by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
In this day and age, when simple games are seemingly released by the bucket load daily, it’s easy to feel somewhat jaded when faced by another one. What used to be novelty browser based time killers have now found a place to thrive and replicate. That place would seem to be the ever burgeoning mobile gaming market. It is there that The Enchanted Cave 2 began its life before making its way to the Steam store. It may be easy to see how when faced with another top down, dungeon crawling, retro RPG, my interest was not immediately peaked.
Here comes to interesting part though. Three hours later, rather than putting my feet up with a coffee and The Witcher 3 emblazoned on my monitor, I found myself still in a dungeon, still looting like a lunatic and still playing. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I was enjoying myself, but I wasn't bored and I’d clocked three hours of play time and not even realized it. It turns out this is what The Enchanted Cave 2 does well, it keeps things oh so simple and then subtly locks you in while you’re distracted by a chest just out of reach.
The mechanics are so very simple. There is a main hub where you begin each round, you then enter the cave and start working your way down a level at a time. On each level are a variety of monsters and about as much loot to collect as you work your way around. Each level has a staircase to the next, which is sometimes blocked by monsters. Other times though, you may find a different path down. Every tenth floor your progress is saved, meaning you can start from there on your next round if you wish. This is sometimes advisable, sometimes not, considering the monsters level up in difficulty the deeper you explore, so beefing up your character with a bit of grinding can sometimes be a good idea. The items you collect as you explore offer consistently varying ways of outfitting your character and give you rare drops often enough to have you not wanting to miss a chest. But it’s where loot is concerned that the roguelike element of the game comes into play.
Now with most roguelikes, when you die, you’re dead, but that is not the case in The Enchanted Cave 2. Firstly, dying is something of a rarity as very early on in each round you will find a pair of ‘Escape Wings’ which you can use at any point to escape the cave. You can also escape from combat at any time by clicking away from the enemy. So usually, unless you make a very ill-advised choice to attack an enemy way above your level, you can get out unharmed. You also retain all of your gained experience so your character is never starting from scratch. But it’s another story for your loot. Whenever you die, your loot dies too. Save for a few rare special items that are protected, everything will disintegrate the moment you leave the caves. If you haven't been lucky enough to collect a special weapon or armour, then you can look forward to starting again with nothing but a small piece of wood and your worn out old togs to keep you safe. This means there’s no real point in harboring items and you may as well go ahead and use everything you find. But still, it is far more forgiving than some of the serious roguelikes that are out there. The difficulty level never really spikes significantly, unless you decided to rush down levels without fighting or looting, as you will find yourself outmatched pretty quickly. The levels aren't huge so there’s no real chore to grinding your way through levels just to get that extra XP that will help you as you go.
As far as the narrative and look of the game are concerned, there’s not a great deal to get excited about. This is very much a game that knows what it’s set out to do and it’s not going to fanny about with things that will simply serve to distract from the main aim. The narrative is pretty sparse, meaning there is practically none to speak of, apart from a few snippets you may discover along the way or moments of conversation with NPCs you meet here and there. I personally have no real problem with the lack of story or character development. The Enchanted Cave 2 plays its cards very early and a sprawling narrative would have distracted from what is a simple yet effective dungeon crawler. The game has an equally simple yet effective 16-bit aesthetic. The caves you explore are perhaps a little bland, but that’s not what is enticing you through the experience. There is decent variety when it comes to the monsters you fight and it does keep things interesting when a new variety shows up.
A Special Spelunking
All in all though, The Enchanted Cave 2 does what it says on the tin, and it does it well. It doesn't waste your time with elaborate filler, it gets straight to the point and keeps enticing you on until you forget how much time you’ve spent stuck in the caves. Perhaps that is one of the benefits of the continually growing mobile market's effects on the PC gaming market. A mobile player wouldn't expect to have their time wasted, and that streamlined gaming experience is in some cases making it’s way to PC. The Enchanted Cave 2 is the perfect example of this and if you have time to kill, is the perfect dungeon crawler to sink a few hours into.
Simple yet effective gameplay, solid aesthetic
Can become a grind in places