Crossword Dungeon (iPhone/iPad) by Nolithius might be the first game of its kind – I’ve certainly never come across a dungeon crawling crossword puzzler before, on iOS or any other platform. And although the game is a little rough around the edges, the odd combination of genres make for an interesting – and surprisingly engaging – gaming experience.
At the beginning of each adventure, players select from one of three different character classes. Each come with their own skill trees and abilities, which will come in handy through the increasingly-difficult ‘dungeons’, which are essentially fragments of crossword puzzles, where the spaces for letters is the playing field. Spread throughout are enemies, and solving clues involves battling past these monsters by selecting correct letters and doing damage.
During play, characters will level up, giving a selection of permanent stat bonuses or new skills for players to choose from as they continue their quest. The skill tree is a particularly interesting system – but one that is kind of impenetrable at times, because of the game’s most glaring problem: the lack of a tutorial, or any explanation on how the mechanics work.
Most games don’t need this beyond a quick opening level, but the uniqueness of Dungeon makes unexplained things like stealth attacks and the effects of a dexterity bonus difficult to grasp. The more I play, the more I grasp the game’s basic framework, but trying to build a specific character type through leveling up is difficult without understanding the progression, and how it plays into each move.
Technically, Crossword Dungeon keeps things simple with a light soundtrack and smattering of sound effects. It would be nice to see some variety in the board designs and color schemes: the dark backgrounds and limited color palette doesn’t evoke the same excitement and intrigue as the gameplay does naturally. There also appears to be a decent amount of repetition with puzzles, so a more robust set of clues would add to the inherent replayability of the game.
It does have its flaws, but for puzzle lovers and casual RPG fans, Crossword Dungeon is an easy recommendation. This is definitely one of the more conceptually unique titles I’ve played this year – and with a few tweaks, could easy become one of the most memorable.