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About the Story
You're a gnoll. Whether that's a blessing or a curse is up to you. Unlike other gnolls, you're trying to eke out a simple existence by plying your trade - that of the world's first Dungeon Detective. Amass clues and present them to your client. Choose your partner or work alone. Eat some eggs. Or don't.
Nominee, Best Story - 2018 XYZZY Awards
12th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 4
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I was predisposed to like Dungeon Detective because of its cover art. The signal it initially sent me was something like "comedy version of the 1980s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon starring a hyena." (I know it's a gnoll, but in the cover art the main character looks like a sentient hyena. Which works for me.)
And I did enjoy Dungeon Detective. You, Sniff Chewpaw, gnoll detective, have been hired by a dragon to determine the identity of the adventurers who looted your dungeon. So the game ends up being a choice-based mystery.
I played through twice. The gameplay involves uncovering clues that help identify the adventurers. For the most part, you're examining the same parts of the dungeon no matter what choices you make. Your choices do, however, seem to affect which clues you find and how much information you can glean from them.
The writing is evocative; it captured the feeling for me of walking through a dungeon, making decisions about where to go next and what to do. Also, the characterization is strong. There aren't very many characters, but they all have distinct personalities. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between the PC and the dragon; it reminded me some of (Spoiler - click to show)Grunk and the gnome in Lost Pig.
In addition, the major choices in the game mostly revolve around your interactions with these characters. Depending on certain options with them, the way you find various clues and the level of detail you gain from those clues appear to vary quite a bit.
There are multiple endings as well. Even if you successfully identify the adventurers, the story can play out differently depending on certain choices you made with respect to the other characters. I also liked how (Spoiler - click to show)the dragon still gave me three out of five stars on the ending where I failed to solve the mystery.
It was fun to play a gnoll. I remember them only as enemies in D&D games. I don't think I've ever played a gnoll before. Also, I like the idea of mashing up the fantasy and mystery genres. The combination of the two as displayed in Dungeon Detective felt fresh to me.
My only critique is that the game was a little on the short side. However, as I said in my review of Haywire, that's really another way of saying that I enjoyed Dungeon Detective and would have liked more game to play!
Some IFComp entries give you a "why didn't anyone do this sort of thing before" feel, and Dungeon Detective definitely falls into this category. It espouses no great philosophical views or breakthroughs, and while well laid-out, it's not super technically proficient. But it is a smooth, fun experience, with amusing characters, and I'm glad of all the bases it covered.
You, as a gnoll with somewhat broken English, offer your detective skills to a dragon who is worried treasure is missing. They have enough, of course. Dragons aren't greedy, at least not in the game-world. But they want things to be safe for others that dwell in the dungeon. You look through for clues and rumors, and there are five pieces of evidence that you need in order to nail down the perpetrators' identities. None of this is too esoteric or demanding, and the exploration feels just about right. There's no grinding for experience or anything, either, and DD even tracks the clues you've found so far, so you don't have to.
The end result, when the dragon interrogates you about your findings, is satisfying whether the dragon's convinced or not. They are a sporting type, so even if you mess up, nothing horrible happens to your character.
DD is the sort of game that could've been overwritten easily and beaten the joke to death. But it is also not underwritten. It hits at a lot of neat points. Whether or not you get the joke before officially solving the case, there are good laughs to be had. It's all well-constructed, and I think I played a post-comp version so I didn't encounter the bugs earlier reviewers reported. It's one of those entries where you have a relatively simple joke that won't baffle people, but it has enough side passages that it's legitimately fulfilling, and it's not just a joke.
I worry I potentially spoiled the experience with what I've written. But I don't think it's totally spoiled. I can't be the only person glad 1) that it exists and 2) that it was done well and got the expected laughs and then some. As someone who'd be exhausted if I went in for super-deep philosophy all the time but doesn't like vacuous entertainment, I found DD fit my needs well.
Dungeon Detective is a game with a lot of promise, but it doesn’t quite live up to it. Let’s start with the promise. The idea of somehow lampooning old-school dungeon crawl adventures is, of course, almost as hackneyed as those adventures themselves. But Dungeon Detective finds a way of doing this that I have never seen before, which is pretty impressive. A dungeon has been looted by a band of adventurers, and you are the detective tasked with finding out who the culprits were, so that they can be persecuted. Nice.
The second good thing about the game is the player character. You play as a gnoll, and especially the early game suggests a fictional world and a character of some originality: you have been sent to university by the Spotmother, apparently a matriarch ruling over a rather diverse community of gnolls, some of whom embrace violence, and some of whom, like the player character, are pacifist. Add ADHD kobolds and a civilised dragon, and we’re in a fantasy world that manages to be utterly D&D and yet fresh.
Finally, the game manages to set up a fair challenge by requiring close attention to detail and good memorisation of important details. In order to solve the mystery, for instance, you have to (Spoiler - click to show)connect a herb later on in the game to a seemingly throwaway remark about that same herb much earlier. I thought this worked well, although I might think that simply because I could still recall the details and got a sense of satisfaction from this.
With all this set-up, it is a bit disappointing that there isn’t that much to the game proper. Once you enter the dungeon, you simply walk around and spot a few important clues that reveal the identities of the culprits in a very straightforward way. I was expecting a bigger dungeon, a need for more complicated reasoning, and certainly much more emphasis on the special abilities of the protagonist. He isn’t called ‘Sniff’ for nothing, but his sense of smell plays only a minor role in the solution to the mystery. I was also expecting the game to go on after the dungeon, with the protagonist having to track down the culprits and help bring them to justice –- this was certainly foreshadowed by some of the dragon’s remarks –- but instead the game ends rather abruptly once you have found all the clues. I thought this didn’t do enough justice to the interesting world and character. For instance, then protagonist’s pacifism doesn’t come into play at any time during the game.
There were also some unfortunate bugs, indeed, a somewhat surprising amount. For instance, my character made a torch that would last for the entire dungeon several times in the dungeon, as if the game just forgot to set the right flag. Certain investigative actions suddenly disappeared from the list of options for no discernible reason. Most irritatingly, as the game came near its end, the list of clues was suddenly empty –- I couldn’t review what I had discovered! Luckily, I still remembered it all, including the name of the city, but otherwise this would have been extremely unpleasant.
I wanted to really like Dungeon Detective, and to some extent I did… but it needs polish and also, in my opinion, extension.
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