Some games revel in your success, pushing you onwards to greater and more satisfying accomplishments in the moment-to-moment loop. Trigger Dungeon would like you to die and suffer while you’re doing it.
Immediately familiar to anyone with a history of ‘rage games’ (I Wanna Be The Guy, et al), Trigger Dungeon isn’t so much about asking you what you can overcome, but more about how much you can take. There are three immediately presented difficulties, and I, in my hubris, picked ‘Normal’.
‘Normal’ killed me 200 times before I decided to restart on ‘Easy’, which promptly killed me another 150 times before I decided that was about my limit.
The entire game is presented as one interconnected ‘level’, although rooms take up a single screen with an immediate and sometimes jarring camera shift. There’s an ever-present timer, reminding you that somewhere, there’s probably somebody better than you who’s speed running Hard mode on Twitch to an audience of seven thousand people, while you’ve spent eight minutes getting past a single spike. There’s also a death count, giving tangible statistics to the otherwise ethereal sense of inadequacy this game will force upon you.
Whatever you do, do not play this game with any degree of input lag on your TV. I played the Switch version and made the fatal mistake of trying it out while docked. There are pixel-perfect jumps from the outset, on easy mode, and there’s also either a strange bug or, what I suspect is more likely, a devilish quirk to the platforming collision where you’ll just slip off the corner of the floor because you deserve to suffer.
The presentation most closely resembles someone’s first polished game. Not necessarily their first production ever, but certainly the first time they’ve really thought about what goes into a game you can charge money for, which is something to be applauded. It’s functional, and the rhythmic swaying of the protagonist’s arms as they run wordlessly towards their death is both chillingly indicative of the panic of this malignant environment, and, probably, easy to animate.
Death becomes less of a burden, but not an ‘old friend’ in that folksy wholesome kids’ fantasy way. Instead, it’s a tool. A bludgeoning hammer that you smash with reckless abandon against the puzzle of how to (eventually) not be dead for five seconds.
As an example, there are platforms that don’t exist unless you’re standing on them. You must die to find their location. Of course. As another example, there are question blocks. Some of them warp you to another room. Most of them explode. They look identical. Of course.
One highlight though, amidst this cacophony of misery and blood, was a room with a round blue bubble. The bubble slowly fell to the floor and, if it made contact, you died. Of course.
But for this one room, it wasn’t actually about death. Instead, you had to bounce this slow-moving bubble over to the far wall to blow up a passage to make progress, and I genuinely enjoyed the act of keeping the bubble afloat. Like a balloon innocently falling from the ceiling of a child’s birthday party, there was a brief oasis of tranquillity and pleasure in the arid desert of suffering I’d traipsed through, which I think bears special mention. Then I died.
There might be more on offer, I don’t know. I don’t deserve to know, I can’t beat easy mode. Which is not to say that I don’t see the value in this sort-of game. I have, in fact, completed ‘I Wanna Be The Guy’, so I understand the satisfaction in clearing something that’s so spitefully designed to stop you from doing that.
If you have a particularly masochistic itch, Trigger Dungeon will be more than happy to scratch it for you. With a spike. Most likely in the eye.
Everyone else should probably steer clear of it, for their own wellbeing. In fact, even some of the people who think they might like it should probably steer clear of it. You don’t need more encouragement, you need a cup of tea and a nap, before you hurt yourself.
171Dev’s Trigger Dungeon is out now on Switch and Steam.