‘Endless Dungeon’ is a tense mix of tower defense and twin-stick hero shooter

My first playthrough of ended in disaster. The “Crystal Bot” I was supposed to defend was overrun by a ravenous swarm of bugs after I left it open to attack by pulling my two heroes away to protect a resource point. Naturally, I started a new run immediately after I had a moment to curse my luck.

Endless Dungeon falls somewhere between a sequel and remake of 2014’s Dungeon of the Endless, the game that helped developer Amplitude Studios make its name. Like its predecessor, Endless Dungeon tasks you with protecting a crystal from hordes of enemies while finding your way through a mysterious multi-level dungeon. But where Dungeon of the Endless took place on a strange alien planet, this one is set on a station left behind by the Endless, the ancient alien race that connects all of Amplitude’s projects.

Also new to Endless Dungeon is that it’s a twin-stick shooter and features a roguelite progression, meaning you’ll need to start from the beginning of the game each time you fail your objective but you’ll carry over some of the things you earned to make your next run easier. Additionally, Amplitude has built the game from the start with multiplayer in mind.

“We had a lot of ideas for Dungeon of the Endless that didn’t make it into the game,” says lead game designer Arthur Prudent during a press event Sega held last week. “This time we wanted to do something more accessible. That’s why we wanted the player to have direct control. That forced us to change a lot of things.”

Each run of Endless Dungeon begins with you picking a team of misfits to delve into the depths of the station. In the demo I played, you could take two characters with you. The final game will feature eight playable heroes, with a full team consisting of three squadmates.

Endless Dungeon

Amplitude Studios / Sega

When playing online, you and two other friends control one character each. In singleplayer, you can only play as one hero at a time. However, you can issue orders to your two party members. Each hero has their own backstory and playstyle, as well as special and ultimate abilities. Zed, one of my favorites, carries a minigun into battle with her and can clear rooms with an explosive line attack.

Once you have a squad assembled, the bulk of Endless Dungeon’s gameplay involves attempting to get the cute Crystal Bot I mentioned before to the end of a level so that it can descend further down the station and you can find what’s at the center. The catch is that each time you attempt to move the robot, an endless horde of enemies will attack until the bot is either destroyed or you successfully get it to its destination. Waves of enemies will also periodically attack you while you explore each level.

What makes the action in Endless Dungeon thrilling is that it’s a tower-defense game where you don’t know the entire layout of a level when you start. You have to explore each level to find all the enemy spawn points. My first run ended when I left one of the corridors leading to my Crystal Bot undefended. Some levels will feature locked doors, with a central switch you can trigger to unlock them all at once, allowing you to shape the path enemies take.

Endless Dungeon

Amplitude Studios / Sega

Every level consists of multiple rooms, and in each room, you can build turrets to thin out enemy waves. In addition to the usual assortment of damage-dealing ones, you can build turrets that slow your enemies and shield your other assets to make them more resistant to attack. Gone from Dungeon of the Endless is that game’s light mechanic where enemies would spawn in rooms where you didn’t spend Dust to power them. That makes planning your defenses both more and less difficult since you need to find the enemy’s dedicated spawn points.

Building turrets requires a resource called industry. Alongside food and science, it’s one of three primary resources you’ll collect to build structures, heal your heroes, research new turrets and more. A fourth resource called Dust Shards lets you upgrade your Crystal Bot and restore power to rooms left without any.

Endless Dungeon

Amplitude Studios / Sega

Managing your resources in Endless Dungeon is its own tightrope act. As you explore each floor of the station, you’ll find rooms with spots for generators that can add to your food, industry or science stockpiles. If you have enough industry points, you can build additional extractors, with each subsequent one costing more than the last. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

That’s because Endless Dungeon plays out in real-time but your generators only add to your resource pool when you open a new room. Moreover, they’re one of the first things the denizens of the station will attack on their way to your Crystal Bot. To make things even more complicated, even if you build an industry generator on every spot you find, you won’t have enough materials for all the turrets you need to defend everything. In short, expansion comes with risks in Endless Dungeon, and the game constantly asks you to make those kinds of decisions.

