DROD 4: Gunthro and the Epic Blunder Review
Reviewed on PC
Acronyms are in some ways a form of segregation. Like heavily enriched semantic fields they create a barrier of incomprehensibility between those who are in the know, and others who remain ignorant. I am not sure whether it is a quirk of society or pure coincidence but games that revolve around an acronym tend to have rules, skills and tactics beyond the level of the novice initiate. Consider the murky tactical depths of DotA, or the impossible skillset of CS or CoD, even the insane workings within the higher ranks of WoW. DROD (or the highly tautological Deadly Rooms Of Death to those uninformed) is another, if less well known, example. To the passer by it is a completely incomprehensible mess of spinning swords and splattered bugs, to others familiar with the logical complexities it is a tactical and puzzling delight.
Do not be fooled by the presence of swords, bugs and fighters that litter the screenshots. DROD is a puzzle game. An incredibly deep, involving and insane puzzle game, but nothing more. It bears far more of a resemblance to classic logic puzzles such as Klotski, Sokoban or even Chess, than to an RPG. It is a game for those who wish to stretch their logical mind rather than their reflexes and if that statement fills you with dread then you may wish to read no further.
First thing's first, I am approaching DROD 4: Gunthro and the Epic Blunder as a novice, unskilled in the arts of tactical bug splatting. Previous incarnations of DROD have been notoriously insular, allowing only masters to leave those Deadly Rooms Of Death alive. Fortunately, DROD 4 is an attempt by the developers to open the doors of the mystical franchise and allow some new blood into its hallowed halls. Unfortunately, as it turns out, this ends up being the game’s main downfall.
It all starts out simply enough. You are introduced to Gunthro, a seemingly blazé pest controller, who stumbles upon the assassination of the King. The plot is forgettable, irrelevant and if anything rather annoying (much the same can be said about the music and sound), but this is not particularly important. Remember this is a puzzle game. Your character is taught to move using the numberpad, with each direction taking one turn. Furthermore you learn that you can swing your sword 45º, also taking one turn. After each movement the other creatures on the screen take their turn. Your task on each level (always a single screen) is to clear the enemies without getting eaten.
It all starts out extremely simply. Position your sword in the correct position and move towards the ferocious giant bugs - your greatest foe in the game. They move with absolute predictability, always in your direction as far as physically possible. This is important as any random AI would ruin the sheer logical problem solving that is the essence of DROD. Slowly you are then introduced to all the other pieces of the puzzle that combine to build the complete DROD spectrum, including touchplates to open doors, one way directional floors, multiple controllable characters, bug queens that spawn further bugs, mirrors, and a vast amount more. However it is during this learning process that problems arise.
Let me explain through the help of a tasty analogy. To me, puzzles are rather like Cornish Pasties. The outer crusty layer is merely the container for the scrumptious meaty innards. While this bready surface is essential to the pasty as a whole, you have to put in the laborious effort of biting through to reach the tasty insides. The same is true of puzzles. The crust is the legwork that needs to be put into the solution but brings no real satisfaction, whereas the delicious middle is the brain power required, combined with that wonderful feeling that comes with solving a complex problem. DROD’s baker, as it were, has got the recipe slightly wrong and cooked a lot of bready pies for version number four.
One assumes that as this release is aimed at the newcomer, the developers reined back on the difficulty. Each new piece of the puzzle is introduced rather laboriously, with several related rooms to solve for each piece. Unfortunately once you have understood the problem that each specific piece poses there is no meat left. The game then forces you to munch on unfulfilling pastry until you have unlocked the next area. It is a shame because there are secret levels hidden around each area that ramp up the difficulty, injecting the puzzle with some serious meaty goodness, yet these are scarce. Perhaps more bizarre these secret rooms are always hidden behind breakable walls that require superior observational skills to spot, making it feel like you have to dig through a huge pile of pasties just to find some with enough meat filling.
Enough about my distracting dinner. Deadly Rooms Of Death 4 is still a good puzzle game. It has that wonderful essence about it that follows all the best logic puzzles, and if the bug bites you it could become a part of your life as it has done to the small but extremely loyal community online. There are hundreds of maps available to download and puzzle over and with the inbuilt level creator it is possible to contribute back. The potential for time-killing is near endless. Sure it is a rather specialist area of gaming, and one that certainly cannot be touched as relaxation after a long day at the office, but if you happen to be lying in a bed of completed Sudoku sheets, solved every Chess puzzle in the paper and are looking for something else to chisel the mind, then perhaps the world of DROD awaits...