The Dungeon Experience is a loveable odyssey of crabs and nipples – Preview

Literal crabs, to be clear. Not the other kind.
the dungeon experience bone assembly

Your entry to The Dungeon Experience begins with a unique test. Not one of fortitude, or bravery, or confidence – but of the ancient, revered art of nipple pushing. That’s right. If you want entry to this dungeon, you’ll need to buckle up, warm up your fingers, and press them delicately, slowly, carefully, lovingly, into the disgustingly squidgy nipples of an animatronic guard.

This delightful act pretty much sets the tone for the entirety of The Dungeon Experience – an upcoming adventure game from the Melbourne-based duo of Jacob Janerka (Paradigm) and Simon Boxer (Ring of Pain, Winnie’s Hole), also known as Bone Assembly.

The Dungeon Experience itself – the subject of the game – is essentially an immersive, fantasy-themed escape room established by a tiny, entrepreneurial crab. What this crab lacks in skill, it makes up for in pure charm, with its nervous chattering and high-pitched, frantic pleas for engagement driving you onward, through an array of themed dungeon halls, each with danger awaiting.

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At SXSW Sydney 2023, we got hands-on with this upcoming adventure, and it proved to be incredibly weird, yet incredibly charming, with a strong sense of humour and a compelling meta-narrative guiding the action. To call it quirky would be a gross understatement. What Bone Assembly showed off during the SXSW Games Festival was deeply strange, unsettling, and altogether wonderful.

You’re either going to get it, or you won’t.

the dungeon experience preview
Image: Bone Assembly

The Dungeon Experience leans heavily into the absurd to weave its tale, of a mudcrab trying to make ends meet with its rickety, cardboard-filled dungeon, and failing stage props. Beyond the nipple-pushing mini-game, you’ll enter the Dungeon Experience to find even more weirdness, in every corner.

The front desk of the dungeon is guarded by what appears to be an artificial man made of a painted bucket and sticks, wearing dish gloves, and definitely not being operated from behind by a tiny but very ambitious crab. Also, take no note of the man-table – a man who has been hired to be a table, and seemingly prefers his life that way.

In this opening area, you’ll need to solve a brief puzzle where you’ll construct a set of nobbly headphones – and then you’ll enter the Dungeon Experience proper – which, as mentioned, appears to have desperately cobbled together by the crab, in the hopes of living out a distant theme park dream.

the dungeon experience gameplay
Image: The Dungeon Experience

But the Dungeon Experience is no Disneyland, and you’ll quickly find yourself wandering through uncanny rooms filled with bizarre, hilariously ineffectual props. The main action of the preview for The Dungeon Experience takes place in what appears to be a castle set, brought to life with cardboard ramparts and various shoddy props.

You interact with a static king, voiced – of course – by the crab, and then a horde of terrible goblins descend, all of whom are taped to drones, and can be easily swatted away as they fly at you with malicious intent. It’s a ridiculous scene, as is the entire trip through the early parts of the Dungeon Experience – but with such strong writing, and the charming voice performance backing the game’s iconic crab, Bone Assembly invites players to hold back judgement, and experience what promises to be a gut-busting, and surprisingly endearing ride.

To top it off, the preview of the game shown off at SXSW Sydney (and earlier at PAX Aus 2023) ends with the crab performing an extended and very impressive saxophone solo.

The confidence is astounding – but that’s The Dungeon Experience for you. It’s weird, and occasionally alienating, and leaves you with so many questions. Yet it tempts you to know more, with an undeniable charm lurking beneath its surface, guided and formed largely by its crab protagonist – the master of this particular dungeon.

the dungeon experience
Image: Bone Assembly

The crab is a shining light in this adventure, and perhaps one of the most relatable new protagonists in gaming. He’s shy and awkward, and speaks quickly and anxiously, yet he doesn’t stop his nerves from getting the better of his dreams. His dungeon is awful and rickety, but it’s clearly slapped together with love and care – however misguided. The crab is a testament to all of us putting out our best work, even when it doesn’t measure up to our dreams.

I learned many lessons from my time with The Dungeon Experience. For example: sometimes, the best way to overcome your problems (a corpse), is to move on (cover it with various household objects). Sometimes, a guy just wants to be a table – and you should leave him to his devices (the real world isn’t that good, anyway). But more importantly – you should always go for your dreams, however lacklustre your skills may be. Who knows? Maybe you’ll become master of your very own dungeon one day, if you just give yourself a push.

Thank you, Bone Assembly. The Dungeon Experience certainly has provided me with much food for thought – and an astounding vision of the game’s future.

The Dungeon Experience is now available to wishlist on Steam. It does not have a firm release date.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.