Dandy Ace PC Review
Eye-catching is the word I’d use to primarily describe Dandy Ace. It’s something that had me hooked before I even knew what it was, grabbing my attention as I haphazardly skimmed over Steam one day. The vivid pink/purple-tinted palette is stylish and the classic magic theme is a breath of fresh air over the usual grim dungeons. Oh, and if it isn’t another isometric action brawler with roguelite elements! A particularly popular genre right now (and one I happen to very much enjoy), that makes it impossible to avoid comparisons with last year’s sensation, Hades, my own Game of the Year 2020, and the recent Curse of the Dead Gods which also turned out to be a bit of a hit. So how does it hold up, you ask? It’s good. I mean, it’s unlikely that anything is going to come close to Hades after the years of effort it took from an experienced team and the involved early access timeline that helped refine and shape it but Dandy Ace is still able to stand out in its own ways and remain engaging for the most part.
It isn’t anywhere near as heavy of an experience, both in terms of storyline and length of gameplay/ongoing replayability. But that’s not a bad thing – it’s casual, breezy even. In fact the narrative is almost non-existent outside of the incessant and terribly annoying pop-culture-parody one-liners of the antagonist, Lele the Green-Eyed Illusionist, who trapped Dandy Ace in a cursed mirror for being too sexy and good at card tricks. Fortunately I quickly discovered it’s possible to shut him up in the settings menu, which made the rest of my playtime a much better experience. From there the plot of each run is Dandy attempting to escape this distorted labyrinth of Lele’s own making and the array of monsters created to stop exactly. This makes it a little awkward when you beat the game as the plot can’t really allow that to happen, instead just unlocking the next difficulty and having Lele nervously act like it was his plan all along, implying they are all trapped forever due to his incompetence.
Story aside, it’s clear that the focus of the title is the incredibly freeing customisation of abilities that allows players to tackle the combat-centric gameplay their own way, meaning that if you really wanted it’s possible to exclusively equip dash cards and go nuts boosting around infinitely. However, actually killing any enemies would be a herculean task at that point, so although the open customisation is technically available it doesn’t mean it’s always useful. How it works is that you have four main card slots each with space for a secondary booster power, for a total of eight openings that will define your run. Swapping out these cards is available at any time and is decidedly encouraged as you try to keep up with the scaling strength of enemies floor-to-floor by using the higher level cards you find or by upgrading the most impactful of your current setup, keeping things interesting right until the end. There are three types of cards – blue (dashes), yellow (utilities), and pink (attacks). Different dash cards, for example, have different cooldowns, damage, and special effects such as leaving behind a trail of fire or teleporting for the ability to go through enemies and terrain.
Utilities involve things like planting mines, stunning enemies with a flash, or slowing down time in an area around you. And finally, attack cards, which pretty much come down to melee or ranged skills with elemental damage-over-time effects. They are arguably the least impressive as even the elemental effects (like bleed, poison, fire) don’t, as far as I can tell, do anything mechanically unique but simply have different timings on their damage ticks. Using cards as a secondary attachment can change all sorts of things, such as adding elemental effects, enemy death triggers, and (albeit rarely) ability improvements like increasing the effect size or allowing for extended or multiple uses. My principal gripe with the combat is how much it revolves around trying to aggro a few enemies at a time to make them easier to deal with. It’s not something I did intentionally to try and gyp the game, it just came naturally as enemy attacks can often be hard to see in all the explosive neon mayhem and having many setting up strikes on top of each other frequently forces the player into unavoidable-damage situations. This is most evident when Dandy gets locked into the fray by trap rooms every now and then; it’s where the mechanics evidently fall apart.
In that same sense there are great hits and disappointing misses in all aspects of the game. Hit – the customisability is fun and the constant unlocking of new cards, trinkets (equippable passive upgrades), and permanent enhancements for just about everything is rightfully addicting throughout the length of the core experience. Miss – there’s a lack of decent replayability past that and the total customisability also means the game was developed around the idea that the player can be doing all sorts of crazy things instead of having Dandy, the enemies, and arenas specifically designed around each other. Hit – there are a staggering number of ways to play, even if they don’t all turn out to be great, and the relaxed nature of being able to quickly pick up and play a run without any ceremony makes it easy to keep coming back to. Miss – upgrading cards doesn’t make them better at what they do, only increasing the damage they deal, and the later difficulties build on combat frustrations; especially so in the final battle where the entire stage quickly gets filled with nonsense.
Regardless of these minor irritations, I’ve very much enjoyed my time with Dandy Ace and will no doubt continue to play for a while, at least until I find a way to beat Very Hard mode! I’ve saved the best for last, though, as interestingly enough a big update recently released that started fixing a lot of mine and many others’ complaints. Melee cards were significantly buffed to better balance the risk vs reward of getting up close to enemies, UI changes were made to help players quickly infer a cards power level as well as attempting to fix the visibility of certain enemy attacks (although that still needs a lot of work), and dashing as a whole was improved. They’ve also mentioned they’re working on fixing the cumbersome way dashes get eaten if you so much as brush your pinky toe against an obstacle. This is incredibly exciting. There are some rough edges here but knowing that the team is actively working with the community to sharpen them up is a fantastic sign and I fully believe that if they keep it up, Dandy Ace will be a force to be reckoned with.