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29 November 2014

Dungeonland: A Gamersaurs Tale

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Welcome to Dungeonland, brought to you by Paradox Interactive. With their tickets at the ready our three brave Gamersaurs enter the theme park to meet their tour guide, Master Grums. 

 
Inside the colourful park, up to three players can play cooperatively to slaughter the monstrous staff and collect glittering piles of loot in fast-paced action gameplay. Meanwhile, a fourth player can take on the role of the Maestro himself, controlling the park’s traps and creatures, attempting to kill the other players, and mashing the “evil laugh” button as often as they can. 
 
Waldo, Will and Kit played through the Dungeon Maestro mode against the evil Dungeon Master, played by our guest writer and dungeon tour guide, Master Grums. In this mode, three players must fight co-operatively against the fourth who will control the dungeon itself. How did our heroes fare? Read on to find out. 

 

First Impressions 

 
Waldo
 
Just looking at the game for the first time I felt that it looked incredibly silly, so much so that I wasn't really expecting a real challenge out of it. Playing through Dungeon Maestro mode changed that rather quickly though! 
 
Characters didn't look terribly interesting and it didn't look like there was much of anything players could do when it came to building their character, but looking through the item shop revealed there were some options after all. Unfortunately there's no real depth to it, just a choice defensive or offensive perk, a choice of ability/weapon and a "potion" they will bring with them. You can also choose the character's looks. 
 
Will
 
In the four player co op game mode the first thing you must decide is which of you is the most hated, as he will be an ideal target to be the Dungeon Master, a mysterious omnipotent court jester played by the lovechild of Snidely Whiplash and the bloke from Catch The Pigeon, who will attempt to stop and sidetrack the other players by spawning duck monsters and rabbit spawners. Once this Dungeon Master has been chosen you will spend the entirety of the game hurling as many insults as possible at him as he swamps you with trolls that look a little like a downgraded standard enemy from Ork’s Must Die, and generally treat him with all the charm and politeness of a cockroach.
 
Kit
 
Well, this could be interesting. This game looks to be a blend of tower defence and action rpg. I am immediately reminded of Dungeon Defenders and Sanctum -  that's a pretty good start. The characters themselves don't look too appealing however, and I am very disappointed by the lack of a female model, and the lack of initial customization. Then I find out that the rogue has a fairy outfit. Guess what I start saving up for. 
 
 

 

Favourite Classes  

Waldo 
 
My favourite class has got to be the rogue gunner just for the sheer amount of damage he can put out. His normal attack is slow but hard hitting, and his special more than makes up for this by lodging an explosive onto a monster and knocking them back into the rest of their group, easily taking out most of them. The rogue also has the ability to backstab most monsters, taking them out with a single well placed knife in the back. The rogue can also access a holy hand grenade, which damages enemies as well as healing allies in its blast radius.
 
Will
 
The choosable classes are the usual fantasy mixed bag, the warrior who is black and has a massive hammer, the mage who is fat and has a wand and the rogue who is weasel like and has a lot of knives. I opted to play as a mage most of the time after discovering that he who is swamped shall soon be dead, and generally found the controls fairly intuitive...this however doesn’t exactly save the game as we move onto our next quarm.
 
Kit
 
My favourite class was the rogue assassin. I quite liked the idea of throwing knives and fast movement, and the backstab was an excellent ability that was capable of taking out most monsters in a single hit. The assassin's primary ability iss to throw a flurry of knives at the enemy, inflicting great damage and its recharge seemed to be fairly quick. Combined with the shadow teleport potion, he was able to single shot multiple enemies on screen in one go which was a fantastic ability to have in a bind. The downside however was that there seemed to be little to no way to heal yourself other than relying on the mage and dropped items. 
 
 
 

 

Gameplay

 
Waldo 
 
The game is incredibly simple, feeling more like a party game than a real hack and slash dungeon game with a player for a dungeon master thrown into the mix. But that's partially to its advantage, considering how much power the Dungeon Master has to ruin the day of any adventuring party.
 
On the other hand, its lack of depth really hurts its ability to hold people's attention for long after they get their laughs out of the game. There's not much character progression as either the Dungeon Master or a hero.
 
Will
 
It's crazy. There isn’t really much more to say about it, the enemies will swarm you like mad and never give you a moment's break until you are incapacitated for the hundredth time. While the special moves do help to an extent it isn’t really what this game needs, what this game is desperately wailing out for is the ability to run and gun. When you attack, your avatar will happily stand there going pew pew pew with a wand, however as you cant attack and move at the same time, being swarmed and killed is an inevitability, its completely the opposite of say Left 4 Dead where if you are swarmed you can always work your way out to some extent by shooting like mad and edging your way to a door or something. In this you have two choices, fail to run away then get killed or stand and fight then get killed. And bearing in mind how hard every single enemy in this game hits, the ability to stick and move would serve for far better balance.
 
