Excave is a curious one. Harkening back to the days of perilous dungeon-crawlers, it’s a game that repeatedly thrusts you unknowingly into a labyrinth where you must explore every nook and cranny.
Pitched as boasting an “epic storyline,” it’s a shame that we must turn to the game’s manual to gain any understanding of why we’re encouraged to do so. We learn that the labyrinth was once part of an abandoned magic research facility, and, now overrun with demons, the King has asked adventurers to determine their origin while rescuing a missing magician nervously hiding within its depths.
You can freely choose between a young and unnamed male or female adventurer to do so, their chirpy anime-style demeanour rebuking the arduous task that awaits them. Each is restricted by the weapon classes that they may wield, with the male more easily seen as having more health and stronger attacks whereas the female hero is far nimbler in evading her foes.
It is the weapons themselves that will help strategise your approach, tackling the demons that stalk the passageways. Blades, bows, axes, spears and spell tomes will all soon expand your equipment, players left to choose whichever they feel helps get the job done quickest. Combat itself is largely monotonous, however, a single one-button approach that makes Excave more accessible at the cost of your sanity. One decision that Japanese developer Mechanic Arms has made is that weapons will eventually become damaged and break while in use, which is a questionable move.
With such a small inventory space, players will struggle to balance their weapons, potions and keys before even beginning to consider the additional loot that they will shortly gather from chests and fallen foes. This is detrimental, leaving underprepared adventurers soon having to resort to the escape mechanic to reassess their selected belongings.
Excave is at least perfectly conceived for short burst play, with its portable nature seeing your trips into the labyrinth tread paths that will take 10 – 15 minutes at a time. Successive blue portals allow you to progress between floors, and you’ll eventually reach a red portal that designates that a boss awaits you beyond its ethereal glow. Collect the key by defeating them, and you can unlock the door to the next route. Simple.
Between your jaunts you’ll restock at Castle Town, making purchases at the Item Shop or visiting the Blacksmith to repair damaged blades and analyse unevaluated weapons. This becomes an increasingly significant requirement, as delving deeper within the labyrinth will reward you with more powerful weapons that are a necessity to defeat Excave‘s stronger foes.
With the lure of 50 dungeon levels awaiting exploration and multiple boss fights, it’s a lack of diversity that ultimately undermines the experience. There’s little differentiation in appearance between floors, basic colour palette swapping being used as a lacklustre attempt to disguise the uninspired environments in Excave and few enemy designs. Even bosses themselves are simply larger versions that, while inflicting status conditions, are beaten by merely hacking away until their health’s completely depleted.
It’s hard not to witness glimmers of potential throughout plundering cavernous depths in Excave, but the modestly priced Nintendo eShop release needed to sprinkle some extra magic to truly captivate throughout.