Some games have an incredible ability to drive you mad with anger and frustration, whilst also giving you some of the most satisfying victories, and still being so engaging that you can’t help but have ‘one more try’. Dandy Ace embodies that feeling through and through and as a result, it’s an absolute banger.
Dandy Ace is pretty straightforward, It doesn’t waste your time, especially with regards to the plot. In the opening cutscene, you’re introduced to the protagonist, rightly named Dandy Ace, a master magician. After upstaging Lele the green-eyed illusionist, he is trapped inside a cursed mirror by Lele out of spite. Now, your task is to battle through the palace to find Lele and free yourself from this cursed world. It’s not too complicated, but it gets the job done.
What elevates the plot is the setting, design and character, all of which are front and centre. Each of the enemies and environments has its own style, like a banquet hall full of regal furniture or a lust garden littered with stone statues. These do more than enough to keep things fresh as you fight your way through, whilst not distracting from the gameplay.
Additionally, the cast is all wholly unique with a great amount of variety, with the bosses being particularly standout. By leaning into the game’s playful nature, its brightly coloured visuals make up a majority of what you’ll see, with Dandy Ace himself proving this point all by himself. It also shows in the voice acting, which goes a long way in giving the relatively small cast some personality; Aside from Lele, whose pop culture-inspired dialogue whilst you play can go from being witty and clever to irritating very quickly. Thankfully, this can be adjusted in the setting, and I recommend you do. That along with a pretty decent electro, vibey soundtrack gives the game a lot of character that makes up for the relatively simple story
Anyone who has played a roguelike action game probably knows the basic loop by now; play, upgrade, die, repeat, and Dandy Ace is no different in that regard. Combat is fast-paced, making you reliant on your reflexes and skills as you dodge enemy projectiles and fight in challenging but fair combat sections. Plus you have the looming dread of losing all your abilities and currency when you die. It’s all pretty adrenaline-filled and “twitchy” action from the outset, and it teaches you pretty quickly that if you die it’s most likely your fault. But as well as being rage-inducing, it also has the most awesome moments of triumph when you finally manage to clear a floor or defeat a boss after several attempts. It’s a game of high highs and low lows, but it balances these two beautifully and creates a ‘one more try’ mentality that’s hard to shake.
Luckily, combat is damn near perfect and only amplifies that feeling, with a focus on player choice and play style customisation that creates a brilliant sense of progression.
The combat revolves around creating your own builds of varied spells and abilities thanks to magic cards. Up to four of these can be assigned to your four action buttons and make up your main arsenal. These are split into three sets by colour and type, blue for movement, pink for attacks, and yellow for crowd control (CC). These can be found throughout the level, by clearing tough battles or purchased with gold, one of two currencies you’ll use during your time in this gauntlet. Mixing and matching these cards is where the game shines brightest, and with the hefty amount of cards available, there are a ton of variations to try. But what really magnifies this is even further is the four additional upgrade slots. These can be filled in by the very same cards used in your main slot, but instead of replacing them, they introduce a secondary element to your main ability, creating room for a HUGE amount of customisation.
The sheer number of possible configurations you can have is staggering, to put it mildly, and it makes for some wicked ability mashups. Tired of a boring dash move? Make it burn enemies whilst you go. Fancy a giant fist that lefts noxious gas as you pummel enemies? Go for it. The possibilities feel near endless, and being able to swap them around wherever and whenever you want makes it easy to try new combinations hassle-free.
Along with this great toolkit to use in combat, you have levels that complement this fast-paced combat with great effort. Whilst the isometric nature of the game renders them a bit flat, they all have hidden potential that you can exploit in combat if you use them well. Making smart use of corners, gaps, and objects, you can distance yourself from melee attacks or kite enemies into area spells and traps and use the levels to your advantage. Not to mention the nice degree of exploration, which gets more robust as you find keys to unlock specific doors and areas; Some you might have been able to in a previous run.
If that wasn’t enough, you also have the help of NPCs like your lovely assistants Jolly Jolly and Jenny Jenny. These NPCs handle your permanent upgrades in exchange for mirror shards, a rarer currency that you use to unlock upgrades, trinkets and cards you find as you play that carry across even after dying.
So if it isn’t clear by now, Dandy Ace has a lot to offer. With the huge variety and potential for custom builds and player experimentation, there is a massive amount of replayability. To come close to seeing and learning all the intricacies could take an incredibly long time, so it’s a good thing the game is a blast to play. Along with multiple difficulties and routes to take, there is plenty to do and keep you busy.
Overall, Dandy Ace is a stellar action game that boasts great gameplay that just has layers upon layers of depth that keeps it both engaging and exciting throughout. Great characters and style only add to an already great package, and it’s one I’d wholeheartedly recommend to any fan of the genre. Now I just need to get in one more quick run…