Dungeonland Review (PC)

If only it wasn’t for that damn AI. That’s the phrase that everyone who plays Dungeonland is sure to utter, and it’s the phrase that will haunt Critical Studio. In putting so much emphasis on creating a game that works when played with three or four real players, they neglected to compensate for the fact not everyone will be able to play that way, and as a result, the AI companions that accompany you through your comically violent tour of various theme park worlds are dumber than a cow voluntarily visiting an abattoir.

In a game like Dungeonland, unreliable companions are a massive problem. The game is designed to be brutally difficult, forcing you to play and play and play again in order to overcome the frame-rate testing number of monsters that spawn at once. It’s combat is constantly frantic, yet blissfully simple; you play as a rogue, a mage, or a warrior, and each has one basic attack, one special attack, and a couple of passive abilities and potions. There’s environmental extras - such as exploding sheep - but it’s not hard to immediately pick up and play - all you’ve got to do is avoid enemies and attack enemies, until all the spawn points are destroyed.

You don't have to fight as a rogue, warrior and mage combo, but it sure does help.

The problem, then, with stupid AI, arises when you consider the fact everything in Dungeonland is shared between the three heroes. This means potions affect them all, as do health pick-ups, and they also share lives: it’s at this point where the problematic nature of the AI becomes obviously apparent. Your AI partners won’t bother using potions, they’ll run away from you and straight into trouble, and the result is always the same: they’ll die, eating up one of your precious lives in the process. If they do this too often, your game will be over. While it's true that you can revive fallen allies if you reach them within ten seconds, this is often difficult due to the swarming and numerous enemies that will surround their fallen bodies.

Luckily, if you have a decent internet connection and Dungeonland’s inconsistent servers are up for playing ball, you learn the AI issues are the only real fault with Dungeonland, and the game, when played in the optimal conditions it was clearly designed for, suddenly becomes challenging and fun in equal measure, forcing you to work as a team and use the various character's abilities and potions in tandem in order to efficiently despatch the increasingly difficult waves of enemies and environmental obstacles.

That’s not to say having a team of three players suddenly makes the game easy. You’ll still repeatedly be crushed by the theme park and what it throws at you, but it doesn’t feel unfair when you know it’s a real person - whether it’s a teammate or yourself - who’s at fault. As a result, you’re encouraged to keep dusting yourself off and getting stuck back in the action, continually learning from your mistakes until you’re able to dispatch the colourful array of creatures in your path.

The average enemy's main strength is the sheer number of them, but bosses offer a different challenge.

Each further attempt is easier too, thanks to - and as is the case in any good ARPG - the growing mountain of coins that you’ll accumulate the more you enter the theme park worlds. These coins are then used to buy better weapons, better armour, different variations of the character classes, and improved potions. You’ll slowly improve, but it never feels like a grind, thanks to the ever-present humour (albeit one that’s dipped in a sleight of darkness) that keeps things lighthearted throughout.

If you do get tired of slogging it out as a hero, Dungeonland gives you the chance to play as Dungeon Master: putting you in control of the theme park and using your wits to destroy the three heroes. It’s a clever twist, allowing you to enjoy everything that’s great about Dungeonland from the other side, plotting against the heroes and forcing you to strategically place different traps and spawn points in order to overawe them and take victory for yourself. This is where the game hits its peak: when you're playing alongside two friends and have another controlling the dungeon itself, combining co-op thrills with a friendly-but-competitive edge in a frenzied battle that never, ever runs the risk of becoming too serious.

Dungeonland is great to play with friends; a lighthearted romp through a range of colourful environments. Don’t let the bright and cartoon nature fool you, though, as there’s a dark soul running through the game’s core, and it’ll push and test you as you battle your way through the legions of minions. All in all, a fantastic effort from Critical Studio that reaches a climax when you've got three friends fighting against the toughest and most numerous hordes. If only it wasn’t for that damn AI.

Top Gaming Moment: When you finally kill one of the game's bosses after repeatedly dying for hours first.

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By nocutius (SI Elite) on Mar 05, 2013
So basically a great co-op game then. I will definitely keep an eye on any future sales.