Kit
 
Well, where do I begin on this one? Gameplay is simple and effective. This is both its strong point and its weak point. Much like games such as Mario Party, this game is not to be taken seriously. You can have a very, very good time with a group of friends especially if you are going to take turns at playing Dungeon Master.
 
It is incredibly good fun, and the first playthrough will be an amazing experience. However, much like Mario Party, when you have played it enough times it will possibly lose its grip. Of course, if Paradox support the game with more monsters and furthers the progression system with more to unlock for the Dungeon Master and the Heroes, this game does have great potential. I would like to see some sort of random level generation element for the dungeon.
 
 
 
 

Dungeoneering 

Waldo

Monsters themselves aren't terribly difficult even on the harder settings with proper positioning and use of skills and items. But throwing in a player Dungeon Master changes everything. It makes the game far more fun as well as incredibly frustrating depending on how well the DM knows how to play the game. Unfortunately for us, Grums knew what he was doing, and even with the difficulty on easy or very easy the DM can make quick work of a band of heroes.  
 
While I do enjoy the challenge it still does feel incredibly unfair at times. I feel the game could do with a few balance passes to make sure the DM can be powerful while skilled heroes can still have a fighting chance.
 
Will
 
As I’ve hinted earlier, I now hate Grums to the point of wanting to murder his family, which I suppose is some sort of achievement, but the DM really does have far too much power. The sheer number of spawnable enemies he can throw at you simply makes it utterly impossible (to the point where he actually had to help us get through to the final boss in the end). 
 
Kit
 
The monsters can be fairly daunting at first, but as you progress in difficulty you can learn tactics to deal with most of them fairly easily. The proper use of your ability, skill and items will see you through. Of course, this all goes out the window when a player becomes a Dungeon Master. The game becomes a lot more fun but also incredibly frustrating depending on your DM. For us, this was a painful experience, as Grums knew exactly what he was doing and had unlocked a wonderful array of 'treats' to throw at us. 
 
I also enjoy a challenge but there are times it just feels impossible. At the moment the DM can just throw everything at you and completely destroy the team in seconds, while you are very limited in your own power against the DM on the harder difficulties. I still have nightmares about the Invisible Ducks. 
 
 

 

Difficulty 

Waldo  
 
I thought it had a solid difficulty level. From normal up. But tossing in the dungeon master made it incredibly difficult at normal mode. Even on very easy mode the Dungeon Master has plenty of tools at his disposal to simply destroy heroes. It does take a lot of team work to play successfully but even then, there's not much players can do against a DM that knows what they're doing.
 
Will
 
Haven’t my spasms of hatred not converted you yet!? Its unbalanced, overly reliant on monster spawns and veers far over the line between tense and frustrating.
 
Kit
 
The difficulty level is fairly good. I would advise newcomers play on easy mode until they are comfortable with the game and have some unlocks on hand. On the standard game mode its fun through to the harder difficulties, but when you throw in the player DM you not only have to deal with the monsters but the DM causing havoc even on very easy mode. It doesn't help that the DM can also directly control most monsters too, creating pain and suffering for the team. This was quite evident when we tried a quick run through on easy, and Grums managed to wipe the entire team with the starting wizard enemy. Ouch. 
 
 
 

The Boss 

Waldo 
 
Oh my god it's a cow! And it's covered the map with orc berserkers!
 
Will
 
The boss itself was a giant cow, which on its own I could quite enjoy as a kooky little end game kill reward, but with the giant cow comes an INSANE number of other enemies that puts the rest of game's already fairly swarm heavy tactics to shame. It is too much, simply way too much.
 
Kit
 
What the... Did that thing just shoot milk at me? Oh God it hurts. Hey guys, the cow is stomping on my face! Little help here? Guys? Guys? Oh. Well played Grums. Well played. 
 
 
  

Overall experience 

Waldo 
 
It's a fun game but I feel that playing with random people would make this game all the more frustrating for people not playing as the Dungeon Master. When it comes to friend playing together, I certainly hope they're good friends and don't easily become enraged because, the DM can decide to pick on the weak link of the party, or the strongest player, and make their life a living hell for the duration of the match.
 
It's really not for everyone, and I'm not sure if I would've ever tried it without friends to play with so we could laugh at each other and just how silly the games art style is. But that silliness does take a lot of the edge off when dealing with a DM that's having too much fun at the heroe's expense.
 
Will
 
I would honestly recommend this game as a nice little multiplayer hack and slash if it weren’t for the balancing issues. But the balancing issues alongside the fact that its gimmick (the Dungeon Master) still doesn’t elevate it to the levels of say Orks Must Die or Left 4 Dead means that I can’t honestly tell you to buy it when its competition is so much more superior.
 
Kit
 
I have to say that was one of the most bizarre, twisted and weird experiences of my gaming life. I think I like it. This game is definitely not for everyone but I would say give it a shot with a group of friends, because it certainly leads to some memorable experiences. I would advise that you make sure to take turns at being DM however so that you don't get too upset with your friends, as it can get very frustrating very quickly if you get picked on all the time. 
 
