Know what makes a great party game? Action RPGs like Diablo. You get to run around with friends, blowing up monsters and collecting sweet loot. They can be really hard, but often they reward you so frequently that every little roadblock gives you the chance to pick up some amazing new mace or helmet.
Know what else works well with some pals? Those LEGO movie-themed games. They’re simple, colourful, easy, and relatively brainless.
Where the two meet, you’ll find Dungeonland, a co-operative hack-n-slash that feels a little like Diablo burst through the seven layers of Hell and found only the colourful, simplified world of the LEGO games. Except things aren’t made of blocks, and… well, it’s not actually anywhere near as fun as that sounds.
Mechanically, Dungeonland sounds great on paper. There are three character classes – the Mage, Rogue and Warrior – and each has two special skills, a basic attack, and panic-button ability. The special skills can combine across classes to some extent to provide a well coordinated team an extra layer of potency. The skills, along with several passive things, can be tweaked via an in-game shop to change your style of play, too. You can be a hugely aggressive, in-your-face Rogue, or you can step back and be a little daintier, attacking from range and even dropping a barrel of potions for your injured friends-Rogue.
Sounds cool so far, but unfortunately a lot of the core skills – such as the Mage’s Ray of Awesome, which makes a target ally invulnerable for as long as you can keep casting it – are extremely passive. You cast it, and you can do nothing else but run around for as long as you want to keep it up. The Warrior has a passive shield-thing which makes him invulnerable too, and the same limitations apply. This means that playing as an effective team often means running around doing no damage but trying to keep a foe’s attention while your Rogue friend tries desperately to make up for all the damage you’re not doing.
Dungeonland is very much built for a coordinated team. If you don’t have some friends you play with regularly, you’re not likely to get very far. Dungeonland’s cartoony visuals mask very challenging gameplay. There are some AI-controlled bots, but even on the simplest difficulty they flounder uselessly. And unfortunately, you really need them to stay alive.
Failure is measured by a shared pool of lives. If an ally collapses and you can’t revive them in time, your entire team loses a life. If you’re out of lives and other ally dies, it’s game over. Even if you and the other ally are in perfect health. And when that happens, regardless of how far through the dungeon you were, it’s all over. You gotta start again.
There are three dungeon-styles currently available, all of which ooze personality and play on fantasy and theme-park tropes wonderfully, and a Dungeon Maestro mode, which is far and away Dungeonland‘s highlight. Rather than fight trolls on the battlefield, Dungeon Maestro gives you a birds-eye view of the dungeon, and the ability to place traps, spawn monsters and generally screw over the players in the dungeon. It’s hugely fun, but not especially well-tuned. It’s typically super easy to wipe out three players in a few short minutes, even on one of the lower difficulty levels. Dungeonland does not favour players in the actual dungeons.
There are lots of unlockables, both aesthetic and functional. In particular, each class has a couple unlockable variants, and most of the best stuff for Dungeon Maestro mode is locked behind a stack of coins (which you can actually earn quite easily). But given the overly-passive and often overly-punishing nature of Dungeonland, it may not hold your interest long enough for you to bother.
- Loaded with personality.
- Dungeon Maestro mode makes ruining friendships a blast.
- Skills feel very passive and unheroic.
- Very punishing, especially when you’re playing solo.
Our review copy of Dungeonland generously provided by Green Man Gaming, where you can buy Dungeonland for a mere $9.99. Thanks, GMG!
We have four copies of Dungeonland to give away in a secret competition! To enter, leave a comment on this article that uses the words ‘Ray of Awesome’ somewhere inside. We’ll pick four winners at random at midnight tonight and send them PMs with their game codes. Tee hee!