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Desktop Dungeons: Rewind

Desktop Dungeons: Rewind

Written by Elliot Hilderbrand on 4/21/2023 for PC  
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How do I know this remake is worth my time? I played the original Desktop Dungeons. Currently, the classic Desktop Dungeons is free on Steam, and I decided to snatch it up just to see. I put about an hour's worth of time into the classic, to see what the difference is. While the original gives off a more-classic roguelike feel, Rewind seems to look and feel like a more refined product. They’ve kept the core the same, small about ten-minute dungeons, while upgrading everything else. Adding more animation to everything; the characters, the town, and even the menus look cleaner and more refined. To be honest, this is how you remaster a game.

Is this a roguelike, roguelite, or something a little different? Developer QCF Design calls this a, “modern remastering of the award-winning, bite-sized, tactical dungeon crawler.” And to a big extent I agree. But I’ve come up with a new genre that Desktop Dungeons: Rewind fits into. This is a roguelike-lite. In a lot of way this feels closer to the game Rogue than a lot of roguelites I’ve played. The way movement works, the randomness of items, combat - it all feels very similar to Rogue. But it does a lot for the roguelike genre too. Graphically this looks like a big upgrade from the original Desktop Dungeons. The new rewind feature doesn’t feel heavy-handed; in fact, it fits in seamlessly.

As far as story goes Desktop Dungeons: Rewind does better than most roguelike games. At the start your caravan is ambushed, the people running in fear in all directions. You step up and rally everyone together, thinking it makes sense just to create your own town and do things the way you see fit. That’s Desktop Dungeons: Rewind. As you clear areas around your newly formed town, you unlock buildings. Some of them help gear up the characters you send out, others unlock new classes, or to help forge new alliances. Story elements have become a bigger and bigger part of the roguelike genre, so it’s nice that the original Desktop Dungeons was a little ahead of that curve when it initially released.

I didn’t struggle to get into Desktop Dungeons: Rewind, in fact the experience was quite the opposite. The game’s first few dungeons act as a tutorial for how to play the game, from choosing who to send into the dungeon, how to run the town in between missions, and even how to handle dying in the game. While learning the ropes was easy, the harder lesson to learn was failing. Failure is a huge part of Desktop Dungeons: Rewind. I went from being successful early in the game to dying at least once or twice in every dungeon. The tutorial holds your hand to let you learn the ropes, then quickly bashes you over the head with some hard lessons.

Death and failure are constant partners in Desktop Dungeons: Rewind, but that doesn’t make it bad. When I die, it feels like it’s always on me, never the game. I failed to notice something, I didn’t pay attention to the correct stat, or I ventured out further than I should have. I frequently took on an enemy I had no business fighting. Desktop Dungeons: Rewind is easy to learn and play. The overall difficulty is something fans of this genre crave, and Rewind does not skirt away from it. I find roguelikes to be a little harder than I like, but I still play them.

If you are someone who likes the challenge most roguelikes become then Rewind is for you. If you are someone like me who enjoys the genre but still gets frustrated from time to time this could still be your type of roguelike. Desktop Dungeons: Rewind is hard, but not impossible. Difficult but not for the sake of being difficult. In the campaign, there are multiple ways to clear a dungeon.

When you die and have to start the dungeon over, the map isn’t the same; in fact, it never is. You can learn a lesson from dying, but that might not be what you need to do on the next mission.
That was a big help with the repetition of Desktop Dungeons: Rewind. It might be the same level you have to replay a couple of times before you clear it, but there is so much variation in what you may see, enemies, power-ups, and overall layout that it doesn’t necessarily feel like the same level. That was a big part of why I was alright with the difficulty and challenge of Rewind, I might be replaying parts of the game, but it doesn’t feel like it.

Maps are the perfect size and duration for my short attention span. I can get a lot done in a short sitting which makes me feel like I’m advancing quickly. Dungeons run about ten minutes, a little longer if you end up dying a few times. I can sit and play through three or four dungeons and then walk away still feeling like a played a lot of game. The shortness of dungeons might be the biggest difference between this roguelike and others. Combat is also quick and timely. This being a remake they have added animations to the fighting, some you see in more modern roguelikes, but the combat is still turned-based, like in Rogue. I like being able to make an attack and not feel pressured by a time limit to make my next move.

Another element of the main game is building out your town. You start small with a few buildings, and slowly expand. You can add class halls that unlock new classes to try in the dungeon-delving part of the game. Eventually, you have more choices on classes than you might feel comfortable with. I also thought the rate of unlocking was perfect. Very early on you have access to four classes, and slowly with the money you earn can choose which classes to unlock next. I was worried about having too many classes; concerned that they would just feel like offshoots from each other. Not to worry. Each new class feels like it plays differently enough from the next one that the variation feels nice.

I said the dungeon map changes every time you play a mission. And that’s true, but the puzzle levels you gain access to stay the same. They are a standalone part of Desktop Dungeons: Rewind, and completely optional. The puzzle levels require you to complete them by playing the map the way it was intended. I might have enjoyed them more because they don’t change, I know when I complete one I did it the only way you could, by bashing my head into a wall until I was able to put my head through it. Puzzle levels offer a nice change of pace and feel like a different type of roguelike game altogether.

There is also a daily dungeon for you to try out. I found myself starting with that every time I played. You don’t get to choose your race or class on the daily map. Playing these would force me to try out classes I might not be interested in. I found myself doing the daily challenge and then playing the same race and class combo for the campaign for most of the session.

I was a little surprised by the amount of content Desktop Dungeons: Rewind has to offer. There is a lot of game to be played here. A solid campaign with a steep difficulty curve that fans of old-school Rogue will enjoy. But the map changes every time you have to replay that dungeon, making it more welcoming like a modern-day roguelike. Desktop Dungeons: Rewind feels closer to Rogue than most roguelikes I’ve played, something I love. This is how you do a remaster of a game.

Desktop Dungeons: Rewind is what I look for when playing a remastered title. A nice graphical update, plenty of quality-of-life changes, and new content that is not in the original but still adds to the enjoyment without feeling forced in. I love how easy it was to get into the game, and I liked the challenging aspect of Rewind. The new rewind feature is interesting and doesn’t break the already solid game experience. If you’ve never played a roguelike then Desktop Dungeons: Rewind is a great jumping on point to the genre. If you’ve been a fan of them for a while, this one should be added to your collection.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I'm pulled towards anything that isn't driving or sports related; having said that, I love a good kart racer. I Can't get enough RPGs, and indies are always worth a look to me. The only other subject I pay any attention to is the NFL (go Colts!).

While writing about games is my favorite hobby, talking is a close second. That's why I podcast with my wife Tessa (it's called Tessa and Elliot Argue).

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