By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Mad Mimic Interactive
Available on: PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
ENTER THE MIRROR! - Introduction
Two terms I’ve continuously jumbled up throughout my career are Roguelite and Roguelike. In fact, there have been various occasions of miscategorization for entire games, much to the chagrin of the audience. They, of course, let me know by shouting obscenities and raising pitchforks. Look, I’ll be upfront; that’s going to continue going forward. I still don’t have a firm grasp on the definitions of either, but I’m improving - I think, anyway. Dandy Ace is a Roguelite and maintains that addictive loop the genre is synonymous with. Published by Neowiz, they’ve shown a keen eye for unbridled fun, and a game starring a magician does seem intriguing. The question now is, will Dandy Ace ace it or lack tricks?
A MAGICAL THREAT! - Writing
Bluntly put, the characters here are lacklustre, and the narrative isn’t anything special. There’s nothing of substance to it, doing the bare minimum to coast by. Dandy Ace is depicted as a charming, suave Magician. The way he acts, however, barely constitutes a personality. The supporting cast is worse, seeming more like charisma vacuums than anything. It’s obvious that the story took a backseat to gameplay, and, yeah, that’s not a bad shout. Although there was a clear effort to be witty - it even has those anti-jokes I adore. The thing is, for those to work, there needs to be some form of self-awareness. There isn’t, and every joke is played off straight, with no recognition of just how cheesy they all are - exaggerate the punchline. I digress, though, and as long as there are no expectations for a great premise, then this can all be pretty much ignored.
CAST THAT SPELL! - Gameplay
As a magic man, Dandy Ace has a diverse set of abilities that make up his arsenal. The variety isn’t anything to scoff at either and can be broken into three categories: Pink, Yellow, and Blue. Pink depicts skills that masquerade as default attacks due to ease of use, while Yellow is geared towards being a special technique - most of which pack a serious punch. Then there’s Blue; these are primarily dodges and, in a cool addition, have offensive properties. For instance, it’s possible to leave a cloud of toxicity behind - a perfect metaphor for leaving social media. There’s also a plethora of status effects to choose from, from bleed to poison, and if used correctly, can be the difference between life and death. There’s one thing that I, particularly, came to love, and that's the character builds - there’s honestly a good bit of depth here.
Alright, before I delve into that succulent tease, I first need to explain something. The abilities obtained on any individual run are acquired through play, either from treasure chests, in-game shops, or by clearing a room of enemies. If you, then, look at every skill card collected, something immediately pops out - the perk attached. Character builds rely heavily on creating amalgamations by combining two techniques - the product then inherits properties of both. My favourite is this ability that bounces between foes while cutting them - it’s basically a game of murder pong with some shanking. That’s a valuable tactic because, at any given time, a batch of creatures can surround you. There’s a good number of skills to interchange and fuse, so experimentation is encouraged. Whether you're a melee master or ranged rebel, there are always options to toy with - though, to mixed effectiveness.
One facet that can make or break this game for a few is the presence of a skill cooldown. They all have it at varying times; from point seven, upwards to four seconds, with the lower tier reserved mostly for Pink - that’s why they’re ideal for standard attacks. While it’s annoying, it introduces an element of strategy since you need to consider how often something can be executed. I’ll be frank; I’d frequently die and have only beaten the game once - a game that demands to be finished four times, with each being increasingly difficult. My constant death wasn’t due to balance issues, though, but more so my inadequacy. Note that to achieve a consistent stream of strikes, the inactivity of abilities has to fluctuate. If cooldown times are similar, there will be lawls in action. I suggest a Pink, two Yellow, and Blue build to mitigate this from happening.
Another staple mechanic of Roguelites is permanent boosts that carry into new runs. Dandy Ace has that, and they’re available in several forms. The first is typical of the genre; extra healing potions, re-cycling a store’s inventory, and so forth. The second is buying abilities, and this is when adaptability rolls on to the scene. With every new play-through, the available techniques are randomly chosen and placed, forcing you to think on the fly. This is great because it forces me to test combinations and not rely on old faithful - well, to a degree. What I mean is that there’s a handful of pointless ones. While I appreciate the desire to adhere to differing playstyles, close-range just isn’t viable. Enemy strikes are swift and even bullet hell-esque at times. I’d focus so much on projectile trajectory that I couldn’t get near enough to attack, let alone unscathed.
