July 25, 2022


Traumatarium is a randomly generated dungeon crawler made in the style and format of an old-school Game Boy cartridge. It was released on itch.io as a .gb file, which can be downloaded and played in any Gameboy emulator program or can be played in the browser from the itch.io site. For this review, I used Retro-arch, which worked like a charm. It was developed by Eligos Games (Horatiu.nyc).

In Traumatarium, a great evil falls over the land, and the queen calls upon a great, yet comically vain, hero to delve into four dungeons and face its various forms. Simple premise, but this adventure will be a difficult one. It seems to me like a love letter to old-school dungeon crawlers like Wizardry or Shadowgate but doesn’t contain all the party and inventory management that made those games so deep. This game does have charm and style, though.

Traumatarium starts at a crossroads between the dungeons and the town area, which has an inn, item shop, armory, and library. The Inn saves your game and recovers health, the shop has food and recovery items, the library has some basic tutorial advice for you, and the armory provides weapons and armor that will be crucial for your success. Each dungeon has ten randomly generated floors with some kind of encounter, and each may contain monsters to fight, treasure to collect, or health recovery. When you reach each floor, you have an option to interact with the scene or attempt to leave the dungeon to return to the town. Either option can have you caught in a battle, so be prepared.
The battles are turn-based and only give you the option to attack or use an item. Battles are the only time you can use an item, so if you are fatigued from hunger or weak from a previous battle, you need to use up a precious turn while a monster gets another hit in. As a precaution, I’d advise keeping a dungeon map (purchased at the shop) with you since it will instantly take you back to town during a battle that is going wrong.
Traumatarium is truly made to play on a Game Boy, though the graphics are done as full-screen scenes rather than sprites and scrolling landscapes. You can see from some of the screenshots that the graphics are detailed in that Game Boy monochrome. The music is perfect for the platform and the setting in a hypnotic-chiptune way. As a gamer who lived through the birth and death of the Game Boy system, Traumatarium strikes all the retro feels. It also makes me dig deep into my memories to try to remember if this is almost too advanced for old Game Boy hardware. But the fact that Horatiu.nyc, the dev behind Eligos Games, has made at least a few custom-packaged Game Boy carts gives me confidence in this game.

The gameplay is where Traumatarium will get players to either love or hate this adventure. You bounce back and forth from the dungeons to the town, and if you don’t prepare or have enough gold to purchase items to survive, you’ll start over and over again. I found that I could only enjoy this game in small bursts and got a bit frustrated when really trying to dig in. If there was a mobile option for this game, its simplicity would fit right in as a game you could play with one hand while riding a subway, eating a sandwich, or swinging a sword at real-life trolls with your other hand. I have a lot of respect for the artists involved in developing Traumatarium and can tell that it was a labor of love for the Game Boy hardware.
In the end, as much as I loved the retro feels Traumatarium gave me, I could only rate it as a 5 out of 10. The gameplay didn’t strike a chord with me despite my love of old-school dungeon crawlers, mostly because of your limited ability to manage your character both in and out of battle. I don’t see myself repeatedly booting up my emulator to try to make progress. I did find that Traumatarium may have opened Pandora’s box for me to explore other indie-developed retro games made in the same vein, so I encourage anyone who finds all my descriptions interesting to grab a copy from itch.io and give it a whirl. I dare any 8-bit dungeon-crawler enthusiasts to put the game on with the speakers on max volume, close their eyes and try not to imagine themselves in 8-bit muscular glory. Go ahead, I'll wait.

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