Dungeon crawling with Cardinal Quest

Cardinal Quest is a newly-released role-playing game for iOS and Android devices by TameTick. The game, a port of a 2011 PC/Mac game which was itself an updated version of a free Flash game, is available now as a paid Universal app on the App Store, and as a paid Android title on Google Play.

Cardinal Quest describes itself as an “arcade-style dungeon-crawler inspired by 1980s classics such as Gauntlet, Red Box D&D and Golden Axe.” In practice, it is a simple “roguelike” roleplaying game in which players explore randomly-generated levels and attempt to survive for as long as possible against increasingly-challenging odds until their player character is defeated and they must start again. The fact that death is permanent — often referred to simply as “permadeath” — is a defining characteristic of the genre, and a big contributing factor to the replayability of games like this, particularly when coupled with the randomly-generated nature of the levels. In a slightly more player-friendly move than most other examples of the genre, Cardinal Quest allows players one death and respawn before defeat becomes eternal.

Players have three different characters to choose from with which to explore the dungeons. The fighter is a strong character who begins the game with the ability to go “berserk” and increase his attack power; the wizard begins with the ability to cast a fireball spell; and the thief has significantly higher speed than the other characters, making him a character more suited for avoiding confrontation than head-on assaults.

Gameplay in Cardinal Quest — and indeed most roguelikes — takes place in a turn-based fashion on a grid, somewhat like a board game. Every time the player moves, attacks or performs another action such as drinking a potion, the enemy creatures also get a turn — perhaps more than one if their speed statistic is higher than the player’s. Combat is resolved simply by walking into monsters; the player’s statistics are taken into account, whether or not the two combatants hit each other is calculated and damage is then applied to both of them as appropriate. If the player defeats a monster, they gain experience points which are added to a small meter that appears beneath their character sprite; filling this meter causes the character to go up a level and become stronger.

Players do not gain new skills by leveling up as in some other role-playing games; instead they must be located on scrolls randomly scattered around the dungeon. Any character may use any scroll, though the rate at which they recharge after use is determined by the user’s stats, making some inherently more suitable for some classes than others. The player may have five scrolls equipped at any one time, and these appear in a “hotbar” at the side of the screen for easy access. Spare scrolls may either be stored in the player’s inventory to be swapped out when necessary, or trashed in exchange for gold.

Players also acquire equipment during their explorations. The game takes care of stat comparisons and automatically equips items that are better than those the character is already wielding. Equivalent items are stored in the player’s inventory to be swapped out if desired, while inferior items are automatically trashed for gold. This process keeps the game fast-paced and streamlined despite the fact it is turn-based.

Cardinal Quest is well-presented, with its audio-visual presentation also following the ’80s theme. Graphics take the form of blocky pixel art, while the background music is made up of modern chiptunes. The soundtrack was part of the recent Game Music Bundle promotion — this fact may have assisted with promotion of the new mobile version.

The game could arguably do with some additional features to take better advantage of mobile platforms and encourage replay. Upon defeat, players do not receive a score or rating of any kind, for example — the addition of online leaderboards would provide a powerful competitive incentive to continue playing over and above the simple addictive quality the game possesses now. Similarly, the game has no potential for additional monetization over and above the initial cost of the app. Many embittered App Store and Google Play reviewers will doubtless cheer this fact, but popular rival 100 Rogues has shown over time that this sort of game can implement in-app purchases in a non-obtrusive manner and still be fondly regarded by the vast majority of the community.

As it stands, Cardinal Quest for mobile devices is a well-implemented portable version of what was already an excellent game, and likely to enjoy a cult following among fans of this niche genre and independently-developed games in particular. At the time of writing, the game does not appear to be ranked on any App Store leaderboards, and the Android version has only been downloaded between 100 and 500 times so far. Check back shortly to follow the iOS version’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.