Combining action RPGs, beat-em-ups and gory, cartoon violence, Dungeonland is a theme park like no other. Is it a grand day out with friends, or a ride you shouldn’t bother queuing for?
The idea of a theme park is often written about in terms of a game’s design – roller coasters are generally referred to if you’re directed through the action down a fairly linear path. Dungeonland uses theme parks to inspire the setting for a far more frenetic experience, one influenced by action RPGs, co-op shooters like Left 4 Dead and even some aspects of the bullet-hell shmup.
In Dungeonland you’ll battle your way through countless waves of enemies as your trio of heroes hunt down each colourful stage’s exit. You’ll have to avoid projectiles, heal your companions and deploy special abilities as you hack/shoot/zap your way through the hordes of tiny wizards, skeleton archers and fast-healing trolls out to reduce you to splatters of blood on the ground.
With a full team of friends, the game comes alive – while each of the three classes on offer (Warrior, Rogue, Wizard) are quite mechanically simple, they interact with each other in numerous ways. The Warrior can tank the hordes and be made temporarily invulnerable by the Wizard as the Rogue sneaks around to instantly kill the most challenging foes with his backstab. Or perhaps the Wizard will lay down a wall of flame, empowering the Rogue’s ranged attacks as he fires charged arrows through a sea of creatures – the Warrior’s job to lock them in place or bash them into position. Finding combinations that work or special abilities that interact with each other is key and the game has clearly been designed with co-op in mind. The AI companions that take up a human’s place in their absence are sadly not up to the task.
Currently, the game consists of four, short campaigns made up of two stages and a boss fight, with each segment taking around ten minutes to complete. That’s assuming you don’t die on the way. The game is certainly no walk in the park in terms of difficulty and also boasts a number of options to bump up the challenge if you’re some kind of masochist.
Ticket to ride
Your characters don’t level up as you play, but you can build your budding hero from a choice of sub-classes, perks and potions. These are purchased with gold, found in the traditional way: by killing and smashing everything in sight or keeping a keen eye open for any chests that will paint the floor with treasure in a sparkly explosion of coins, money bags and gold bars. Gold allows you to add utility, whether that’s a perk that will keep your team alive by healing them every time you critically hit, or simply a powerful grenade.
For the completionist – or the superficially obsessed – you can also buy costume items to change your character’s appearance. So, in a sense, the game’s ultimate goal is the perusal and purchase of silly hats. That’s sort of fitting in a game where one mini-boss flies over you dropping poo on your head. You wouldn’t want that getting in your hair.
Defecating threats in the sky notwithstanding, perhaps the most entertaining aspect of Dungeonland comes from the Dungeon Maestro mode, where one player is able to take the role of the Dungeon Master in a sort of competitive tower defence game. As the DM you place traps, towers and minions in the hope of wiping out the heroes as they progress. The DM can build up a deck of different monsters, traps and bosses through further gold purchases, tailoring his hand to take down specific hero combinations. Playing as the DM, the ‘Evil Laugh’ button quickly becomes redundant, as your own high pitch cackles punctuate every sight of a hero overwhelmed, mirth multiplied as you spring a vicious spider on your arachnophobic friend in an act of supreme cruelty.
Questions will rightly be raised about whether the game has any real longevity and there’s some dodgy net-code in evidence that might feel familiar to anyone who toiled through the launch of Paradox’s Magicka. But Dungeonland is an entertaining ride, simple to jump into, but with enough pleasing depth and room for experimentation that you can find yourself knee deep in a 3 hour session – as long as you can find and connect with the right people to play with.
Dungeonland, from Paradox Interactive and Critical Studio, is available now on PC. A Mac release is to follow.