I have always been a massive fan of scrolling beat ‘em ups over the years.
In fact, I’d probably go as far as to say that it’s my favourite genre, so it’s great to see them making a comeback. One of my all-time favourites is the excellent Guardian Heroes for the Sega Saturn (which was also released on Xbox 360 some years ago). It’s a fantasy themed affair that is heavy on the narrative and adds in a plethora of RPG elements to give the gameplay far more depth. Dungeon Punks is clearly inspired by Sega’s game as well as the popular four player brawler Castle Crashers. That can’t be a bad thing, right?
Straight off the bat I will mention the sheer array of different configurations Dungeon Punks offers up. To start with there is a huge selection of fantastical characters including a werewolf, knight, lizard man – and even some sort of demon. Each one has totally unique characteristics that defines their individual strength, magic and vitality stats as well as their weapon types. You can upgrade and level up all your abilities along the way by either collecting power-ups that litter the battlefield, or by spending the money you acquire in the shop. There are also different types of weapons, shields and spells for each character that can be swapped around at the end of each stage. For those that don’t really like messing around with the more RPG-type elements such as this you can choose an auto upgrade option that levels up your character for you to give the best balance possible. The huge amount of different options is pretty mind blowing at first and it’s going to take you a long time to learn about everything that’s on offer.
Your character select isn’t quite as simple as just choosing your favourite either; if you play solo (it’s a 1-3 player game) you also have to choose two teammates to help you. The computer will operate these characters, but you are given the ability to switch between them. If you die you can also switch and, providing you have the correct spell, you can resurrect your lost comrade. The computer does a decent enough job of helping you along and tends to leave all the pick-ups for you to collect. Obviously the game is best played with a couple of friends so you can argue over who gets the power-ups and boast about who got the last hit on the end-of-level boss!
Speaking of levels, they are quite strangely constructed: a few screens scroll in succession but then you have to leave via an exit to the next section, but this isn’t always immediately obvious. The very basic on-screen map isn’t always very helpful here either and it sometimes looks as if you need to go in a completely different direction.
Sadly, the minor confusion with the level design isn’t the only problem. Dungeon Punks has more than its fair share of various issues that are likely impede your enjoyment of the game somewhat. The most major of these is the controls, as it insists that you use the d-pad to control your character rather than the analogue sticks. Just to compound this further, the controls are incredibly unresponsive at times, meaning you will often have to repeat the same button presses over and over to do something as simple as pick up an item. The best word I can use is probably “clunky”, but putting it rather bluntly, Dungeon Punks controls about as well as a dead horse. The slow movement of your character combined with some very limited combat (outside of your magic) makes basic progression a real chore.
Reading the game’s blurb, it seems that the developers Hyper Awesome Entertainment took five years to make this game – and in all that time they never thought to actually fix the controls? I guess they were far too carried away thinking up new magical spells and creating the somewhat uninspiring story that is told through the mouth of a totally out-of-place female pirate, and the repeated sound of what I can only describe as the noise my oven makes when you set the timer…
Graphically, Dungeon Punks is rather nice; the sprites are well drawn and the backgrounds are colourful and vibrant. The music is rather generic though – in fact, so much so that my nine-year-old son was adamant he had heard it before in another game. It’s a shame that for all the time Hyper Awesome have spent creating and refining the character progression, magical abilities, story and upgrades, they have seemingly forgotten to actually make sure the game plays well. It’s been a long time since I have been this disappointed in a game, because Dungeon Punks has a lot of promise and could have been a great experience, but just shoots itself in the foot with a rocket launcher. I am sure there are some people out there who might be able to look past the awful controls to find the great game underneath, but I’m not one of them.