Having to puzzle out all of the game’s mechanics on your own is quite a hindrance for a puzzle game with such particular mechanics and rules.
Genres: Puzzle, Rogue-Lite
Developer: Daniel Benmergui,
Publisher: Daniel Benmergui
Release Date: 1 August, 2017
I received Fidel Dungeon Rescue (FDR) all the way back in 2016 from a Humble Bundle monthly deal, which is somewhat strange as the game only released in 2017. I don’t remember what occurred with the game, but I have it in my inventory either way, and I thought a theoretically shorter game like this would be nice to play through. Since it’s a puzzle-based roguelite, I wouldn’t expect it to take that long to beat, but there was only one way to find out.
FDR uses random generation to create most of its puzzles, so that unlike many other puzzle games, it’s not possible to resort to a walkthrough to mindlessly play through everything and be done with it. This is where the roguelite aspect comes in, because even though you can rewind the steps you’ve taken in the puzzle, it’s possible to make moves that’ll kill the dog. This creates an immediate time limit where you either clear the floor you’re on and continue with the run, or get nabbed by the ghost and have to start from the first floor again. I find this somewhat unnecessary, as you otherwise have all the time you need to think out solutions, and can only kill the dog if you don’t know how interacting with an enemy or obstacle works, or don’t pay enough attention.
Nothing is explained in the game, so all of it has to be learned solely from your own experimentation and trial and error. There’s an element of trial and error to all puzzle games, and an open mind is valuable to solve problems. However, some of the mechanics and interactions in FDR are quite specific, such as how to defeat the robot and purple dog stages and that defeating the vampires requires you to have no health. This in turn leads to puzzles that require a particular approach and solution, which you may miss completely having not figured out enough of the mechanics yet. I see many guides and videos over how things worked early on, but not so much after it updated in 2018. Having played for a few hours, I don’t know quite a few things, and I’ve been trying all the game modes multiple times. For instance, what the benefit would be in stealing the golden face mask from the tribal warriors.
It’s possible to play FDR with either a controller or keyboard, and for ease I went with a controller myself. Movement can be directed with either the ‘L joystick’ or ‘D-pad.’ To access the next floor, hit ‘A.’ The dog can bark with the ‘R shoulder,’ and you’ll want to try barking at everything to find out everything it can do. ‘L shoulder’ rewinds your moves. There’s nothing wrong with starting over from the beginning, but if you only screwed up a more recent move, don’t hold that button down because you can’t undo a rewind. If you have enough gold coins, you can either bomb enemies or refill all health with ‘X’ and ‘B’ respectively.
There’s an ending clip that plays if you beat the right game mode, potentially having to meet certain requirements. It’s also possible to bring up a short opening cutscene showing an old lady being kidnapped for reasons completely unknown. Otherwise though, like everything else, there’s no explanation behind what’s going on or why. You’re just a dog running around in dungeons in pursuit of your owner.
With how overhead puzzle games tend to work, there’s a lot of repetition because you’re working with a grid system. This means that the floor tiles will be copy/pasted squares. However, there’s enough detail and variety on these that no floor looks flat or bland. Some enemies have minor changes, but they’re reused because of their similarities. For instance, how the red spiders will be vulnerable if you complete a triple, which is sometimes built off of the tiny, harmless spiders. Due to how enough changes are made in important areas, the game has enough novelty that the graphics are a highlight to the puzzles instead of a hindrance.
The music in FDR has a nice dreariness that fits the dark dungeon setting and spooky environment. They’re more lively and energetic than might be expected out of a puzzle game, but I didn’t find it distracting or out of place. There aren’t many sound effects, though what was used seemed appropriate. Explosions had the right impact, and the haunting sound of the ghost pursuing you was eerie.
- There’s a nice variety in puzzle elements, such as enemy types and objects that change the layout and how you approach an obstacle. For instance, XP barriers, switches, and keys.
- Unlocking the other 2 dogs gives the gameplay a nice change of pace as you play through the other game modes with their different mechanics.
- It’s unclear to me if every stage you encounter can be solved or not. I wouldn’t insist there are unsolvable ones because I wouldn’t be surprised if someone found solutions to beat the ones I got stumped on. Puzzles like this aren’t my forte. However, since this has roguelite mechanics, with power-ups and experience carrying over from previous stages, I don’t know if the next floor will be generated such that it can be beaten with what you currently have. Solving a floor might prove insufficient, because you didn’t get enough resources for the next one, creating an unsolvable puzzle.
- Although the game is pretty basic and not that demanding as it’s smaller than 200 MB, it’s got some technical issues. If playing in short increments, you won’t notice anything, but if you play for an hour or so, there’s a good chance the game will bug out. Thankfully the game will save its progress wherever you are in the moment, so closing and restarting isn’t a big deal, yet I’d still expect more stability regardless.
- The way the menu screens are handled is kind of tedious. When first loading the game, you’re dumped into the main game mode without explanation, and after failing or clearing it, go to what serves as the game’s main menu. I don’t necessarily mind unique menus, but you’re also unable to switch from one game mode to another mid-run. You either have to sacrifice progress or quit out of the game.
- Unless you’re attempting to earn an achievement or playing a particular mode, there’s no rush in figuring out how to clear a stage in the most optimal way possible. Something that helps with pathing is to keep in mind whether the moves your taking bar your exit, because finding a good route for coins or XP is worthless if you wind up blocked off from the exit.
- You’ll want to know how much damage you take from crashing into enemies, though most do only 1 or 2 hearts of damage. That way you can avoid dying on accident, which triggers the ghost to spawn. You’re allowed one courtesy death per stage in most modes, but if you die again, the ghost will pursue you, and most likely end your run.
- There’s rarely a point in taking damage from an enemy that only generates experience if you meet certain conditions. For instance, an alert tribal warrior won’t give any XP if you run into it, you only get XP if he’s asleep, so there’s little reason to crash into an awake one.
A certain degree of my issue with FDR stems from not knowing more about how floors are randomly generated. If I was completely sure that each floor could be cleared, no matter how nefarious or tricky it’d be to figure out, then I’d at least know there was a point in trying to solve a puzzle that was stumping me. Since that’s not necessarily the case, I could be fruitlessly wrangling with a puzzle that has no solution by default, unknowingly wasting my time getting frustrated instead of cutting my losses and trying again. This is also an unexpected side effect of floors not having a perfect, all-clear solution, where every item is obtainable and every enemy can be defeated, as that would resolve this uncertainty.
Even putting this issue aside, there’s not very many puzzles to solve in this puzzle game, or at least not where you’d expect. The 2 adventures contain 15 and 10 levels to get through, the cemetery where you can get rid of all ghosts has 4 levels, there are only 10 somewhat pre-set puzzles in puzzle mode, and the caterpillar challenge also has 10 stages. So were it not for the procedural, random nature of the puzzles artificially lengthening the content, as well as being forced to figure things out yourself, there’d be very little to actually play through in FDR. Sadly, the focus was on creating a year’s worth of daily challenges for an obnoxious achievement (requires playing the game across 319 days), instead of developing more puzzles for players to solve in the other game modes.