Near-endless puzzle variety
Friendly, helpful community
No "undo last move" button
The comically-titled puzzle game/dungeon hack Deadly Rooms of Death: Architects' Edition (more commonly referred to as DROD:AE) is an open-source remake of Webfoot Technologies' 1997 original Deadly Rooms of Death (which was abandoned due to lack of sales - the author, Erik Hermansen, began the remake in 2002). It has been followed by a commercial sequel, DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold, while DROD: The City Beneath is currently in production, and the original has also been remade for the new engine as DROD: King Dugan's Dungeon (worth the expense just to hear Beethro's voice, which is reminiscent of the inexplicably Jewish anteater from the Pink Panther cartoons). Caravel Games' forums have built up an impressive community of DROD addicts along the way, offering help to those who are stuck on puzzles and challenging each other with new collections of levels (known as "holds") and new ways of playing existing ones. The slightly daft sense of humour found in the game is also out in force at the forums, which are very welcoming to new players.
DROD stars Beethro Budkin, fifth generation dungeon exterminator, who has been hired by the corpulent King Dugan to rid his dungeon of the many creatures infesting it. These enemies range from the simple-minded Roaches and their Queens to Evil Eyes, Living Tar and intelligent Goblins, with the unpredictable Serpents and cowardly Wraithwings thrown in. Using only his enormous sword, his wits and the dungeon's various features, Beethro must battle through over 350 rooms before the King will let him return to the surface.
The game is turn-based and is played from a top-down perspective, affording the player a complete view of each room of the most colourful and best-lit dungeon in the history of subterranean construction. Beethro can be moved in 8 directions on the grid, or stand still, by using the number pad in classic roguelike style, and can swing his sword around by changing his facing - pressing Q or W will rotate him by 45 degrees, which also takes a turn (meaning that enemies coming from more than one direction are often impossible to defeat). Most enemies will be killed if Beethro's sword enters the square they occupy; there are two methods of battling foes, where the sword is moved either by swinging or stepping, and you will need to master both in order to get very far in the game. It is also worth noting that Beethro moves before his foes, and that his sword can be used to block monsters' movement. Each level in DROD consists of a number of rooms which must be cleared before the stairs to the next level become accessible, and new features and enemies are steadily introduced to the player as Beethro descends. Some rooms can be solved in a matter of seconds, while other puzzles will have you tearing your hair out for hours. Luckily, there are a number of scrolls scattered about the place, some providing hints and others mocking Beethro's incompetence.
At first glance, some DROD puzzles appear to be impossible until a flash of inspiration reveals the solution, while the method for clearing other rooms is obvious, even if the execution proves trickier. The dungeon levels are arranged thematically (the eleventh level, for instance, is filled with tar and trapdoors, while the sixth consists of a number of variations on the same three rooms), and there is a great sense of achievement to be felt on completing one. While most puzzle games have a tendency to become repetitive, DROD's few dozen elements can be used in an almost endless number of ways, meaning that the game never becomes stale and allowing a huge range of player-created holds to be made. A powerful level editor is included, with the capacity for basic monster scripting as well as straightforward room creation tools. There are also a number of players at the DROD forums who will be happy to help you test your creations and iron out any mistakes.
One of DROD's best features is its Restore function, which allows you to revisit any room or level you've already conquered in order to search for secret rooms or attempt to solve it with greater efficiency, and the game also supports multiple profiles for those who want to share the game with one or more other players. These profiles can also be exported, allowing you to transfer your progress to another computer (or even between the Windows and Linux versions of the game). If you want to show off your progress or demonstrate a room's solution to another player you can also record a demo in-game.
The Architects' Edition of DROD does have a few small problems, not least its addictive nature. Some puzzles can be rather frustrating, especially given the lack of an "undo last move" button (which gives small mis-steps the potential to wipe out a lot of effort, and is highlighted after playing the commercial versions of DROD, which do include this feature). These niggles aside, though, DROD is easily the best puzzle game I've ever played, and probably the best puzzle game of all time, combining elements of dungeon-hack titles with intelligent, challenging puzzles and loving design to create a unique, addictive experience which is further enhanced by the game's community of loyal weirdos and its sense of humour.
Review by: BeefontheBone
Safe for all ages
Windows 9x or above OR Linux, 400 MHz processor.