DISCLAIMER: Not all archaeologists were harmed while playing this game (but most of them were).
I decided to take a break from all the platformers and open world games that I have been playing in the past few months, to try this point-and-click puzzle adventure by Villainous Games, called The Dweller.
The game takes place in a recently discovered underground city, which a team of archaeologists are exploring to uncover its secrets. Unfortunately for these spelunkers, the ancient city is guarded by a spirit monster, an Eldritch, and a particularly dangerous one too, which isn’t happy about being disturbed. You are this shadowy entity, but, are you guarding what remains of the underground city, or have you been banished here by the former inhabitants to keep you from wreaking havoc on humanity?
Each level is comprised of a few platforms and boulders. As the spirit, you can only move through these walls and rocks, but later on, you’ll gain access to teleportation pads, and a shrine that allows you free reign over the screen, which changes up the gameplay in the later levels.
Your objective is to eliminate all of the intruders, by any means necessary. The most common methods are: getting in close to have them as a snack, shifting the boulders to crush them, or scaring them off a ledge or outside the playable area. It’s a matter of moving through the earth to reach them, solving puzzles along the way, which prevents you from achieving this goal and succeeding to the next level. Dropping boulders on their heads is the most gruesome way to exterminate these explorers. You can definitely feel it when they are squashed.
There is an underlying story. Told through letters, written by various archaeologists, that are periodically unlocked as you progress through each stage. Reading through these notes gives you an insight into the trauma that they are experiencing. The way they speak about the sightings of the shadowy figure, its glowing eyes, the horror of finding the bones of recently deceased explorers and bodies crushed under boulders, surprisingly gives the game much more depth and character. It genuinely makes you feel responsible for the slaughter of these people.
All of the puzzles are clever and well designed. Most of them can be solved in seconds, but at times I would come across one puzzle that just wrinkled my brain, and took me hours to figure out (literally). If you become stumped like I did, you have the option to skip any level, and there are also branching paths so you’ll get to the final boss one way or another.
The colour palette used is rather plain, with browns taking up the majority of the picture. Being underground, you’re not likely to see many more colours. But there is plenty of blood splatter when you explode one of the spelunkers. The sound is very creepy and chilling, it fits the mood and themes perfectly. The screams and roars have an echo effect, which helps to evoke fear, and gives the impression of being underground alone.
I think this game could benefit from the inclusion of foreground and background platforms, with a (metaphorical) bridge between them. This could create some interesting third-dimensional puzzles, and provide more depth and difficulty. In the later levels, special agent spelunkers fight back using a projectile beam, capturing the spirit like a ghostbuster. I’d like to see more enemy types like this, and allow the spirit more powers to combat these threats, perhaps inhabiting living beings could be a game mechanic in the future.
Even though The Dweller is short, with the exception of the few levels which took me a long time to figure out, it was an enjoyable endeavour. This is a good pick up for even a casual fan of puzzle games. I’ll be interested to see more from Villainous Games in the future. Be sure to check it out yourself on Steam.
Tim Pearce is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2. Go say hi on Facebook via MeatBaitMedia!