Magic has long been crucified in the movies and TV as being quite nerdy and uncool, when in fact the concept of misdirection and putting on a show is quite the opposite. Whether we are talking about card tricks and pulling a rabbit out of a hat, or witches and wizards, magic seems to be making a resurgence, and one of the latest videogames to jump on that bandwagon is the Mad Mimic developed Dandy Ace.
This crazy action roguelike sees you in the shoes of the marvellous magician Dandy Ace as he looks to pass through the Cursed Mirror of the Green-Eyed Illusionist Lele, where he's currently trapped. Doing so isn't all that easy however, as you'll have to clear levels crammed with enemies, using your selection of magical cards as weapons, and if you die, well then you have to go back from square one. There are options to power-up Dandy Ace with permanent upgrades that make him a more capable combatant, but I'll dive into that shortly.
Playing Dandy Ace is quite simple and it doesn't really do anything to differentiate itself from the typical roguelike formula. You have several unique attacks bound to various inputs and movement is limited to moving at a set pace in any plane - you do have an evasive move, however, to spice things up. The point is, this is very much the standard roguelike game you've come to know, except with a colourful magic theme, but that's not to say it isn't fun or enjoyable to play.
The core gameplay is engaging and offers enough variety in how it develops through the lootable cards (that offer new abilities and effects on your damaging attacks) and the various types of enemies that can be ranged or melee-based. Sure, the level design isn't exactly the most intriguing, it's a lot of similar looking rooms just in a slightly different layout. But, I think that's more the fault of the roguelike genre in general and less so a Dandy Ace specific issue.
On the topic of the cards, these can be found on defeated enemies and provide unique attacks or abilities, as long as they are slotted in one of the four available slots. That could mean unlocking a new attack, a new movement ability, or even some crowd-control, the list is quite extensive. To build on that, you can have a second card attached as a back-up in each slot, to give the primary card extra effects relating to the secondary card, and likewise you can find various versions of cards that feature increasingly strong effects and damage, which becomes handy as you move through the many levels.
Cards are also split into different colours (for what exact reason I don't really know), and more can be unlocked by visiting the vendors found at the end/start of a level. You'll have to spend gems found by defeating enemies to be able to unlock more, but the catch is the gems are also used to upgrade cards, and in typical roguelike fashion, if you die you lose all of the ones you've obtained within one run.
The enemy types are also quite interesting to fight. Whether you're throwing down with fork-wielding Bunny Butlers or the mini-boss Draculords, there's always something new to face, and that even extends to the bosses of which the game currently has four. Each can be found in a specific level along the path to Lele himself (who is one of the bosses), and each has a different appearance and set of mechanics.
While the combat does offer a lot of variety, I couldn't help but notice the often clunky feeling mechanics. When I compare Dandy Ace to two of my favourite roguelikes today, Hades and Curse of the Dead Gods, I notice that I die much more frequently here, and initially I assumed that was down to a more challenging difficulty. However, I seemed to die countless times due to being stuck on a map corner (not a bug, just literally getting caught on hole in the map in the middle of a level), or because the movement wasn't fluid enough to avoid the onslaught being thrown my way. I'm not saying the movement in Dandy Ace is poorly designed, I just feel like the game would benefit from Ace being a little faster paced.
With that being said, one of the most stellar parts of the title is absolutely its design style. The game looks fantastic thanks to the magical theme and clashing bright colours, and the percussion-heavy pop soundtrack only looks to accommodate that. I will say that Lele's incessant high-pitched whiny rambling every time you do something does become irritating quickly, but it doesn't at all knock the great appearance and soundtrack of the title.
When looking at Dandy Ace as a package deal, there are various high and lows to note. The vast number of cards and enemies provide tons of variety, but the similar level design roots the game in familiarity. The soundtrack and visuals are brilliant, but it can't shake the feeling that it really is just a run-of-the-mill roguelike in a genre suffering from oversaturation. If you're a fan of the genre however, Dandy Ace won't set you wrong. It's designed to a high standard, and I encountered zero bugs, but does it contend with the best roguelikes out there? Not particularly.