For instance, collecting Dust Shards involves uprooting your Crystal Bot and moving it, meaning it must leave behind any turrets you built to defend it. Obtaining upgrades from a research terminal is similarly perilous since starting one will trigger a wave of enemies.

Endless Dungeon

Amplitude Studios / Sega

My second and third runs end about as well as my first one, and I’m no closer to completing the demo than I was when the preview began. “The game is supposed to be hard,” Prudent tells me and everyone else taking part in the event. Each time you fail a run in Endless Dungeon, you find yourself back in a bar that plays smooth jazz in the background. It’s here that you get a chance to talk to all the characters you can take on your runs and unlock the things that will make your next playthrough go smoother.

Amplitude Studios wasn’t ready to preview those systems when I played the game. Without experiencing them, it’s hard to say if Endless Dungeon will have the staying power of games like  or , but what I played last left me excited to see where the studio takes the game. Endless Dungeon doesn’t have a release date, but when it does arrive, you’ll be able to play it on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch.

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Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon is 2021’s Best Puzzle Game

The most important game on any device is the one you can keep coming back to when you’re out of things to play. For me, that’s a good puzzle game. Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure, of all things, was one of my most-played Nintendo 3DS games. Whenever I had some downtime between games, I always knew I could pop it open and bust some pills for hours on end.

Despite a wealth of options, I’ve struggled to find kind of that game on Nintendo Switch … until now. Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon, a new spinoff game for the Shovel Knight series, is exactly what I’ve been craving. It’s a fast, addictive puzzle game that has me saying “just one more round” for hours on end.

Dig it

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon puts a new spin on a familiar concept. In its story mode, players control Shovel Knight, who gets sucked into a puzzle dungeon. The indie icon is thrown into a series of grids that fill up with enemies, breakable blocks, and health-restoring potions. You can guess where this is going: Clear the board by chaining matching icons together.

But there’s a lot more going on than in your average “Match 3” game. It’s essentially a dungeon crawler in the middle of a traditional puzzle game. Rather than tapping icons, players actually control Shovel Knight, who appears on the grid. He needs to physically navigate around and bash things with his shovel to break them. All that happens while more stuff continually falls from the top of the screen (if the screen fills up, it’s game over). That creates a fast-paced flow where players need to constantly carve a path through the board by jabbing obstacles. Spatial awareness is key.

On top of that, Shovel Knight has health points. Every time he hits an enemy, they hit him back for a few points. Grabbing a potion restores some health, so players need to figure out when to attack and when to heal. Items, like bombs or temporary weapons, populate the board from time to time as well, which can change the tide of battle if used at the right time. It isn’t about mindlessly tapping icons, but figuring out the right order of operations in a constantly evolving puzzle board.

A versus battle in Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon.

It’s a high-speed juggling act that earned my full attention. I quickly found myself in a sort of rhythmic trance thanks to the excellent soundtrack featuring remixes of classic Shovel Knight tracks. Without realizing it, I was moving on beat as if I was playing Crypt of the NecroDancer or Tetris Beat. Every time I hit an enemy, I get a satisfying “thwack” that sounds like a snare drum or handclap. It feels like I’m working in concert with the music, which pushes my brain to keep up with the tempo.

Staying hooked

There are additional gameplay twists that freshen up the core puzzle hook. The game has a roguelite structure where players need to clear a series of boards and fight classic Shovel Knight bosses. Lose and you’ll start from the top. During a run, players can buy relics that have different effects, like increasing the number of bombs that spawn or adding +1 damage on every initial enemy hit. While there aren’t tons to choose from, there are enough that I was able to put together some pretty wild builds that made me feel invincible.

Shovel Knight hangs out in a campsite in Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon.

What really keeps me coming back, though, is the game’s cast of playable characters. Anytime a boss is defeated, players can use them in the adventure. Each one has its own special mechanic that completely changes the game. Plague Knight has reduced HP, but poisons enemies on contact. Specter Knight, on the other hand, regains health from killing enemies, but takes damage from potions. Each character has me rethinking how I tackle each board and carefully choosing relics that best match their playing style.

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon does everything a good puzzle game is supposed to do and more. It’s easy to pick up and play, but I feel myself itching to master all 13 of its characters. I get the sense that there are some secrets to its story that I haven’t discovered, which has me pushing on long after completing a run. A daily challenge, versus mode, and leaderboards round out the package, giving me all the ingredients I need for a puzzle game that’s going to ride its way to the top of my Nintendo Switch activity log.

Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon launches on December 13 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Editors’ Choice

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Darkest Dungeon 2 Is Dark, Stressful, and Full of Hope

Early access is an oddly unique phenomenon that really only works in the world of video games. Playing a game that’s still incomplete and giving the developers feedback makes sense; it’s almost the purest form of beta testing. Imagine, though, if the audience could look at the dailies on a movie shoot, or listen to the bass line of a new EP. It would be absolute madness. That makes early access feel more intimate. We, as players, get to see a game blossom and grow into its final form, like a butterfly with a two-frame jab and a health bar.

This was my experience with Darkest Dungeon back when it first came to early access in 2015. I watched, and played, every step of the development process. The highs, the lows, the heart attacks, and corpses. I was there to witness it all. Now I am fortunate to do this all over again with its sequel Darkest Dungeon 2 as it has just been released into early access on the Epic Games store. After playing the game for more hours than I care to admit, the main takeaway I got was the feeling of hope.

Stress and hope

For those wondering if Darkest Dungeon 2 is still similar to its predecessor, I want to assure you: Yes it very much is. The core combat mechanics are still at the heart of the game. Managing stress and inventory space are also front and center. Of course, the game is filled with horrific and insidious creatures that are looking to tear the world apart. Even the art and aesthetics have been preserved despite the game being fully 3D.

This time around, players are unleashed upon a wide-open world. Unfortunately, the horrors from the first game have been unleashed as well and have thrown the world into complete chaos. Players must create a caravan of heroes … or fools that are brave enough to take on the darkness head-on. This makes the core loop of the game very different from the original. Instead of slowly traversing through a murky cave or dark catacombs, you are barreling down the road in a horse and carriage trying to get to the next inn. Some roads are more difficult than others as this ramps up the stress that the player will feel. Making split decisions when choosing a path can spell out doom for the player’s run.

A “run” of the game is completely different, as the player no longer has a home base or a collection of heroes (read: fools) ready to jump into the next dungeon. All that is available is a caravan and whoever can fit inside it. Once all the heroes meet their grisly demises, the game is over and must be restarted from the beginning. Of course, certain skills are carried over from each game, as well as the unlocked heroes. Darkest Dungeon 2 feels more like a roguelike this way and feels more refreshing with each run.

Plague Doctor and Highwayman respecting each other.

The stress mechanic is probably the most impactful change compared to the original game. It’s no longer a meter based on 100, but instead 10. That means characters hit their breaking point more often, but it’s also tied very closely to the new relationship mechanic. During each run, characters develop a relationship with each other, for better or worse. The Grave Robber might become inseparable from the Plague Doctor due to the amount of healing and buffs she gives her, or the Highwayman might start to hate the Man-at-Arms because he keeps stealing his kills. These relationships will shape the flow of combat and can be both beneficial and a problem. However, once a character reaches 10 stress they will take a serious hit to their positive relationships, which makes it easier for them to fall into a negative one. The health of the party’s relationships seems as important as the fate of the world.

Currently, there are only nine playable heroes in the early access build, and it’s unknown how many will be in the full game. It has only been playable for less than a week now, so who knows what the final product will look like. This is something the developers are keenly aware of and are asking players to be cognizant of too. A post from Chris Bourassa and Tyler Sigman, the creators of Red Hook Studios and Darkest Dungeon, asks the players to be patient playing through the early access version of Darkest Dungeon 2. They state that things will be updated, balanced, and outright changed during the development process. They also ask the players to give the sequel a chance, despite it being so different from the original.

A message from the founders.

