Moving south this time leads to another board with lots of creatures to shoot. Of note is the cyan ammo object which gives 250 ammo! It's pretty uncommon to see objects taking on roles that could be fulfilled with prefab elements, but in this case the alternative would be picking up 50 ammo items.
Entering the main area causes the purple object to trap you inside, but the player's provided more than enough ammunition on this board alone to handle things if they take their time. The player is rewarded with a red key and can make their way out of this section of the dungeons.
Back to this board again, the player can now enter the X area. Interestingly, the ammo and centipede in the upper left section are cut off entirely and cannot be accessed.
On the way out, I was mauled by the centipedes as I forgot that this board is marked as one where the player cannot shoot from the earlier segment with dashing across the ricocheting bullets. I imagine that a lot of other forgetful players take a beating here.
Heading out takes the player past the blue maze and back through the Whirlpool screen before letting the player return their third purple key, and proceed to the final northern branch.
And sure enough, right at the start of The Kennel is the fourth purple key!
Ok, no, I didn't actually skip a whole bunch of content. It's a very silly mistake to make though. Of all the key colors to use, purple is probably the worst choice. Of course if the player takes this route early on, they may be a bit paranoid of using that key as there may be two purple keys along the northern branch.
The Kennel itself is some much blander shooting compared to some of the more unique environments seen throughout the rest of the game, but could also very well be the first path a player chooses to take. It's also very lacking in resources compared to the other paths. If you pay attention to my health throughout this playthrough, you'll see it goes up and down quite a bit due a good mix of combat and gems.
The next board, The Four Stages, is a return to form, breaking up a room into chambers which require the gems to be collected before being able to proceed to the next.
And after you complete the three chambers, the fourth springs to life as an object creates a wall and transforms the boulders into tigers.
Following the four stages is this board, with a path locked behind four doors.
The next screen is a fun little puzzle called The Key Machine. The player has to press the buttons to operate the machine and get the red keys out. It's a fun early example of some complex object interaction.
Alas, you can still break it...
But perhaps this behavior was noted, the player only needs four red keys to proceed and this puzzle offers them six. If you were so inclined, a lot of screens use red keys and it's possible to exploit this a little bit.
There's plenty of running back and forth between the machine and the room with the doors to unlock. While boards like The Whirlpool take advantage of the one key per color limit, in this case it turns into a tedious trip.
Moving past the red doors is the final puzzle, known only as "Puzzling?". Unfortunately, it's very much not. Simply line up the boulders so the pushers can move. Dungeons does a much better job with action, but a much worse job with puzzles than Town did.
The reward is a purple Z which just says "ZZT!" when touched and gives no reward.
The next screen is one seen way back at the start of the game, with the killer alpha. More ricochets and tigers, with some key grabbing for good measure. Once again I opted to purposely take a hit to disable a duplicator, in this case getting two for the price of one!
And again coming full circle, the player finally obtains the last purple key, which was seen from the very beginning.
With the last key in hand, it's finally possible to escape from the dungeon!
Hitting the switch causes the guard to move out of the way, letting the spinning guns slowly chip away at the walls and open the path to freedom. It's a bit of a slow process waiting for them to decide to shoot however. The firing rate is actually turned down to two.
Heading towards the exit, there's a whole lot of ammo that won't be needed, and scrolls warning you that you haven't actually escaped from the dungeons just yet!
The final challenge of Dungeons is to collect all the gems in The Fritz. The board itself is chaotic looking, but other than the three tigers in the lower right, there's no enemies that can escape until you knock down a wall for them.
Note that my health jumped from 16 to 70. If the player's made it this far, they'll have no trouble finishing this final board.
The penultimate board is a celebration of the player's ability. The colorful walls turn into spinning conveyers, and a scroll offers a 10,000 point bonus for escaping. The guards open the gate allowing access to freedom.
And so, Dungeons of ZZT comes to a close, with the twist ending that dragons with very long snouts like to play ZZT at their standing desks.
So how does Dungeons of ZZT compare to Town of ZZT?
Personally, I think it's a notable improvement. While the exact order the registered worlds were created is unknown, this at most the fourth ZZT game ever made. It shows considerable improvements in gameplay, with a lot of very well designed action boards compared to Town's much more haphazard enemy placement. Many fan made ZZT worlds suffered from poor enemy usage as well, but Dungeons really exemplifies how well you can construct an action filled board without the use of a single object. Resources are ample, and you'll likely finish Dungeons with plenty of ammo. Health is well staggered and it seems like just as you get dangerously low, you'll find enough gems to bring you back to a safe level. Another plus is that at least some of the paths offer exits after getting the purple key, as opposed to backtracking through cleared boards again. Not every path does this unfortunately, and the paths are much more winding than Town's, allowing you to make a wrong turn on the way out.
But, then there's the target shooting board, which demands a tremendous amount of care for a player who in 1991 has only ever played Town of ZZT prior to Dungeons. It's overly punishing, and demands repeated successes. If not for being able to break it in the player's favor, it would be possible to render it unwinnable as well. Many of the other puzzles also felt lacking. Town's puzzles, I found to be difficult but not overwhelming, whereas in Dungeons, everything felt very simplified. Though I don't doubt that for many people, the easier puzzles are seen as a pro and not a con.
In short, if it's 1991 and you spent $6 ($+2 shipping and handling), I'd say you very much got your money's worth.
And how does it play today?
Quite well! ZZT's gunplay tends to be very poor these days, but there's clearly thought put into these action boards rather than just a room with some lions. These boards tend to be more cramped, which makes the enemies more threatening and means you won't have to wait several seconds for a bullet to travel across the screen to hit anything.
Where can I get it?
Support Worlds of ZZT on Patreon!