Dungeon Munchies Review: Chow Down on this Insane Zombie Adventure
As the zombie genre has become popularized and oversaturated during the past several years, the undead have gotten something of a bad rap. They’re always aggressive, hungry monsters that spread their contagion mindlessly. It’s a lot rarer to have a heroic zombie, let alone a zombie main character. But that’s exactly what Dungeon Munchies brings to the table. Much like Link, the main character in Dungeon Munchies isn’t much for talking, but they are the only thing standing between a broken world and utter destruction. Featuring some really witty banter, crazy ideas, and a wholly unique setting, the game had the potential to be truly great. Keep reading this Dungeon Munchies review to see whether it lived up to that potential.
Praise the Dead
One of the biggest draws in Dungeon Munchies is the setting and characters. The whole game takes place in a world where the sun left our orbit to discover itself (yes, really), meaning the entire world was suddenly facing an unprecedented apocalypse. Those who survived did so in a massive underground bunker full of magical talking plants and enhanced animals, plus some other dark surprises. While a zombie is the main character, they only exist to serve the whims of Simmer. She’s a mischievous spirit that used to be a fantastic cook, and now uses her supernatural powers to summon the dead to do her bidding. You’re one such rotting soldier, but luckily the charm on your head keeps you from giving into your monstrous hunger.
Better yet, by finding and using cookbooks, you’ll discover, you can cook up powerful meals that not only nourish your decaying form, but also empowers it. You can devour a certain amount of meals, which then remain equipped until you vomit them back up to equip something else. These give all sorts of benefits, from new platforming skills like double jump to weapon techniques and even passive boosts to your stats. There are a ton of ways to customize your little zombie, and you can even find rare permanent upgrades to help out.
Overall I really liked this system, as every enemy you slay provides ingredients you can use to cook new meals. Those ingredients can also be used to forge weaponry, both primary and secondary items. Primary are your swords, spears, and the like, while secondary can vary quite a bit. Some secondary weapons are shields, others can be projectile weapons, or take my favorite, a jar of mosquitos you can hurl to unleash poisonous insects upon your enemies. Dungeon Munchies definitely leans into letting you choose your own playstyle, which I really appreciate. The only downside to this system is that I really wish my little zombie also leveled up the standard way, and could improve his stats by doing so. Instead, almost everything is tied to your equipment or the food in your belly. It’s a little irritating finding room for the right upgrades and abilities when it might have worked better to tie weapon skills to individual weapons instead.
As I played, I was constantly changing my equipment to try out new strategies. While I preferred the range and attack power of the swords, especially since they have lots of skills you can cook up, daggers made up for poor range with delightful poison effects. I even messed around with a wand that shot laser beams and bow and arrow. There’s really no wrong choice, though you will need to think much more tactically when facing off against Dungeon Munchies’ harrowing boss battles. At first, they didn’t seem that hard, but pretty quickly, I noticed a startling trend. Most every boss, even mini-bosses, amp up the more damage they take, and usually frantically lean into bullet hell for the last portion of their battle. I don’t mind bullet hell as a genre, but I sure wasn’t expecting it in a platformer with Metroidvania DNA. Suffice to say, I quickly grew to dislike this trend, and felt it made many battles too frantic instead of tactical affairs. You can still get past them with the right setup, but figuring that out can be a challenge.
An Apocalyptic Menagerie
Having said all that, I really loved how weird the bosses in the game were. One is a literal talking root with a suit of armor; another is an angry scythe-wielding spirit that loves taking cheap shots at you with a gun; and one of the most terrifying is a massive infectious organism that spits minions and projectiles at you whenever it feels like it. There’s plenty more, but those provide some good examples of what you can expect in the game. Basically, expect the unexpected, since the developers show off their creativity at every possible opportunity.
Most of the game is a mix between platforming and frantic combat. While I appreciated the ability to double jump, dash, and wall climb, I’d be lying if I said the platforming was my favorite part of the game. It all felt imprecise and occasionally slippery to this old Mario and Mega Man fan. As an example, the wall climb isn’t so much you carefully climbing the wall as glomming onto it and rapidly hurling your dead body upwards. Likewise, the combat is often hurried and can be overwhelming. Your dash move is invaluable, since you can avoid damage with good timing, but the enemies will not let up until you kill them. Given the wide diversity of foes, from metal-plated boars to angry trees and even lumps of infected flesh, there’s a lot to deal with. Thankfully, though the combat is fast-paced, each foe has a clear way it moves and attacks. So if you can learn the patterns quickly enough, you should be able to get through relatively unscathed.
Pretty Weird (In the Best Way)
Visually, I find Dungeon Munchies to be an attractive albeit weird game. The character portraits and pixel art are all solid, and they do an excellent job of expressing the quirky nature of the characters. Simmer is a very strange little spirit; her assorted skeletal minions range from grumpy to bored. There’s also a surprising variety of talking vegetables and fruits. As for the enemy variety, each of the game’s three chapters has a diverse assortment of creatures to deal with, and there’s no crossover between them. Musically the game is somewhat muted most of the time, though there are the requisite sound effects for battle. It’s definitely much more interesting visually than musically.
Bumpy Roads Ahead…
While I’ve enjoyed the hours I put into playing Dungeon Munchies, there were a few issues that hurt the experience. A big one that was an early stumbling block deals with the controls themselves. I noticed that when playing the game with the directional buttons, my little zombie moved around fine, but wouldn’t change the direction he was facing. Since that affects where he swings his weapons, it quickly became a problem, until I realized how to get past it. If you control the game using the joystick, then you have full control over where he’s facing and moving. The problem for me is that I grew up playing games where either the joystick or the directional buttons would work perfectly for my platforming. I have always found the joystick lacking in precision, at least for 2D platforming. It was also frustrating that the game never indicated there was a difference between the two control schemes, forcing me to discover it for myself.
Another issue that I touched on earlier is that it’s not usually clear what weapons are best used against different bosses. For example, I kept getting my butt handed to me by a boss named Cluster, who loved to spam projectiles when I hurt him. I tried and died repeatedly until I decided to use a scythe weapon that summoned a group of skeletons. Once those little buggers started focusing on Cluster, I beat it without issue. But had I not used that weapon, I’d still be stuck on that boss. Also, it’s really not easy to get more permanent health for your zombie. You can find rotten hearts to boost it, but those are well hidden, and the game also doesn’t feature mini maps. So you might be wandering a while until you can upgrade your zombie to withstand a few more attacks.
Can’t Make an Omelette Without Breaking a Few Eggs
Despite the weaker parts of the game, such as the awkward and unclear control setup and the overly demanding boss battles, I still really enjoyed my time with Dungeon Munchies. It’s a unique game with a truly twisted and delightful sense of humor. Combined with a unique cooking mechanic and tons of ways to customize your experience, I feel it’s a game any fan of the indie scene should check out. I just hope developer maJAJa is able to implement some tweaks to improve the experience, or use what they’ve learned from this game to make their next one even better.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4 and PS5 (later on); Publisher: Chorus Worldwide, Serenity Forge (physical edition); Developer: maJAJa; Players: 1; Released: July 28 2022 (full release); ESRB: Mature 17+ – Blood, Fantasy Violence, Strong Language; MSRP: $16.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.