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Game Night: Getting My Idle Clicker On With ‘Dragon Ruins’

It’s been a rough week for the column. I’m red-green color blind, which isn’t usually a serious problem. When it is, though, it’s a showstopper. I got a few hours into a game that I’d planned to review and hit a dead end, due to a puzzle that relies upon colors that I can’t reliably tell apart.

So, change of plans. Let’s talk about Dragon Ruins instead.

This is one of those indie games that strips as much as it can out of an existing genre in order to see what’s left afterward. It’s a simple ‘90s dungeon crawler with graphics reminiscent of the first Ultima, but boils the gameplay down to its essence.

All the fights are won or lost via an auto-battler, your inventory is limited to the most basic items, and your equipment is handled by throwing fistfuls of gold at an unseen blacksmith. There’s usually a lot of grunt work in old-school dungeon crawlers, and Dragon Ruins doesn’t ask you to do any of it. You simply explore a maze, hoard money, pay for upgrades, plow through monsters like a plate-armored lawn mower, and ideally have the sense to run back to town if you get in over your head.

In the kingdom of Isigwere, a newly discovered set of ruins near the capital city has turned out to hold the lair of a dragon. Queen Elisaria offers an open bounty on that dragon’s head, which draws in adventurers from across the kingdom. You play as four of those adventurers, chosen from a lineup that includes knights, sages, priests, archers, brawlers, and lady ninjas. Go kill the dragon. The end.

I don’t have any particular nostalgia for this era of PC gaming, but I found Dragon Ruins weirdly difficult to put down. Within a few minutes, you’re dropped into the lower left-hand corner of a maze and left to explore by yourself. There are no secrets, as far as I can tell, and no additional loot caches. You simply map the place out while killing everything that gets in your way.

It’s got the pleasant forward progress of a decent idle clicker game, along with just enough of the feel of a dungeon crawler to keep your attention. The music’s also got a nice ethereal quality to it. Dragon Ruins is simple, but absorbing.

If there’s one rough spot, it’s that it’s easy to blunder into monsters that you aren’t supposed to be able to handle yet. That’s all part of the ‘90s PC gaming experience, though. As long as you don’t go too far north before your characters hit level 10 or so, you should be fine.

About 90 to 120 minutes into Dragon Ruins, you’ll find and kill the dragon. The game immediately starts a new, slightly harder loop, but nothing really changes. You could further entertain yourself by trying to clear the game with increasingly poor team composition, but for the time being, that’s all Dragon Ruins has to offer.

It’s a solid game to pick up if you’re looking for something to keep yourself entertained on a train or plane ride. I’d be interested in seeing what Dragon Ruins’ developer could do with a slightly more complex sequel.

What Else Did I Play This Week?

Once my first plan fell through, I went looking for something else to write about. Here are some quick thoughts on the other games that crossed my desk this week:

  • I’ve been meaning to talk about Unstoppable (above) at some point, which is one of the more weirdly flawed games I’ve played lately. Then the developer, Seoul-based Funnylocks Corp, beat me to the punch and pulled the game’s Steam page down on May 19. I was prepared to pick this game apart like the Zapruder film to try and figure out how it went so wrong, but Funnylocks has already admitted there was a problem.

Unstoppable is an isometric beat-’em-up with an instant hook of a premise. You’re a deliveryman whose last package of the day takes you to the topmost floor of a skyscraper in New York. That package explodes before you can make it out of the building, which releases a gas that turns everyone else left inside into a homicidal maniac. Now you have to fight your way back to ground level through a horde of weaponized office workers.

It’d be cool to have a solid horror beat-’em-up with The Belko Experiment vibes. Unfortunately, Unstoppable wasn’t anywhere near ready for launch, with serious bugs, repetitive levels, and the most baffling controls of any game I’ve played in recent memory. Here’s hoping Funnylocks can sort things out for a comeback.

  • Nightdive Studios sent over its newest release, PO’ed: Definitive Edition, which revives the 1995 3DO shooter for modern systems. Unfortunately, it’s still PO’ed, which famously combines what should be simple first-person platforming with controls that feel like your character’s sliding around on fresh bacon grease. In PO’ed, every level is an ice level.

It plays like something you’d have rented for your N64, played for 10 minutes, and immediately taken back to the store. Nightdive likes to remaster and re-release old, beloved games that would otherwise be out of circulation, but PO’ed isn’t worth checking out for anyone but game historians.

  • I’ve put the most time into Brotato, which I grabbed off Xbox Game Pass on a whim. This is old news to anybody who remotely cares about bullet heaven games, but Brotato’s a lot of fun. It’s a boldly plotless roguelike shooter about gun-wielding potatoes and the demons that try to kill them.

If there’s one thing it adds to the overall formula, it’s how the later characters have custom stats that encourage you to adopt more and weirder types of builds. I’d ordinarily be sticking to the meta like a glove at this point in a lot of other bullet heaven games, but Brotato actively resists that approach. It’s well worth a look if you’ve just 100%’d Vampire Survivors (again, for the sixth time) and need something else to scratch the same itch.

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