallow.