Thursday, January 3, 2008


When I first stumbled across this title at The Linux Game Tome, I was half-inclined to believe it was something to do with drug-smuggling. To my pleasure/disappointment, it was a roguelike, which, come to think of it, tends to have the same addictive quality.

Like any other roguelike, you run around in a tile-based dungeon and beat stuff up until you die or complete whatever psychotic quest the creator has assigned to you. Unlike a lot of roguelikes, this game is not only available on Windows and Linux, but also comes in GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS ROM flavours. In fact, the game was originally designed for the GBA, which shows in its restriction to 4-way movement and the fact that a context menu is available for all actions.

It raises an interesting point: why do dungeon crawlers suck so much on consoles?

It's not the addition of nice graphics. I think nice graphics are a good thing, and certainly something that a lot of games could benefit from. It can't be the controls, since the controls in POWDER are quite workable.

My theory is that the game development teams are too preoccupied with the 'random' concept that is intrinsically present in roguelikes as a whole. The very term "roguelike" is coined from the game "Rogue", which has been around for decades. The field has gotten used to the random concept, and often pushes ahead to add their own individual flair, such as ADOM with Tower of Fire and underwater levels, and Nethack with the many and varied ways to do things with other things. In POWDER, worshipping deities actually makes a difference, and the gameplay is deceptively simple, hiding a large and varied core. Looks like it was pulled straight out of the VGA era though, graphics-wise.

Console dungeon crawlers are just that: dungeon crawlers. The developers get it all wrong, nearly all of the time. I couldn't stand more than 10 minutes of any version of Azure Dreams, because the levels all looked and felt the same. The items hardly varied, and the effects were uninteresting. In POWDER, I can throw a knife straight up, just to fall back down on my head and stab me. It's totally useless, but it's amusing and shows that the creator put thought into the game. I don't think I've ever come across an effect in a console dungeon crawler and thought, "Wow! That was cool!"

It seems a bit strange, but it's the non-random bits of roguelikes that make them really stand out. POWDER delivers.

Anyway, there are four versions of POWDER available: Windows, Linux, plus GBA and NDS ROMs. If you're after something for your cell/mobile phone instead, look into Dweller (looks like the main site has fallen into disrepair, but you can still find it in Google's cache if you search for "dungeon dweller". First hit.).

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