I have a huge fondness for dungeon crawlers and I’ve invested an unfathomable number of hours in the genre over the years. From the classic Gauntlet, through to the titan that is the Diablo series today. Nothing can beat the sense of progression and growth a good Dungeon Crawler feels to a player. Knowing that 5 more minutes could reward you with that new powerful sword or that exit to the next level that’s been eluding you. Here we have Super Dungeon Bros, a dungeon crawler with a heavy rock music themed universe – two things I really like, so surely, I’m in for a good time?
The game has you playing one of 4 knights tasked by the gods of rock to save the world of Rökheim with the hope of finding sweet loot and becoming rock legends themselves. Basic and to the point and little else, from a story point of view, to expand on. You are hoping you would be introduced to some big villain to go up against or some evil that is threatening the world you’re playing in, but nothing like that ever presents itself.
The Rock theme of the game seems wasted and mostly underused. The rock tracks that plays through the game quickly starts to grate with their repeated loops. The 4 main characters, named after 4 rock legends have the most inane quips and one liners that, initially seem harmless and inoffensive, but rapidly start to wear your patience. I know React games were trying to go for a highhearted approach with the characters, but I feel they went too far and make them mostly unlikable. Even when playing through the actual game, little of the rock theme really comes through. Even with the enemies or bosses you fight against. It’s knights, who like and listen to rock music fighting through a generic dungeon. It’s a real shame they didn’t try to expand on the rock theme a bit more by introducing more rock themed enemies or even rock based power ups – and not a single guitar anywhere.
Gameplay wise, there feels as if a lot is fundamentally lacking. Combat has no weight to it and the controls can feel floaty and imprecise at times, especially when it comes to combat. 5 simple moves are available to the player, light, heavy, a super attack which is limited in use, a dash which can be used both offensively and defensively and a jump to tackle some of the gaps that form in the levels. There is little depth to the combat but is serviceable for the small groups of enemies you frequently encounter. However, you can get quickly overwhelmed by the enemies, especially as your threat meter fills up and it feels as if the moves available to you simply are not capable of dealing with these large mobs. You feel restricted by the moves and left with frustration when you know it’s the game that’s letting you down rather than your own abilities to react.
Mentioned above, is the threat meter. A bar which gradually fills up over time and controls the volume of enemies and their aggression. Take too long to move through the dungeon and you’ll eventually be overwhelmed by the number of enemies flung at you which results in discouraging you from even trying to explore the few branching paths that do show up. It feels like an unnecessary addition to try and keep the player moving.
Arguably, the huge draw of dungeon crawlers is the sense of progression and growth, with the deeper you get, the more powerful your character gets and the more invested you as a player gets. Unfortunately, the sense of progression here is extremely limited, with new weapons restricted to being unlocked by collecting shards and spending them at the ‘Bro shack’ out with the main game. And shards are only dropped when you kill any of the games mini-bosses or by completing the daily challenges that are available to tackle. There are no random drops in the game, no new armour or weapons to find and spend time min-ing and max-ing your character. Character levelling is also limited, using the coins you collect to upgrade your health, toughness and weapon damage and nothing else.
Each of the games dungeons are procedurally generated, which is usually huge incentive for repeat play. Unfortunately, the environments themselves are just not that interesting enough. Sure, the paths you follow and rooms you enter will always be different, and each of the three worlds follow that worlds theme, but aesthetically, they are quite basic with little to excite the eye. The paths are also very linear, with the odd branching trail that doesn’t stray too far from the main path. There is little to explore and little to collect other than coins, which you spend to upgrade the few options available to your character and the odd power up replenishing your health. The levels do throw in traps and hazards which add a bit of flavour to each dungeon you visit and I do like that some of them can even be used against the enemies if you position yourself correctly. But unfortunately, their inclusion isn’t enough to massage the feeling of disappointment in the levels you are ultimately left with.
One thing Super Dungeon Bros does have going for it is multiplayer. Offering both 4 player local co-op as well as online co-op. On console, at least, there doesn’t appear to be any matchmaking facilities, so you are restricted to playing with people you already know who own the game. We also have cross-platform play, something which is becoming more common in today’s releases, where PS4 players can play against PC payers who own the game on Steam. Alternatively, Xbox One players can play against players who own the Windows 10 version of the game. React Games mention they would love to allow cross play between Xbox One and PS4, but we all know that won’t happen anytime soon. Come on Sony, sort this out.
As a debut console title, React Games has made a title that I‘m struggling to recommend. The lack of any real progression, the stale environments and the iffy controls make for a disappointing experience. Everything you expect from the genre either isn’t there or is only there in a basic form. You can’t help but feel they were constrained by their mobile development background when Super Dungeon Bros was being made and perhaps the game would have been more suited to being released on those platforms instead, since as a console experience, I feel it missed its mark. As a dungeon crawler, there are many, better examples out there, however, not so many on the PS4. With limited examples of the genre currently available, Super Dungeon Bros may find a reluctant audience on the console until something better comes along.