Rustbucket: let’s look at Game Design


Rustbucket is a turn-based roguelike dungeon crawler by the developers of Gunbrick, Nitrome. The game, while flawed in some regards, is an excellent approach to designing a tough-as-nails dungeon-crawler with minimalistic controls. Here we’ll approach Rustbucket in 2 facets: Combat Design and Spacing and Progression.

Combat Design and Spacing:

The combat in Rustbucket is very simplistic in it’s approach and works based off of turns. You move and attack by swiping a direction so on any given turn you are either moving or attacking. This dichotomy is extremely important to creating Rustbucket’s sense of combat and spacing. Sometimes the difference between life and death is simply being on an alternate spacing than an enemy. For example, an enemy could be two spaces away in which case moving towards that enemy would result in death, however, breaking a pot would cause the enemy to move forward one space cause them to be in range of your attack. It gets tricky when there are multiple enemies and you must choose when and where to move and when to keep yourself in position. I often times find myself wanting a skip turn button, but of course that would completely trivialize the whole game, although, from a game design standpoint it would be interesting to see how the game plays with a skip turn ability if not only for research.

All of the enemies attack in different regards which layers to become complex. The enemy design is perfect for a game which is procedurally generated with the exception of one. There is a certain enemy which can only be removed from the game by a certain item that is placed randomly in the levels. While this removal item is placed pretty generously it simply seems like a needlessly annoying enemy for a game that it procedurally generated. Removing this particular enemy is always an unknown hassle. Perhaps if the removal of said enemy was subject to the player’s own actions rather than the graciousness of the level generator then it would be far better of a design. Although aside from that, the enemies are well paced in difficulty and they offer unique strategies in removing them. For example, some enemies attack only after indicating that they will do so and others move in set patterns or can only attack in the direction they face. The enemies of Rustbucket never feel unfair or overwhelming and work very well with the game’s simplistic combat system. I’m reminded heavily of Crypt of the Necrodancer as it deals with combat in the same way as Rustbucket but introduces different weapons to modify the directions which the player attacks and handles different situations.

Spacing becomes somewhat of an issue in Rustbucket as well. As the game is turn-based I find myself making an abundant of moves simply to get from point A to point B without making interesting decisions. The game really shines when you’re in the thick of a mob of enemies closing in from all sides. In these situations every move could be life or death whether it be the next turn or 3 turns into the future, the game is perfect in these times of life or death. The game becomes dull when there are little to no enemies on screen. This makes me wonder how the game would play out if the grid size was smaller. Perhaps instead of a 9x7 having a smaller grid say a 7x5 would create those exciting moments more often. Although, that’s just my own speculation.


Rustbucket has an excellent difficulty curve. Although the curve is unconventional in that it ramps up rather quickly, the difficulty never feels unwarranted. My primary issue with the progression is not the mechanically progression, as new enemies are always popping up to keep the gameplay fresh and exciting as you progress, but rather it is the cosmetic progression which I feel is lacking. Roguelikes like Spelunky excel at giving the satisfying feeling that you have really delved deep and far into the world’s territory. Rustbucket on the other hand changes some graphics on the floor etc. but it doesnt quite ever feel like you’re going anywhere. Perhaps I suck at the game and haven’t gone far enough yet to discover different areas, but I’m not sure that is the case. But as I said, mechanically the progression feels great and is super satisfying and I would just like the graphics to reflect that feeling.

Closing Thoughts:

It may seem like I’m being a little hard on this mobile game, but it’s because I love this game and I really enjoy it that I’m picking it apart to such a degree. This game has had me thinking about design more than most games do and I think speaks to how well it’s designed. This game has me thinking about all the ways I would approach a similar project and it makes me excited to be a game developer! So check it out(it’s free afterall ❤)!

(all images are from google or the official Rustbucket screenshots)

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