A stylish turn-based affair that feels like a roguelike puzzle game.
Many adventure games and RPGs feature sections where you need to travel across a sheet of ice to activate switches or reach an exit. Plunge takes this simple concept and weaves it into something unique and fresh. By expertly combining sharp use of color, a cartoony art style, and simple gameplay, developer Spooky Buns Games has hit on a recipe for success that stumbles in only a few minor ways.
The premise of Plunge is that you’re the billionth prisoner of a crazy, enemy-filled prison who is further punished by being thrown into the bowels of establishment. As it turns out, the depths of the prison consist of grid-like floors that each contain a key to a trapdoor leading to the next floor. As prisoner Billie, your objective is to continue to plunge further down into the prison to navigate each floor, defeat boss monsters, and eventually win your freedom.
After a brief tutorial, you arrive at a hub floor with entrances to the game’s three worlds, a door for unlocking and changing into new characters who have different traits, and tables that show the various abilities and potions you can and have unlocked. The first area is called Ironblocks, and it consists of 30 stages and a boss fight. The stages are randomly drawn—to some extent, that is; floor 1 is always going to be easier than floor 25, for example—from a pool of over 400, which makes every run feel different. The layout of the floor and the enemies you face change each time you restart.
What makes Plunge unique is how it uses familiar gameplay in an unfamiliar way. Using only the left stick or direction buttons, you slide your character all the way in one direction until they collide with an enemy and attack it or hit the end of the floor and stop. It’s turn-based in that enemies on the floor will only act after you have, and a pink indicator appears on screen that highlights any tiles that will be attacked on the next turn. This gives you a chance to plan your strategy in terms of avoiding enemy attacks or defeating them before they have a chance to strike. In the first area, you encounter simple guards that take two hits to kill and only attack one space in front of them; you’ll also encounter spear-throwing guards who will hit from you any number of spaces away if you are on the same row of floor tiles.
You have a life meter in the bottom corner of the screen, and once it runs out you’ll be sent back to the hub floor. Fortunately, once you’ve unlocked a new area you can just start with it again, but you lose any perks or potions you’ve acquired. In Plunge, perks are called Charges, and they are special abilities that make navigating the floors a little easier. One such Charge allows you to knock enemies back if you run at them from more than a few tiles away; another Charge allows you to occasionally drain life points from your enemies, and I found this one especially helpful for extending my runs. Every 10 floors or so, you find a shopkeeper who gives you one Charge for free, but throughout the floors you’ll also find potions that can be helpful or harmful. One such potion, Flip Flop, temporarily turns your perspective upside-down. Fortunately, once you find a potion or make enough progress, you’ll identify it so that it won’t just be a mystery drink anymore. Discovering all of the charges, characters, and potions functions like a nice, built-in achievement system that rewards multiple runs and makes failure a little more palatable.
That said, the boss encounters and later floors of a given area can be fairly challenging. At times, it seems almost impossible to avoid taking damage, and health-restoring meat isn’t always as plentiful as you might like. Plunge can be played impatiently and with haste, but you’re much more likely to make mistakes this way, so there’s a risk-reward system at work. It can be frustrating to play through 30 floors and then lose to the area boss—given that there are no checkpoints and your acquired Charges are lost in death— but such is the roguelike aspect of this game, I suppose.
While the music doesn’t stand out too much, the sound effects are pronounced and contribute to Plunge’s simplicity and brutality. However, it’s the predominantly black-and-white aesthetic featuring cartoon graphics and splashes of bright color that really draws you in and complements the puzzle-like feel. Neon pink and other colors alert you to enemies, dangers, and keys, which makes the minimalist style so effective.
One glance at Plunge is likely to be enough to draw you in, but it’s the randomly-chosen floors, the unlockable elements, and the simple but thoughtful gameplay that really hooks you. There are times when the isometric view makes it difficult to navigate the floor tiles around you, especially when you’re surrounded by enemies, but this is the only noticeable issue I encountered. Those looking for an easy-to-pick-up title that plays almost like a puzzle game with elements of a roguelike will thoroughly enjoy Plunge, as I did. The cool visuals and challenging gameplay are clear highlights, too. I highly recommend casting aside the shackles of an ever-growing backlog and just taking the Plunge.