Developer: Critical Studio
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Review Platform: PC
Review Copy Provided By: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: January 29, 2013
A warrior, a mage, and a rogue enter a theme park…
Dungeonland is the punchline and a game that will likely be one of those games that you either lover or hate with little middle ground. Developed by the Brazilian startup, Critical Studio, Dungeonland pits 3 classic fantasy archetypes in a hack-and-slash style RPG against a demented dungeon master who has laid out his levels in theme park themed locations. Despite its colorful graphics, Dungeonland comes with a reputation of hardcore difficulty that is just as likely to leave you frustrated as much as entertained.
If you have played Gauntlet or more modern games like Diablo and Torchlight, Dungeonland will feel familiar to you. Enemies rush you while you run around mashing your attack button while occasionally using various skills and potions from an isometric viewpoint. Dungeonland takes that formula and gives you two companions to mix and match skills with for optimal enemy destruction in the sense that it has to be done with well tuned team play to even survive. A team of players have a set number of lives to share amongst them. Once the lives are gone and all party members have dies, the game ends.
The one thing you must understand about Dungeonland is that it is meant to be played in co-op despite having companion AI for single player. The companion AI is beyond stupid and it will make the game near impossible on higher difficulty levels. Even with intelligent human companions, Dungeonland is hard as balls. The developers make no qualms about the difficulty and go as far as labeling the various difficulty levels as Hard, Harder, and Impossible skipping easier sounding names like easy and normal. At first this might seem cheesy but hard is actually hard. You can add even more difficulty by adding up to 3 challenges when starting a game. These challenges act as modifiers or extra goals; one challenge might have you escorting a golden sheep to the end of the level while another might turn off potion use completely. These challenges are randomized to keep players on their toes.
The game contains 3 levels with different fantasy, medieval, and theme park settings mashed together. The level layouts are always the same but enemy spawning is randomized in a rogue like manner. This is where the difficulty comes into play because Dungeonland can almost unfairly kick your ass right out the gate. As soon as the game starts, multiple enemy spawners can be right next to each other flooding you unprepared with multitudes of enemies. It truly feels cheap. This coupled with downright brutal bum rush enemy AI creates a game where you are expected to die a lot before you can succeed.
As you play, collect coins, and die, you will be able to buy equipment and unlock 2 subclasses for each of the 3 main classes. Unlocking the classes really doesn’t do much in making you feel more powerful but it does give a couple more options in terms of skills and how you want to play the game. Unfortunately, unless you exploit flaws in the game, you will be spending a lot of time dying and grinding to get anything worthwhile in the equipment department. Equipment is also the only way you will be able to customize your character as there are no levels or skill and attribute points to place.
If the hero side of the coin is not your cup of tea, then there is the Dungeon Maestro mode that allows you to place enemies and traps for either player or AI controlled heroes. DM mode is the opposite of the hero mode and is almost too easy against the AI. It is the same stupid hero AI that wastes your lives and makes the single player hero game unplayable. So to enjoy Dungeon Maestro, players must once again take it online and they won’t regret it. Dungeon Maestro mode is what Dungeonland should have focused and expanded itself on rather than leaving it as a tacked on mode. There is nothing quite like hearing your friends curse as you screw them over with well placed traps.
Outside of the cheap difficulty, poor hero AI, and single player that just should not even be there, Dungeonland suffers from a huge issue in its controls. The game feels better when you use a controller. The problem is that the menus don’t mix well with that kind of input forcing you to go back to the keyboard and mouse to move through them without wanting to toss your controller through the monitor. It feels poorly designed at this point especially considering that the co-op doesn’t have to be online and can be local which requires controllers. Hopefully a patch will fix that up.
A warrior, a mage, and a rogue enter a themepark… they see that it is Dungeonland and promptly leave because they are not hardcore enough and want a game with a little bit more depth to it. Dungeonland is a shallow game built on shallow systems with the cheapest kind of difficulty one can expect from games. That being said, there are sadists out there that love simple and hard games but do they have at least 2 sadist friends to enjoy this game with? Better AI and a single player mode that is actually playable would give this game a bigger audience but the designers seemed purposeful in their attempts to force hard and teamplay down our throats with Dungeonland.