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Published 09.09.2021 00:00
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Dungeons & Miners review

Portrait mode action games aren't exactly rare on mobile, but ones that feel both manageable and satisfying are. Dungeons & Miners throws its hat into this arena and from a "look and feel" perspective does the job pretty well. It's just too bad that the game has some extremely uneven pacing and quite a few peculiar bugs that can make it feel more like a slog than it should.

Scratching the surface

When you first start Dungeons & Miners, it's kind of hard to tell what kind of game it's going to be. You're dumped unceremoniously into a 2D side-scrolling world where you just run forward, encounter a strange frog, and then pick up a sword. From there, there are some light quests that reveal a strangely dark and humorous world that primarily consists of a dilapidated kingdom that you must build back up by venturing into deadly mines over and over again.

After this initial setup, Dungeons & Miners evens out into a run-based roguelite where you alternate between mining resources (e.g. copper, iron, coal, etc.) in a sort of Dig Dug-like manner and wandering into dungeons where you fight creatures like floating eyeballs and skeletons in search of gold and other loot. Whenever you die or reach the bottom of the mine, you respawn back at the kingdom, where you can feed collected resources into the kingdom and your own gear before diving in once again.

Dead mines

The first few runs of Dungeons & Miners's mix of arcadey digging and dungeon-crawling action are really novel. As a portrait mode game, the whole thing controls surprisingly well with just a few on-screen buttons, and it doesn't necessarily feel overly simplified. The pace of the action isn't super fast, but you die quickly if you head into combat encounters not knowing what you are doing or don't plan your digging very well. As you collect gear you'll also build up passive and active abilities that further mix up both the experience of digging and the combat.

That said, the loop of digging, dungeon-crawling, dying, and repeating quickly grows stale because you have to do far too much of it before seeing any kind of meaningful progress. Part of this might have to do with how much the game opens with strange quests and story before dropping it for what feels like a huge stretch of time, but it also doesn't help that the mines and dungeons more or less stay stagnant for a really long time. These environments are procedurally-generated, to be clear, but the enemy variety and things to discover within them do not vary nearly enough to make you excited about venturing through them. The only excitement comes when you die, so you can dump more resources into the upgrade treadmill in the game.

Unearthing issues

Even if you want a slow-paced upgrade-a-thon (which very much seems to be Dungeons & Miners's main deal), even that is somewhat difficult to enjoy thanks to a few quirks and bugs in the game. I've had multiple instances in the game where enemies have spawned into unreachable locations, my character climbed an invisible ladder to nowhere infinitely, or visual bugs spawned multiple floating pets. Some of these were minor inconveniences, but the case of the invisible ladder was only solvable by force closing the app, which also instantly ended that run.

It's also worth noting that Dungeons & Miners doesn't have a great save system. I don't believe it's a bug, but the game is never clear about when--exactly--it is saving your progress, and it doesn't seem all that interested in saving it often. When I first started the game, I had to replay the opening section multiple times because I would get a good 10-20 minutes into it, close it and move on (assuming it saved), and come back to see no option but to start from the beginning again. This evens out somewhat after you get through the game's opening lore-heavy missions, as you can rely on every run reset to save your progress, but even on those resets the game does nothing to let you know if it actually saved or not.

The bottom line

In many ways, Dungeons & Miners feels like a proof of concept that needs some more fleshing out and polish. Despite having some good ideas and an eye-catching aesthetic, what lies underneath the surface is both not particularly deep and often dysfunctional.

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