The third level is linear, and introduces the game's newest enemy... toilet demons. ZZT has a weird running theme of there being toilets in so many games which you can of course flush. Here though, the toilets fight back, taking several hits to defeat, temporarily turning themselves invisible, and spreading water around which impedes the player. You can defeat them in one shot from your gun though, so there's finally a good use for all that ammo.
There's also another doctor to reset your health. If the player is smart they can pay them first, and then heat up the TV dinner they just received at the end of the 2nd floor, putting them at 120 health. A fountain up ahead will make that 140.
The second screen of this level has a few more zombies and toilet demons to fight. If you inspect the urinals you get this interesting message
Perhaps it's a horcrux.
You can't destroy the urinals, so the message is just for flavor. Destroying one won't destroy a matching toilet demon or anything like that, which would have been a neat feature, but probably difficult to educate the player on.
There's one last gun trap to get past. This time, they player has to actually time their movement towards the gun in order to access the last section of the level. It's a nice steady progression for traps and the timing required is reasonable.
The last trap of this room is a gun that behaves differently from the others encountered so far. This one moves from left to right while shooting upwards. When it reaches the end, it quickly heads left resetting itself. It's like a typewriter of bullets.
Heading right, takes you back to the same board you started on! The third level is only two rooms long, and takes advantage of having to set exits both ways in ZZT allowing you to create some rather bizarre connections. Heading west or north from here takes you to the previous screen. It's so confusing, I just realized I wrote those previous paragraphs backwards to how you actually traverse the board!
So you actually start at the typewriter gun, and end with the urinal horcrux.
Outside the entrance to the next level is this sign warning you that backtracking will become impossible. Hopefully the player picked up the gun on the first floor!
The fourth and final level starts off by emphasizing the dangers. It's even shorter than the third level as this screen is the final one in the game.
The player has to run past more trap guns that will shoot if they linger on any one tile for too long.
Up ahead lie some runes, and another new enemy is introduced, hellhounds.
Scattered throughout the level are these security cameras letting you know that someone is watching your every move down here.
The hellhound's toy is a nice touch. The door on the left refuses to open, but the one on the right does which lets the player run past some more guns. From there the path splits south and east, east is a dead end with more guns and serves as nothing more than a trap for the player. There's not even a safe spot at the end, if you continue down that path you're probably getting shot when you realize you have to turn around.
The last room you can explore has three bottles, one empty, one healing elixir, and one empty bottle of booze. Most importantly, it has a magical staff!
Touching the staff causes the nearby grate to open up, freeing the imps trapped behind it. They have to funnel out one by one so there's not much danger to the player at this point. After this, the entire level has been explored so the player has to backtrack and see if anything has changed since touching the staff.
I was expecting to have to run around the level chasing down the staff, but was instead lured right into Shigesato's trap. He lets you out, and the final battle begins. The fight doesn't really feel any different than the previous fights. He'll change his appearance to be less visible than a smiley face, but never go fully invisible. Like so many other enemies in this game he's immune to bullets.
But eventually he's defeated without any fanfare, and progress can resume.
There are a whole lot of random decorations in the final room of the game. Pots, a shrub, a cracked mirror, gems, gold figurines all decorate this last section.
And with that, the game comes to a close. At first I misread the smiley's dialog and thought it was actually supposed to be Rudy Giuliani which would have been an amazing way to end the game. Instead you just collect your key and the game ends on the spot.
Overall, Deep December is a fun little diversion. The subway setting is unique for a dungeon crawler, and the game does a decent job of populating its dungeon with things you'd find in a subway system. Though, now that I think about it, you never see any tracks or subway cars anywhere.
The story is pretty nonexistent, you go to the subway, you fight the urban warlock, you get rewarded. However, the combat itself feels fun. There are a lot of ZZT games which do melee combat by touching enemies, usually by having them alternate between two characters as a way to indicate when they're attacking or they're vulnerable, which makes the pace of combat slow as you have to approach carefully. Deep December takes a more reckless approach, you can attack at any time and your attacks will get priority over the enemy's own, instead relying on sheer numbers to surround the player to make them take damage. The knockback on hitting a stronger enemy also aids in preventing the player from simply holding down an arrow key until they win. That isn't to say the combat is perfect though. The gun can be missed, which would probably be more of a flaw if half the enemies weren't immune to bullets to begin with. Deep December could have committed to being melee only and wouldn't have suffered for it.
It's also a dark game, and unlike most ZZT games which utilize darkness, it handles it very well. The recharging stations are prevalent enough that torches won't be an issue and also prevent really being stuck in the dark. The levels seem designed with the small torch light in mind, narrow corridors and small rooms. The lack of moving enemies that shoot (other than minibosses which don't attack until you're already close) means that you don't have to worry about something from across the room shooting you.
The oil barrels are a poor mechanic and only hinder the player. As shown earlier, it's possible to softlock the game without cheats if you don't have enough ammo to make your way through spilled oil. They're my biggest gripe, but for the most part you can easily avoid hitting them.
Deep December is a short game. I completed it in less than half an hour, but it didn't feel as short when I was actually playing it. The levels do get shorter and shorter giving the game a bit of a rushed feel in hindsight. Going by the late August release date, perhaps Anthony Testa was trying to get the game complete before Summer vacation ended.
ZZT has had plenty of dungeon crawlers, Dungeon Guru Nostalgia, Respite, Deceiving Guidance, Scramble Dash Dungeons, and a good three or four more by Testa himself. The modern setting is absent from all the rest, making this title stand out thematically among a reasonably popular genre for ZZT games. The care it shows in ensuring the player can make it through, without babying them with an overabundance of items makes the game something worth checking out regardless of its short length and lack of story when compared to its other dungeon crawl brethren.
Where can I get Deep December?
Deep December is available on z2 as well as playable in browser via Archive.org