Okay, so we’ve been getting a ton of roguelikes lately and I’ve pretty much been reviewing one every other week. You would think that this would lead to burnout on the genre, but time and time again I am impressed with what it can offer, even if there’s the occasional dud or two. So, with that said, where exactly does Popup Dungeon stand?
So right off the bat, I gotta hand it to the game for its aesthetic and overall presentation. Not only is the papercraft approach unique, but the devs really went above and beyond with it. You’ve got the countless detailed little models, the diverse environments, the clean animations, and the excellent lighting and visual effects on top of all of it. It just has so much style to it and it’s obvious that the devs went all-out with the tabletop theme. I mean, just one look at the main menu kinda makes that obvious. Honestly, it’s one of the best-looking roguelikes I’ve ever played. And it does this with the utmost optimization too. I had no issues running the game at 1440p 155 fps, the max supported by my monitor.
Now as for the gameplay, there’s a ton to unpack. Although the game is a roguelike, the core gameplay is actually turn-based tactical combat. As a fan of that genre as well, I again have to give the devs some credit here. They managed to make combat that is both accessible, yet has a ton of depth to it. There’s the different attack types, the different classes, the charm system that provides passive upgrades, and the sheer variety offered by layering all of this together.
A quick tutorial was all I needed to get me going, but I am still far from mastering it. There’s 1500+ abilities, 420+ items, and 36 total classes to take advantage of them. You’re able to take up to five of these classes to the field at once, so there is a ton of room to experiment with different combos and truly unlock the potential of the game’s combat. In fact, I feel like the game does a better job here than a lot of the AAA tactics games.
That’s just the combat though. There’s also the entire campaign system on top of it. It plays a lot like a D&D campaign, with the story divided into different events and the use of a d20 being core to a lot of them. Of course, this is where the game’s RPG elements come into play. They’re on the lighter side, but you’ve got your character stats, your inventory, and the different effects that you earn throughout each run that come into play once you’re in a dungeon. There’s even a neat little story to tie it all together, one that doesn’t really take itself seriously, but was a nice touch and I enjoyed the fourth-wall breaking sense of humor.
On the topic of content, where do I even begin? I’ve played this game for a while now and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. The store page describes 50+ hours of gameplay and, honestly, I could see myself getting much more than that. Just one of the story campaigns alone took me five hours and there’s a lot more than just that one. The main “Wizard Tower” storyline, for example, has 25 individual campaigns to play through. Granted, those campaigns are shorter than the separate 5-hour campaign I played, but they will definitely take some time to clear.
And if you don’t want to tackle the campaigns, there’s also a bunch of procedural stuff to play as well. That or you can take on a campaign using any number of the different modifiers, including stuff like hardcore mode and party and equipment randomizers. If there’s one thing the game has on lock here, it is replayability.
And as if that wasn’t enough content, I haven’t even gotten into one of the game’s major features: it’s creation system. Everything I mentioned up to this point can also be created by the player, including abilities, items, enemies, characters, and even entire story campaigns and game modes. There’s no programming knowledge needed either, as the game has a fully fleshed-out editor filled with pretty much every option imaginable. You can even create your own character with custom images, custom equipment, custom attack animations, and even custom voice lines. Then you can take that character and throw them into your custom campaign. Maybe you want to make a sci-fi story, or maybe even a dating sim. Whatever it may be, you can probably make it in some form here.
Really, the only major complaint I have is with the game’s UI. It’s not exactly the most user-friendly and doesn’t really do a good job explaining itself outside of the brief tutorial at the beginning of the game. Sure, I had no difficulty getting into the combat, but tooltips would have been very helpful in figuring out what different numbers or other symbols meant. That and there’s not a lot of help provided with the creation mode, it’s pretty much just trial and error there until you figure out how things work.
With all of that in mind, Popup Dungeon is 100% worth the recommendation. For fans of roguelikes, fans of tactics games, or just fans of game creation, Popup Dungeon has a lot to offer. The base gameplay is excellent, the combat has a lot of depth to it, the aesthetic is top-tier, and there’s a ton of content to play through. I can only imagine how it will look in a few months once people have really got the hang of the editing tools, there’s a lot of potential here.
You can buy Popup Dungeon on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.