For the seriously competitive gamer, I would also recommend you pick the game up. Why? because you should grab your fellow friends and take it on, it is exceptionally hard and for those of us who enjoy that kind of punishment it will be a seriously awesome challenge to overcome. 
 
As for everybody else? Grab a group of friends and try the four pack. It will give you hours of entertainment and brings back the old spirit of competitive gaming between friends. What have you got to lose? 
 
Welcome to the DM Tower. Now DIE!

 

Insert Orchestral Pun Here: Grim's Dungeonland DM Mode Impressions

Have you ever had the urge to freeze a friend in a block of ice, drop a missile on him, and, should they survive that, swarm them with a rabid horde of exploding rabbits, all the while surrounded by the jolly ambiance of a theme park? No? Well maybe you should start, otherwise you're not likely to experience the schadenfruedic joy of playing Dungeonland's Dungeon Maestro mode.

A player in the role of the DM is allowed to choose a collection of spells and monsters with which to stop the heroes, which takes the form of a card deck that the DM player pulls cards from over the course of the match. Spells available range from simple, damage inflicting attacks (most of which are also conveniently area-of-effect), tactical options that focus on separating the group, such as the ability to raise walls between a dying member of the party and his compatriots, and deceitful traps and decoys that would make any person cackle with laughter. Who wouldn't find joy in watching their opponents dive for a freshly dropped turkey after slaying a troll, only to have it explode and wipe the group? 

Along with the spells, a DM also chooses three enemy types that will serve as the fodder for the run, as well as summon-able elite monsters, and finally a boss. Keeping with the general parody theme of the game, many of the monsters are homages to pop-culture and fantasy tropes, with others being referencing the ever present theme park motif, such as the trolls who wear ill-fitting Goofy outfits. Humor aside, each monster has certain strengths and weaknesses to be exploited by the heroes and DM, so proper pairing is the name of the game for a DM. Or, more accurately, it depends which monsters the DM will find the most fun-possessing, as in addition to summoning and spell casting, the DM has the capability to take direct control of their minions and add a devious human element to the opposition, and this leads to a very satisfying sense of accomplishment when one manages to provide disruption against the heroes while the more numerous peons swarm them.

Much like the cooperative side of the game, the final portion of any DM mode run takes the form of the massive boss fight, only this time with the DM in direct control of the monster, and much like the enemies in the park proper the boss is chosen by the DM. Each boss is distinct from the next, with different play styles available to them, ranging from the Minocow, capable of bogging the heroes down in a tide of minions as she sprays healing milk from its udders, to the more direct Lumber Tree, a Lumberjack-jack Ent with an axe who can summon more axes and construct walls to isolate the heroes whilst chopping them limb from limb.

The final and most important aspect of DM mode is the Maniacal Laugh button the game gives you, because, lets be honest, what's a villain without the ability to laugh evilly?

Mwahahaha!

Despite the insane fun of DM mode it is not without its problems, though many of them are inherent in the game as a whole and take the form of power balance. The game, be it from the standpoint of a hero or DM, takes a somewhat “everything is overpowered” stance with many of its abilities, with hero abilities being capable of completely eliminating a horde of enemies and making a DM feel like they've squandered a few spells and monsters. On top of this, hero can also exploit the checkpoint system to assure their victory, as clearing a checkpoint results in a full heal and instantly kills any remaining monsters before it, which can undo the work of a DM player in the blink of an eye. However, DM players themselves are capable of creating insurmountable no-win scenarios and placing them in the path of the hero players, with certain spell and monster combinations resulting in constant wipes, especially with the added factor of monster possession. A horde of invisible trolls supported by multiple spawners, a literal wall of archers and a possessed, teleporting rabbit bomber who may also be invisible isn't exactly something that is easily dealt with.

The other disappointing aspect of DM mode is the map itself, which, aside from a randomized layout and monster placement is the same experience every session, as it lacks any of the mini-game events and end-of-stage gauntlets that make up the cooperative levels of the game. The only diversity that occurs is that provided by the DM through their spell use and monster summoning, which in turn makes the DM role feel more direct than it should be. Were the DM mode map to have more in the way of dynamic, random obstacles for the heroes to deal with, the DM player could have something more of a subtle effect on the outcome of the match, and truly play the role of a villainous mastermind, instead of just dropping missiles and mines in the way of their opponents to supplement the minion swarm.

Despite the shortfalls in balance and a samey feel to each session, Dungeonland's DM mode still succeeds very well in presenting a player with the feeling reminiscent of an old school pen and paper game, albeit with more explosions, jokes, and potentially poop. Just make sure that the friends you play it with are among your best, because your A-game may cause them to hunt you with fire and pitchforks.

Have you played Dungeonland? What did you think, and are you still on speaking terms with your fellow players? Let us know below!

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 February 2013 01:10

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