Dungeon of the Endless is the latest desktop game to make its way onto iOS. While I have no idea how difficult it is to port a PC/Mac game to iOS, my fingers are crossed that bringing these indy desktop games to mobile turns out to be economically viable for obvious reasons. As I just mentioned, Dungeon of the Endless (DOTE) is a PC game, not a mobile game. These games distinguish themselves from traditional mobile games in a number of ways. First, they're not free-to-play. Second, they tend to be open-ended or randomized for replayable. And third, and most important, they are very often punishingly difficult. Yep. DOTE is in every way a PC game that can now be played on iPad.
While the word "dungeon" is clearly in the title, this is not a fantasy-themed game. The setting is outer space so don't be looking for spells to cast or mithril anything. You begin each game with a team of two heroes that you select from your roster, each with a unique set of skills. When you first begin playing, you will have only six heroes from which to choose. However, as you play, you will unlock additional personnel, bringing the eventual total to 19. Choose your starting team wisely; not everybody works well with everybody else. Look for characters with skills that complement one another or prepare to fail early and often. Phase one of DOTE is basically a sci-fi roguelike. Explore rooms, collect sweet loot, research, upgrade, and fight. Every game is completely unique, and although I can't confirm this, it seems to me that not every level is winnable with the gear/personnel you have. If you find this knowledge troubling, just remember that not every game of solitaire is winnable with every shuffle. There are three different resources to collect; one to upgrade/heal your team, one to research, and one to build. Building a structure in a room lights it permanently, preventing enemies from spawning in there. The implication here is that unlit rooms, even explored ones, will be a constant source of critters dead set on chewing your face off and/or destroying your crystal (hint: don't let them). Once you have discovered the exit, it's time to begin phase 2, which shifts gameplay from roguelike to tower defense. It begins when you return to the room containing your crystal and begin carrying it very slowly to the exit. Once you pick it up you will be swarmed, and death awaits with nasty, sharp, pointy teeth. The only way to survive is to plan your escape route, and build defensive structures to protect you while you move. Of course, you won't have enough resources to build everything you want... Finding the exit doesn't mean you have to immediately stop exploring. If you like, you can continue to search rooms looking for that piece of epic gear, or something else to turn the odds in your favor. On the other hand, you may also quickly find yourself in over your head, bringing an end to your game before you even get to phase 2. DOTE is hard; very hard. Its two difficulty settings are ironically named Too Easy and Easy, which are both lies. You will lose, and lose often, and you'll swear that this game is unbeatable. But each time you play, you'll get a little better at picking/managing your team, knowing when to press on and knowing when to run for the exit, and knowing what to build and where. If you enjoy playing FTL (another fantastic PC game that made the jump to mobile) then you'll be right at home with DOTE.
The graphics of DOTE are decidedly retro, but it feels in every way like an aesthetic choice rather than a lazy one. The characters are deliberately pixelated, but the animation is smooth and the colors vibrant. Fortunately, the sound effects and music are not overly retro, and particularly the music is much more contemporary. It never takes me long to disable 8-bit sounds and chiptunes music, and the fact that I prefer to play DOTE with both of these enabled rather than in total silence means that the developers clearly know what they're doing.
Lastly, the interface seems to have made the jump to touchscreens quite nicely. There are no legacy mouse-input artifacts, the buttons are large enough for fingertips, and scrolling around the map is as simple as touch/drag.
If you enjoy roguelikes and tower defense games, Dungeon of the Endless is right up your alley. It's deeply strategic, surprisingly accessible, and has that great one-more-room quality. Keep in mind, however, that it is punishingly difficult. Somehow, this doesn't detract from its fun factor as long as you don't expect immediate and repeated victories. Dungeon of the Endless for iPad has all the features and polish of the PC/Mac version at a fraction of the price; plus, you can play it on the go. This should be music to the ears of core gamers everywhere.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4 - Well-drawn, and smoothly animated retro graphics. Sound: - 4 - Sound effects are very good, and so is the music. Controls: - 5 - A great mobile port of a premium desktop game. Gameplay: - 5 - An impossibly difficult hybrid roguelike/tower defense game that's loads of fun even if you don't win.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Choose a team that synergizes well, and matches your play style. Don't forget to use special abilities! Defend the crystal, even before you try to move it. Try to strike a good balance between healing and leveling your characters. Spend your first few games just exploring everything. This will give you a good idea of what awaits you, and what sort of level/gear you should be to be ready for it.