Dungeon Clawler is a roguelike claw machine game, which is just as frustrating and moreish as it sounds

The hero of Dungeon Clawler makes a heroic escape while being chased by several cutsey creatures.
(Image credit: Stray Fawn Studio)

Let me tell you something, dear reader—I am not a person blessed with good luck. When I play roguelikes, TTRPGs, or TCGs, I will always get thrown into the grinder by the fates themselves. Bad card draw, low RNG rolls, and propensity to always roll natural 20s on things that don't matter, before stumbling into a dinky 4 when the world's at stake.

So when I took Dungeon Clawler—a "claw machine rougelike"—for a spin after its appearance in Steam's Next Fest last week, I was expecting to be frustrated and, let me tell you: Yes, I was. But with that frustration came the inevitable desire to keep shoving nickels into the proverbial machine.

Dungeon Clawler plays like most deckbuilding roguelikes, though instead of building your deck, you're adding to a pool of items that get dropped into a claw machine. Your actions on any given turn are determined by which items the claw picks up.

If you're wondering whether this means it's possible to have turns where your intended actions slip cruelly from your clumsy metallic fingers, you'd be absolutely right. However, you can also have turns where you luck out and get a deluge of sword swings. The sheer, unashamed RNG at play here is both a major source of frustration and a dopamine hit straight to the central nervous system. In other words, it's a solid concept for a roguelike.

There is counterplay to be had, as well. An item's size, for example, will determine how annoying it is to pick up—on the other hand, it'll give your claw more to bite into. A strength-based build I used focused on daggers and paperclips, and while I would occasionally hook enough of a bounty to chew through my enemies, I'd just as often watch as my claw inexplicably leak shivs and shanks, leaving me meekly gaining 5 block like some kind of chump.

Really, the major thing holding Dungeon Clawler back is game-feel. While there's a pretty bouncing soundtrack, the demo is lacking fleshed-out sound design to really sell the mechanical ups and downs going on under the hood.

I'm plenty willing to give it a pass on that, though, seeing as it's a "super-early alpha" demo—and as far as proof of concepts go, it's showing enough novelty that I'll be going back to the arcade for another pull soon.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.