This Book is a Dungeon is a Twine game about a terminally ill man trying to find his way through a dungeon as it tries to kill him in a number of horrible ways.
In this game, you play a nameless, genderless person lamenting their lot in life. After feeling ill for some time, they go to a doctor and discover that they has a terminal illness, with perhaps a year or two left to live. This naturally sends your character into spiralling depression as they struggle through a miserable existence while waiting patiently to die. One day, they see a bag left on the train they use for a daily commute, and failing to see an owner bring it home with them. Inside, they discover a book that, when opened properly, sucks your character into a heinous dungeon (hence the name of the game). Now stuck inside and completely alone, you’ll have to try and find your way out using nothing but your wits and whatever items you can find laying around.
I don’t usually play Twine games, but I enjoyed this one. You’re given a map of the dungeon on the left-hand side of your screen with the text appearing on the right, which makes navigating around the dungeons very doable. The inventory system appears below the map as well, so you don’t have to worry about trying to mentally keep up with all the items you’ve picked up; though it really wouldn’t matter because once you pick up an item you automatically will get a new text option to use somewhere, and you never have to try and access the item out of your inventory like in a point-and-click game. Images for the monsters and areas around you are limited and basic, but I like that for This Book is a Dungeon. It reminded me of playing Dungeons and Dragons where you have to imagine all of the terrible things happening around you, while it also offers just a handful of images now and again to give you a slight idea of the horror you’re dealing with. I had no problems with the menu, and This Book is a Dungeon never crashed on me. Technically speaking, the game is strong.
The setting was appropriately creepy; walls that ooze, monsters that growl and spit, mysterious rituals that need completing, you know the basics. The story was simple and straightforward: you’re sick, you’re suddenly in a dungeon, and overall your life is terrible. Nothing confusing about that, right? We never get an explanation of where the book came from, why you’re sucked in, or even who you are, but none of that really matters to your adventure. It’s nothing that I haven’t seen before, but it was tight and simple, and because of that I think it worked quite nicely.
It’s nothing that I haven’t seen before, but it was tight and simple, and because of that I think it worked quite nicely.
The dungeons were frustrating beyond all reasonable belief. This Book is a Dungeon is a game of trial and error, let me make that perfectly clear. You’re not going to be able to figure out all the correct choices when you play this game, and so you will die (if you’re like me, you’ll die a lot). The deaths are all varied and can sometimes be unpredictable, which is fun. But when you get to the second dungeon area (the painting gallery), it becomes hair-pullingly frustrating. The problem is that there are three separate areas to explore when you get to the gallery: a dark woods, an old library, and a room of four white walls. If you die to any of these, you have to start the whole room over.
I want you to take a minute and try to picture how frustrating that is. I would get through the library only to die to the woods area; the next time I’d try to go through the library, a monster would spawn with way more health than anything I’d seen before, and it would murder my face off. I had to redo this room half a dozen times because I wasn’t always sure what would kill me, and after a certain point I was just trying to click through all the text as quickly as possible because I’d already read it multiple times, but there was no way to skip the rooms I’d already cleared. The first area was much better because I didn’t feel a great loss of time or energy when I died, but this area felt like three dungeons had been crammed into one room, and if you couldn’t perfectly figure out how to get through all those dungeons and the area that came immediately after it, well, sucks to be you.
Lastly, the music. This Book is a Dungeon doesn’t have any in-game music, but the creator made a mix-tape that you can listen to while playing this. I played it while going through the game, but I honestly didn’t care for it. The music is good, don’t get me wrong, but I felt like the game needed something dark and foreboding in the background as I was creeping through the dungeon and trying not to get eaten alive, while the music I was given reminded me of peppy 80s rock. Again, not bad, but I would have picked something else to better match the melancholy and ominous tone of the game.
This Book is a Dungeon is available on Steam for $6. While I definitely would have preferred for the painting area to be split into three smaller rooms (or even for the game to have a save system implemented), overall I feel like this is a pretty good game. It functions well, it obviously had work put into it, and you can replay it multiple times to see all the gruesome ways the game can kill you. I finished the whole game in about an hour, which might be a bit short for some people, but I haven’t gone back to get all the bad endings yet which I’m sure adds a bit more time on. If you’re a fan of creepy Twine games, or even a fan of old Dungeons and Dragons style stories, try it out.
Storycade was provided a code for the use of review for this title.