Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon by Giant Box Games is a bright and colorful dungeon crawler that provides challenge and strategy along with a splash of wit and charm. It mixes elements from shoot-em-ups along with some interesting customization that provides a unique experience every time you play. There are some flaws in the current release (version 1.08) that may make one wish to hold off on playing a little bit.

PixelBoy01In this ever expanding dungeon, each level is randomly generated, both in layout and in the variety of monsters that will spawn. In fact, when it comes to the monsters, you get a neat slot machine graphic before you begin the level that shows which enemies will be spawned. There are a possibility of four different monsters each time and typically, you’ll encounter at least on that’s new to you every other level. Monsters come in many different flavors including giant ants, scorpions, and attack ducks. A few seconds with each gives you an indication of their attacks and what you can do to avoid and kill them.

The game’s narrator introduces each stage as you play and pokes fun at general gaming tropes or at the game itself. They did something I really applaud with the voiceover: the narrator’s speech cuts to the chase should you die so you don’t have to hear his whole spiel again when restarting the level. This little nuance is something many designers overlook, forcing the player to re-listen to introductions rather than skip them.

Combat is simple enough in that you move with the WASD keys and point your gun with the mouse. The challenge comes from learning enemy movements and firing patterns, where to move, and what to avoid, much like a SHMUP. While it doesn’t work for all situations, the most effective combat strategy involves using the doorways as a chokepoint and blasting away at enemies from as far away as you can.

While you can customize your armor and stats, the meat and potatoes of the game is the customizability of your attacks. Purchased in town or scavenged from monster drops, powerups alter your attacks. These include such things as a spread attack, heat-seeking bullets, and one that increases the size and effectiveness of bullets as they travel away from the player. Assigning them to one of three available slots turns your attacks into a combination of whatever you have active. For example, combining Spread and Heat-Seeking will make your spread attack home in on the baddies. Some attacks and combinations are more useful than others, I still haven’t found a use for Slow Bullets, but it’s a fun system to play with; once you understand the game better, you can create and combine your favorite attacks.

Many of the weaknesses I found in the game were recently patched, such as the crazy physics of dropped items and inability to see what each powerup was called after collecting them. Without being able to mouseover each powerup, my inventory looked like a word jumble. The devs have been patching furiously, though there are still a few lingering problems.

While the bright colors are pretty and soothing to look at, the levels don’t have much in the way of individuality. Each room tends to look exactly like the previous except with a different colored lamp or perhaps a stack of boxes in the way.

PixelBoy02One other issue I had is that because the camera is centered on the player, monster visibility can become an issue. Monsters in a neighboring room who have noticed you don’t have the best AI and will run into the wall until you move somewhere so they can get to the door. This is fine when you’re aware of their presence, but should something notice you and you’re unaware, you’ll take unnecessary damage as you walk face first into them. Otherwise, the camera is functional but nothing special. If walls were to turn transparent at certain angles, quality of life within the game would definitely be improved.

There is a major flaw with the game in how punishingly difficult the game can be without any sort of enhancement to your weapon. While running out of ammo is fine for the tutorial and introductory levels, should you run out of ammo but later on, the monsters come at you in too large a number and take too many hits to be able to survive for long. There’s no real way to “farm” for more money and the powerup drops can be few and far between. If you find yourself in this situation, you have to either suck it up and redo the level repeatedly, very slowly gaining XP between deaths, a prohibitively slow process, or restart the game.

The ammo count of each powerup feels too low. In a game that feels like a shoot-em-up, you’re inclined to fire like mad and running out of ammo quickly feels counter to the genre. Your goal, which isn’t clear from the start, is to try to conserve your attacks until you are certain you have a clear shot. With how much you and your foes move around, that can be rather tricky and something you may learn too late when powerup drops become few.

Issues aside, this is a fun game, it just may be worth it to wait a few patches for them to clean up some of the problems up. Soon controller support will be added, along with Daily Dungeons and a Pixel Girl, so there will be plenty of new content and challenges to be had for a while.

Review: Pixel Boy and the Ever Expanding Dungeon
An enjoyable game with some flaws. If you like dungeon crawlers, it's worth your time if you have patience to wait for patches.
  • Fun powerups
  • Bright graphics
  • Frequent updates
  • Ammo of powerups feels too low
  • Monster AI needs improvement
7Overall Score
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