— Darkest Dungeon (@DarkestDungeon) October 26, 2021

Hope is the true centerpiece of Darkest Dungeon 2. Hope transcends past themes and gameplay and even relates to the creators themselves. The torchlight mechanic from the first game has even been replaced by the resource Hope. When traveling through the game, the heroes will meet survivors of this catastrophe that are in desperate need of hope. The negative relationships the heroes have with each other can slowly be mended during a run, giving a player hope that a particular run is not completely lost.

Hope also drives the developers into making this game — hope that this game can stand on its own, and not just be an expansion of the original. They hope that they can pull this off, and they hope that players will give them time and the chance to do it.

Even with the world turning into an absolute nightmare (specifically talking about the game, but you know …) I cannot help but see the brighter things. The new relationship mechanic, the new push-pull feeling of the stress meter, and even the dreams and desires of the developers make me see this game as a beacon of hope. No amount of unspeakable horrors and negative reviews can stop that for me.

Darkest Dungeon 2‘s early access build is now available on the Epic Games Store.

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How to Unlock the Color Dungeon in Link’s Awakening

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX for Game Boy Color rather fittingly introduced the Color Dungeon, an optional dungeon with color-themed puzzles. Along with the ocarina and the trading sequence, it makes a return in the Nintendo Switch version of Link’s Awakening. If you’ve never played Link’s Awakening or need a refresher, here’s what you need to enter the hidden Color Dungeon.

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How to unlock the Color Dungeon

1. Get the Power Bracelet

The Color Dungeon isn’t accessible without the Power Bracelet. Don’t worry, though. The Power Bracelet can be found in Bottle Grotto, the second main dungeon in Link’s Awakening.

2. Get the Pegasus Boots

While you don’t technically need the Pegasus Boots to enter the Color Dungeon, you miss some of the lore if you don’t have Link’s speedy boots. The Pegasus Boots are found in Key Cavern, the third main dungeon in Link’s Awakening.

3. Head to the library

If you don’t have the Pegasus Boots yet or don’t care about the full process, you can skip this step and just use our instructions in the cemetery section below.

The Village Library is located in the southwest corner of Mabe Village. Once inside, you’ll see a book perched precariously on the bookshelf along the back wall.

Use the Pegasus Boots to dash to the bookshelf to knock the mysterious volume to the floor. The book is titled The Hidden Power of Color. The tome tells of a world of color hidden in the graveyard. It also gives you the clue shown below.

Link's Awakening Clue

4. Go to the cemetery

Link's Awakening Cemetary

Head to the southeast corner of the cemetery (just north of Ukuku Prairie). You’ll see five headstones. Using the clues from the book as noted above, here’s what you need to do, in this order:

  1. Push the bottom-right grave down.
  2. Push the bottom-left grave left.
  3. Push the top-left grave up.
  4. Push the top-center grave right.
  5. Push the top-right grave up.

Tada! Cue that discovery music, because you just revealed a hidden staircase.

Welcome to the Color Dungeon

Link's Awakening Color Dungeon

The Color Dungeon isn’t large, but some of the rooms have tricky puzzles. The rooms with the multicolored blocks are the most challenging. In these rooms, you have to slash the blocks with your sword.

The end goal is to turn all of the orbs blue. When you slash one block, all adjacent blocks shift. So you have to tinker with it for a while, especially in the room with a 3-by-3 grid near the boss.

Don’t forget to grab your rupees

Link's Awakening Rupees

In the first room with an owl statue (the third room in the dungeon), you can bomb the south wall right in the center. Do so and you’ll reveal a room filled with blue rupees.

Red or blue mail

Link's Awakening Fairy Queen

After defeating the Color Dungeon main boss (just smack it with your sword a bunch of times), you’ll find the Fairy Queen. She’ll offer you a choice between red and blue mail.

You can’t go wrong with either one, but they provide polar opposite benefits. The red mail increases attack power, and the blue mail increases your defense.

Keep in mind that you can return to the Fairy Queen at any time to switch your current outfit and even go back to the classic green tunic. We don’t recommend returning to the green tunic, unless you simply like the look and don’t care about the buffs.

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