Dandy Ace Review: Welcome To The Greatest Show Not Of This Earth!
Developed by Mad Mimic, Dandy Ace opens up with a humorously narrated tale of a beloved magician, Dandy Ace, and an envious rival magician, Lele, who makes a devious deal with a dark entity to trap him and his troupe inside of a sinister Magical Mirror from which he is meant to never return. As to why Lele went to such great lengths to get rid of Ace rather than just corner his own lucrative part of magical arts entertainment industry, we’ll never know. But it is thanks to his short-sighted arrangement that we have ourselves this bright and colorful magical roguelike adventure to bounder through.
Upon materializing in the Entrance Hall, the player is greeted by three differently colored cards, each representing the types of attacks and abilities used throughout the game. Blue cards function as mobility or evasion moves, pink cards function as primary attacks with short durations between uses. Lastly, the yellow cards function has heavier, more powerful attacks that tend to have lengthier durations between uses. These cards, and additional ones that you find as you progress, can be slotted into slots, each associated with one of the four controller face buttons. Now, what’s especially interesting about the attack card system in Dandy Ace is that, in addition to the four attack slots, there are also four slots that work as modifiers for the initial four. You see, each attack card actually has two functions – an attack and a modifier. When equipped in the attack space, it functions as I described above, but when equipped in a lower slot, it will alter the corresponding attack’s function. For example, by modifying the Binding Chains attack with a Five of a Kind card, each attack of Binding Chains that connects with an enemy will spawn five cards that will fire out and hit nearby enemies.
Exploring each area of the palace will typically consist of the player guiding Ace from room to room, where he will be assailed by a variety of magical and tactical foes. Enemies come in a variety of fun forms, and each attack in its own distinctive way – each of which needs to be properly noted in order to tactfully survive each encounter. It would have been nice if there were more enemy variety in each region that is visited but, by completing the game, players can at least experiencing more challenging variations of areas with different combinations of enemies. During each of these encounters, while Ace is blasting, dashing, and zapping away at foes, Lele will be narrating various lines to taunt him and the player. While it is primarily being done for the sake of humor, it can also sometimes be helpful as there were more than a few times when he’d comment that a health-restoring cupcake had spawned on the field during a skirmish, thus alerting me to go and grab it. If the player were to tire of this, it can be turned off in the settings, but I personally enjoyed what it brought to the experience.
As players explore various areas of the Magic Mirror, they will come to notice that some areas are blocked off to them by doors representative of the four card suits: Heart, Club, Spade, and Diamond. These can be bypassed by discovering their corresponding keys during their runs. Bypassing these doors can lead to additional event rooms, including shops that sell new cards of higher tiers for greater attack power, treasure chests, and even alternate area exits!
Abracadabra! Make It Quick! Turn These Crystals Into Tricks!
Upon completing an area, Dandy Ace is transported to the next area but, prior to engaging in battle anew, he is allowed a brief respite from his purgatorial performance. In the rest station, players can visit the rewards tent to choose a single bonus. Initially, it only offers a health and tea refill, but later on, the player can unlock additional cards resulting in this becoming a tougher choice. In addition, the player can consult with Ace’s assistants, Jolly Jolly and Jenny Jenny, who will provide him with aid in the form of colorful commentary and magical upgrades purchasable by spending coins and crystals obtained by defeating Lele’s many minions. Jolly Jolly will allow him to spend his crystal currency on various permanent upgrades that will persist even upon death. These upgrades include new card attacks and abilities that can be found on future runs, additional tea potions, the ability to sell unwanted cards, an actual credit card, and more! Even if the player cannot afford an upgrade, they can still bank their crystals on an upgrade that they want until they reach the total required to unlock it. The available options will be expanded as the player acquires more blueprints that enemies randomly drop. Money and crystals are lost upon death, so there’s really no reason for them not to liquidate their crystals with Jolly Jolly every chance he gets.
In Jenny Jenny’s case, she will provide Ace with a variety of trinkets – each of which provides one passive buff to the player. Some examples include a 15% damage increase for five seconds after taking damage or a one-time resurrection after taking fatal damage. On each one-time visit to her booth per area, the player can only choose one trinket to take along and, once selected, it is locked in for that run. It is possible to change the loadout, but it comes at a substantial coin fee, so it is in the player’s best interest to make that selection count!
Upon death, Ace is sent back to the beginning of the Magic Mirror Maze to make the trek again from square one. Well, not exactly square one, because though his cards and trinkets will be taken away, all of the benefits purchased with crystals from Jolly Jolly, upgrades from the post-boss merchants, and found keys will remain in effect. So, slowly but surely, the player will be inching that much closer to surmounting Lele’s challenge and escaping the Magic Mirror. Or, to unlocking additional difficulties and undertaking the challenge again under more difficult conditions – whichever’s more fun!
The Show Must Go On!
There are three things about Dandy Ace that, right off the bat, made me feel particularly enthusiastic about it. The first thing being the theme – I can truthfully say that this is the first time that I’ve played a roguelike game where magical arts performance was the theme, and it makes the various attacks feel more exciting and fun. You aren’t firing a laser – you’re launching roman candles! You aren’t performing a dash – you’re casting an illusion! The second thing is that the game is very fast and frenetic. Hades was one of the first in a long time to make this great selection, and Dandy Ace does well by following suit. Lastly, the game doesn’t pull any punches, even from the beginning in regards to challenge brought on by enemy behavior. Even as soon as the second area, there will be foes teleporting behind you to launch assaults, placing magic land mines beneath your feet, and buffing or healing enemies within a particular radius. Players will need to be very mindful of both their surroundings and Ace’s immediate vicinity by staying on their toes and staying on the move. A lax magician is a dead magician!
It would be entirely understandable for a person to come into this review thinking that roguelikes are a dime a dozen these days and that this particular game is no different from the rest of the lot. However, between the traits mentioned above and the card attack system, I feel that Dandy Ace does enough to be a good game in its own right and to be a game that makes for quite the showstopper to stand out from amongst the crowd. I had a great deal of fun navigating the world of Dandy Ace, seeing what each new area had in store for me, and seeing what card combinations I could come up with. Hopefully, upon taking your own trip into the world of the Magic Mirror, you’ll come away feeling a touch of magical delight as well.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch, Playstation 4, XBox One (Reviewed), PC (Steam); Publisher: Neowiz Games and Mad Mimic; Developer: Mad Mimic; Released: September 28, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $19.99 (Digital)
Full disclosure: The publisher provided a review code.