Believe it or not, there’s a minute detail that, if tweaked, would drastically alter frustration. It’s most noticeable during boss battles, with one having an attack that flings paint into the air. As it splatters against the ground, it blankets a moderate portion of the area. At face value, this doesn’t seem too problematic, but if I stood on it, Dandy’s damaged, almost as if poisoned. The trouble mounts as the attack deploys once again, filling more of the battlefield. By this point, it’s tough to avoid because the remnants of the previous attack remain. There’s then a small window that is absolutely covered in white stuff. I have no choice but to suck it up and take it. Couple that with the endless assault of other moves, and it’s simply irritating. Having it vanish much sooner would diminish the annoyance. It would certainly limit the amount of unfair deaths.
CAN HE DO IT!? - Accessibility
I’ll forever champion the need to include an option to remap buttons. Not only does it help usage, but some positions are uncomfortable, especially if I ever need to quickly press, and that’s needed. For anyone like me, switching the button prompts aids with reflexes. As I’ve already established, those constant volleys of bullets demand rapid reactions. The default control scheme just isn’t intuitive enough, and I fumbled in many instances, tapping the wrong button half the time. This was exacerbated further by the nerve damage to my right side - the same side tasked with going fast. It’s much easier using my pointer to tap the trigger, so the choice to switch over one I miss. Otherwise, I was overwhelmed by the action on screen. From a purely design standpoint, however, there’s nothing wrong - this is a me problem.
IS THAT A CUPCAKE!? - Sound Design
The music isn’t terrible, and I enjoyed how bass-heavy it was with earbuds on. I wouldn’t call it spectacular, but for a Roguelite, the important thing is avoiding repetition, and it does that. None of the tracks were tedious to listen to. Despite that, Dandy Ace was still relegated to a game to play while listening to a Podcast. The culprit isn’t the tracks, though, but more the incessant badgering of the narrator. It was grating to hear and wore thin quickly. Thankfully, it can be shut off through the options, but I was muting the game by that point. Limiting the number of times he spoke is a must. I don’t need constant narration of a cupcake appearing or monsters popping in. If you have Bluetooth earbuds, throw those on because it does heighten the music, but turn off that voice.
Speaking of that, the dialogue is fully voiced. I’m generally a fan of this but, sadly, it’s, at best, hot and cold. There are glimmers of a serviceable performance here and there, but the biggest problem is a lot of lines lack good delivery. The cadence is all over the place and the jokes, oh the jokes, fall flat consistently. It’s clear by tea being used as healing potions, as well as with the banter that the British style of jest was what Dandy Ace was striving for. That, however, requires a certain dryness and needs to be accompanied by a sarcastic and rhetorical tone. None of that is nailed, and, of course, there’s also that issue of the damn narrator. Don’t get me wrong, some of the voices are alright, but the direction is all over the place.
AND THE DANDY VERDICT IS…
Dandy Ace maintains that addictive loop that Roguelites need to prosper. I was always working towards unlocking trinkets to boost damage and extra abilities. It, however, isn’t a game that can maintain your attention for several hours. At best, it’s ideal for quick runs when you have a brief second to spare. The odd hitch of dashing out of bounds and soft-locking, while rare, is heartbreaking, especially when it occurs late-game. I hate decimal scores because I find it redundant and impossible to justify a point five differential. In this case, however, it seems to be the only appropriate way to go. The bullet hell nature of attacks and that constant need to think on your feet is fun. As a byproduct, melee skills are tough to utilize without eating damage, rendering them risky. Maybe I’m just a long-range rebel, but whatever the case, I wasn’t a fan.
I recommend Dandy Ace but at a discount. If you ever find it cheaper, jump on it because there’s fun waiting to be had. As is, this sits firmly between a 6 and 7.