Dungeon Punks Review – Xbox One
Hyper Awesome Entertainment boast that their latest tag-team brawler manages to incorporate “old-school arcade beat’em’up fun with modern RPG mechanics”, but can Dungeon Punks deliver upon this promise with any conviction?
I celebrate every opportunity I get to indulge in couch co-op with my friends. The death of local multiplayer is one of the worst crimes of the modern age; its right up there with the British voting system and people putting pineapple on pizza. Heathens.
Dungeon Punks hopes to deliver a co-operative experience akin to the Sega side scrolling beat-em-ups of old. It takes the gameplay and feel of Golden Axe and attempts to overlay this upon a dungeon crawling xp-grind-a-thon in order to inject it with some semblance of depth and modern excitement. However, the execution is lacking. Think Castle Crashers, if only its frenetic energy was replaced with awkward controls, cheap visuals and terribly clunky and charm-less animation. Slap some arbitrarily Dark Souls-esque idiosyncrasies on to it; with the replacement of the term ‘XP’ with Souls, and you have yourself a vague idea of Dungeon Punks lack lustre delivery.
You play as a member of a team of six ‘couriers’, tasked with numerous jobs initially, ranging from –saving a princess, to killing a particularly troublesome monster. Each level is a self-contained sequence of branching paths, you fight your through hordes of enemies, completing ‘side-quests’ (read: optional objectives) and defeating a boss. The narrative is given to us through written text boxes placed beneath cheap looking pseudo-anime characters. The art style and clunky animation reminds me of a mid-to-high quality Newgrounds game circa 2005. The attempt to re-invigorate a classic formula may have benefitted from an actual retro-styled aesthetic, with the current visuals only proving to highlight how cheap and tacky the whole affair is.
The plot moves towards and settles upon the seedy underbelly of a fictional fantasy insurance company who make a quick buck out of monopolising this particular fantasy world’s resurrection magic. The game’s narrative is delivered with tongue firmly in cheek, which is one of the titles biggest strengths. A prime example of this is in the opening level; you must rescue a princess, smashing vases to reveal power-ups along the way, following clichéd video game convention to the letter. However, this collection of genre tropes is turned upon its head when, once the princess is saved, the team are billed the cost of the royal family’s antique porcelain – leading you to seek more quests and more paid work. This self-awareness is the source of several amusing in-jokes that drive the story; but these are not enough to carry the dull gameplay experience.
The game plays like a Mega Drive brawler. You move around the screen, attacking enemies with simplistic and repetitive combos, and casting spells when you have enough mana to do so. You kill the enemies on screen, and progress to the next area. Rinse, repeat, add a boss, and repeat once again. The gameplay itself is dull, shallow and not at all compelling. It’s satirical motif surrounding ‘RezCorp’ and their monetisation of the resurrection of heroes spills over in to the game, in which you are practically encouraged to grind out XP and beat levels over the course of multiple attempts (and deaths). However this trial-and-error approach just serves to emphasise just how repetitive the whole experience is.
There is an illusion of depth with the ability to level up characters, upgrade spells and equip new swords and shields. It really feels like the RPG elements are meant to be important, but I found myself simply equipping the all-round strongest item for each member of my team, and button bashing my way through the game. Aside from unlocking the occasional new spell, the progression is linear and uninspired.
To its credit, each of the game’s playable character (of which there are six) has a very unique play style, and set of spells. From a wind-wielding female Knight, to a fire breathing bomb throwing Dwarf, fantasy genre tropes are applied to good effect. This variety is a welcome respite from the repetitive nature of the combat. Once each character has been ‘discovered’, the experience soon turns back to repetition. Aside from the collection of spell abilities, each character really only has one basic attack combo, a block and a dash, which makes for an unexciting combat system for the most part. The fact that three players can play together is cool, with each player controlling a tag-team of characters. This is the games primary strength – local multiplayer. But as my play partner observed, most things are fun with friends, and there are far better games out there to be spending our time on.
Ultimately, fans of the genre might find something here to appeal. But the repetitive nature of the combat, the overall poor presentation and lack of depth will leave a lot to be desired. If you are not in search of a very very particular experience; a couch co-op brawler with watered down RPG elements, then there will be nothing of interest here for you.