Cladun Returns: The Is Sengoku! is a fast and sometimes fun little dungeon crawler. The sprite-based title serves up stages that can each be completed in just a few minutes, and there are plenty of ways to enhance your character, resulting in a surprisingly rewarding experience. For quick stints of exploration and action you can't really go wrong, but the release does suffer from a handful of frustrating gameplay elements that put a dampener on the otherwise enjoyable grind.
As its name suggests, Cladun Returns features a Sengoku period Japanese aesthetic. That means samurai, ninja, and elegant looking castles. The visual style is definitely more interesting than a generic fantasy look, and the hub area that you return to after each dungeon trip is particularly homey and pleasant. As far as relatively basic pixel graphics go, This is Sengoku! looks pretty nice, even on a big television screen.
That said, the title's many menus and text boxes don't look so good, and navigating them can take some getting used to, especially since the rest of the game's design is quite simple and streamlined. As mentioned, there are various ways to enhance your custom character's abilities - whether you're reforging weapons or learning new skills - and doing so requires you to visit multiple different services in the hub village, all of which have their own set of menus, icons, upgrades, and statistics to navigate. At first, it's overwhelming.
You'll need these numerous upgrades, too, because Cladun Returns can be a difficult nut to crack. Gameplay is simplistic but offers just enough nuance to keep you on your toes. You've got standard attacks with your weapon of choice, a jump, and a dash that allows you to speed away from danger but temporarily lowers your defence in the process. With a decent number of different enemies peppered throughout, combat boils down to knowing a specific foe's attack patterns and reacting accordingly. Again, it's simple stuff, but you need to take the timing of your attacks into consideration unless you want your health bar to disappear in a matter of seconds.
However, the release can very quickly throw you off with opponents that are far stronger than their counterparts. You always have the option to simply dash past these beasts and race to the end of a dungeon, but sometimes you'll get penned in by the aggressive artificial intelligence and you'll have no choice but to fight. It's in these heated moments that Cladun Returns can stumble into frustrating territory. The process of overcoming unfamiliar foes can devolve into trial and error, as the combat system obviously doesn't allow for much depth.
You could always grind your way to victory, although doing so isn't a whole lot of fun. Since the majority of dungeons are predetermined and bite-sized, racing through them time and time again just to gain a few character levels forces the repetition of the game to settle in that much quicker.
Loot-wise, Cladun Returns is reasonably rewarding. During your travels, you'll come across treasure chests that contain various goodies. When you open one up, a big, pixelated version of that item pops up on-screen, just so you know exactly what it is that you found, like the game's throwing the glory of your efforts straight into your face. However, if you die before reaching the end of a dungeon, your precious loot will be lost. This certainly helps up the stakes and forces you to prioritise survival, but losing out on a load of better equipment because you got hit by a cheap trap while legging it from a horde of angry monsters only adds to the frustration that we mentioned earlier.
With all of this in mind, Cladun Returns is at its best when you're able to stay on top of the challenge and blitz through a bunch of dungeons in record time. Once you've slogged through the opening hours and you've got your hands on some good gear - and you've wrapped your head around the title's myriad upgrade systems - then you may well discover an addictive little adventure.
Cladun Returns: This Is Sengoku!'s bite-sized stages are best suited to quick stints of dungeon delving. Stay much longer, and you might stumble across the frustrations that lie in its depths. Bouts of trial and error gameplay drag down an otherwise addictive release, and convoluted upgrade systems keep you from getting straight into the action. Still, the process of powering up your pixelated protagonist is a rewarding one once you find your groove.