So take Hades, swap out the main character for a magician, and replace the underworld with a magical shifting palace and you’ll get something like Dandy Ace – the latest action roguelike to grace Steam.
And yes, I’m going to begin by addressing the Hades comparison – as I’m sure a LOT of people are going to make it. Yes, this game plays very similarly and even has that same isometric view. However, it also has a TON of differences setting itself apart, not just from Hades, but from the roguelike crowd in general. So no, this isn’t just some straight restyled rip, it’s actually pretty unique in some ways.
The major one of course being the weapon system. In this game, all of your attacks and abilities are tied to these magical cards that you find throughout the palace. Four of them can be equipped at once and the real magic lies in the fact that each card has a separate, passive ability that you can tag on to any of your primary four cards – effectively allowing you to hold eight cards at once. This is where the synergy comes into play, as your primary may just be a simple ranged attack, but the secondary effect can be anything from poison damage, to explosion upon death, or even wild cards spreading everywhere upon impact.
It doesn’t even matter if the card is an attack, a dash, or some other ability – they all have their own unique secondary effects and they can all be mixed and matched freely at any time. You’re not locked into keeping a card upon picking it up, it’s a very customizable experience and encourages you to experiment as much as possible to find those optimal card combos. It’s a nice breath of fresh air from other roguelikes where it feels like you’re tied down by RNG and have to stick with what you get – it’s a much more freeform experience in Dandy Ace and it’s very fun trying out the different combos.
The core gameplay to back up that system is good too. Movement feels fluid, the visual and audio feedback are sufficient, and I didn’t notice any funky hitboxes or other such annoyances. This is good because this is a very fast-paced game and even the slightest hiccup hinder the experience, but I didn’t have any such issues here. Sure, it can be a bit overwhelming when there’s like ten enemies on-screen, but if anything that can make your optimal card combos shine that much more (one of my favorites was sugar dandy with the death bomb upgrade).
As for the roguelike elements, well, aside from the unique weapon system, they’re pretty basic. The random map generation is there, permadeath is there, and there’s also the permanent upgrades you can unlock in-between runs to strengthen your next – all the usuals we get from such games. The game has some replayability in that there are a bunch of new cards, trinkets, and other upgrades to unlock, but nothing I could see myself spending dozens of hours on, even if I do enjoy the gameplay.
In fact, that’ll lead me to the game’s biggest flaw: its lack of content. All those card synergies are neat, but you have to go through quite the grind in order to complete your collection and the level variety isn’t exactly helping there. There’s little in the way of special rooms, it’s mostly just the same web of connected battle rooms with nothing really breaking it up other than the occasional shop room and the actual transition between levels.
Even across multiple runs, there is a bit of a branching path early on, but it’s not enough to really set each area apart from one another – they all blend together by the end of it. Each area does at least look nice (the game as a whole has some solid visuals) – it just could really use some more variety. And I’m saying this as someone that got to the final boss within five hours. If I wanted to go the 100% route, it would take much longer and I’d be running those same levels over and over. Granted, this is something every game in the genre has to deal with, it’s just a matter of how it can differentiate each run.
On the technical front though, the game is solid. 1440p, 144 fps, no bugs, no crashes, no stutters, nothing. It ran flawlessly and controls well on both controller and keyboard and mouse, with the latter being fully rebindable. The controller even has an auto-aim option, which makes the more precise cards a lot easier to use.
So, would I recommend Dandy Ace? Yeah, it’s a fun enough experience to warrant recommendation. It might not have the depth of something like Hades, but I don’t regret my time with it. The core gameplay is polished, the card system is some really unique stuff, and the visuals and music aren’t bad either. Still, the level design and overall variety could use some work. As it stands, it’s much more fun as a one-and-done kinda experience than one I would see myself returning to – which is something I know a lot of people look to this genre for, so that’s something to keep in mind for those interested in it.
Quote: Dandy Ace may have some problems with its level design and overall variety, but the core gameplay is really polished and the unique card system on top of that sets the game apart from the crowd.
You can buy Dandy Ace on Steam here. It is also planned for launch on Switch, PS4, and Xbox One this summer.
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.