One might say I have a penchant for rebelling. It explains why I chose to ignore some of the promotional review materials that my editor sent me regarding Dungeonland – the new top down dungeon crawler from experimental Brazilian developer Critical Studio — before I grabbed my joypad and jumped in.
Boy, was that an intense 5 minutes!
Dungeonland was more than ready to teach me a lesson. One that I learned quickly, if not, painfully. The game follows three characters that would fit right in to a D&D campaign, through a whimsically decorated carnival land. They traipse through the parks shouting clever quips and the like. Except, instead of enjoying rides and taking pictures with the park mascots, the player is avoiding death traps and being mauled by throngs of explosive bunny rabbits. It’s reminiscent of Torchlight, if the combat resembled more of a streamlined Dungeon Defenders. To top it all off, not only are the aesthetics disarming, the difficulty curve is nigh-impossible for those attempting a single-player experience.
It’s this difficulty that forces me to get this disclaimer out of the way as soon as possible: Dungeonland is NOT a single-player game.
Sure, you could start the game up all on your lonesome — if you’ve got 3 minutes to spare, and you’d like to fill those minutes getting digitally mutilated 40 times — but Dungeonland is built around cooperative gameplay, especially for those with a dedicated group of friends that are looking for a new challenge. In fact, the game is so reliant on multiplayer that the developers purposefully skimped on the single-player campaign’s non-playable characters. Believe me, they serve far better as life-eaters than they do as teammates.
Thankfully, in support of the multiplayer experience, Dungeonland offers both online multiplayer as well as local co-op. While many gamers might be inclined to favor the online version, Dungeonland shines when it’s played by a group of people sitting next to each other. It even offers a very comfortable and balanced joypad support. Unsurprisingly, these aspects are a boon to Steam seeing as how it complements the relatively new “Big Picture Mode”.
Though there aren’t any loot grabs, Dungeonland seems to motivate players using the “merciless beating” method. It’s the promise of a new challenge — and a chance to coordinate and implement a strategy with your partners — that fuels the experience. This is extremely evident when comparing a single-player playthrough with a co-op one.
For those that enjoy the improvement system for characters, there is a money system that allows weapon and costume upgrades. Some of these upgrades change the style of gameplay, while others are simply for looks. It’s evident that the upgrades aren’t meant to incentivize gameplay, but instead, to mix up the game as battle-hardened players plow through.
The fact that Dungeonland is constantly trying to innovate its own gameplay has a lot to do with its brevity. The game comes with two modes – the Adventure mode and a Dungeon Master mode that allows players to go against each other in a three vs. one scenario where one side controls enemy spawns – but Adventure mode only has access to three maps whereas Dungeon Master has only one. This, coupled with the fact that the unexperienced will last less than 10 minutes in a round, means that Dungeonland has a short lifespan.
Hopefully, the thrill of battle — as well as the promise of more maps — will extend Dungeonland’s shelf life a bit more. Until then, it holds up as an ultimately challenging quest for the most experienced co-op gamers.
Be sure to also check out Sean's interview with Dungeonland game designer, Mark Venturelli, only on Comics Bulletin!
Sean Gonzalez is ALL ABOUT some things: Comic books, Garage Rock, Video Games, and Star Trek. He's only recently discovered that he has opinions on things. You can find him in patches of tall grass or at his website. Feel free to follow his inane utterances on Twitter as @Cyclopsean.