Super Dungeon Bros is a dungeon-crawling brawler that claims rock influences.
Whilst Super Dungeon Bros sports welcome design decisions which cause it to stand out from many other indie titles out there, its minimal content, repetitive levels and basic gameplay severely limit its enjoyability. While I certainly believe there is a place for more games that encourage ‘couch play’ and local multiplayer as Super Dungeon Bros does, this game needs some fine-tuning before it can reach the heights of the legendary games it echoes in its title: Super Smash Melee, Super Mario Bros, and so on.
In Super Dungeon Bros you play as one of four dungeon-delving rocker-warriors: Axl, Freddie, Lars or Ozzie. Let me tell you now, this is basically where the rock-allusions end with the exception of the world being called Rokheim and a few of the weapons having Metallica puns in the description. I confess I expected a little more: the aesthetic is disappointingly minimal when you compare it to a game like Slain: Back From Hell which practically devil-screams its undying declaration of love for all things metal. Moving on from the male rockers, with the expansion pack ‘Broettes’ you can unlock four female characters: Jett, Patti, Nyx, Lita. The first thing that will pop into your head when you see all of these character designs is that they have a faintly Lego vibe to them, and this is echoed in the direction of the cutscenes and dialogue, which are reminiscent of the comical Lego Star Wars games in their humour tone.
You can play Super Dungeon Bros online with random matchmaking or you can play local multiplayer, or even a mixture of both. Playing online inevitably has its risks: namely people who like to troll and sabotage dungeon attempts. It’s the job of the game designers to limit this as much as possible. Overall the game developers have done a pretty good job of minimising the possibilities for absolute hamstringing: unfortunately, other elements of the game design mean that playing online can still be frustrating at times even without troll players trying to break your game.
Super Dungeon Bros is a share screen in the classic Baldur’s Gate or Diablo style and therefore players cannot get more than a certain distance away from each other. However, because there are elements of Super Dungeon Bros which involve platforming and trap-evading, this can sometimes be disastrous. If someone is trying to make a jump, for example, and players ahead of them move too far forward they will drag the player into the pit they are trying to leap over. It can also mean that if players aren’t cautious they end up trapping their comrades against a wall, the camera pinning them so they cannot move. Whilst I like games that encourage people to work together to succeed and have real consequences for people not working cohesively, this just makes sessions rather clumsy and awkward, having to constantly keep running back to allow stranded comrades to escape.
The dungeons are procedurally generated and pretty expansive; as you progress you will reach portals which take you to the next Depth. You will see many repeats of segments in the earlier Depths and at times this can make the game feel like a grind, especially if you are struggling to get a good group going. However, this is offset slightly by one of the more innovative things about Super Dungeon Bros, which is the way it has combined elements from Halo 3’s Skull-challenges with rogue-like elements to really bring a new inflection to the brawler genre. At the start of a dungeon there are four randomised cauldron-altars which you can choose to light. Each of these altars represents a different ‘challenge’ which you can put onto your dungeon. An example of one challenge is ‘Gentle Minions’ which reduces the damage done by enemy minions; the price of which is that it also deducts some points off your final score at the end of a Depth. Some of these challenges are more whacky: causing minions to explode on death or when thrown, or making your bros into ‘Glass Cannons’ with barely any health but massive damage.
As you go through the dungeons you acquire points in the form of gold coins which are then used to purchase weapon upgrades. Each weapon has 3 upgrades available, anything from damage increases to health buffs. Whilst on the surface this might appear to be a wealth of content, after a couple of hours of play it gets very thin very quickly. The three upgrade choices are the same every time. You need only compare this with a game like Nuclear Throne or The Binding of Isaac in which there are hundreds of possible upgrades to see its limitation. Whilst there are also buffs you can pick up during a dungeon (as opposed to between Depths), these are often so slight you barely notice you have them. One final mechanic is that you can also find a ‘shop’ randomly placed somewhere in the dungeon. Whilst the choice here is limited to 3 items: full health, extra lives, extra super-ability uses, it is still cool to encounter this after a challenging section of a dungeon: it adds another dimension.
You start Super Dungeon Bros with two weapon choices, and it is possible to unlock two more with only a couple hours more work. From there on, real-money micro-payments are the only way to unlock further weapons (unless you want to put hundreds of hours in). There are also huge balance issues with the two original weapon choices: the Painhailer, a crossbow, and the Aegis of Incursion, a sword. The Aegis is a melee weapon and does less damage than the Painhailer. However, in order to stop everyone from kiting with the Painhailer, an ammo limit means you can only fire 12 shots before having to reload. On the surface this looks like a good balance, but in practice it makes the Painhailer useless. The enemies come so thick and fast in Super Dungeon Bros, pouring in by the literal hundreds, that having a reload time renders you excruciatingly vulnerable. In addition, the limitation of how far away from the other bros your camera can pan means that you rarely are shooting at any range for long.
The most frustrating thing about Super Dungeon Bros is its repetitive combat, and in a brawler game that is unforgivable. There are only two types of attack: normal and heavy. When using the Aegis, a heavy attack is a spinning 360 degree slash that does bonus damage. With the Painhailer a heavy attack shoots a shotgun spread of 12 shots. You also have a special ability which varies from weapon to weapon, a roll/dodge and the ability to throw bros, minions and items. That’s it. There are no aerial attacks, no combos, no chain attacks, no mix-ups, nothing which requires knowledge or skill to input correctly. In addition, the Aegis’ heavy attack is so fast that there is almost no reason not to use that repeatedly. Just roll into the middle of a group of enemies and keep hitting the heavy attack button over and over until they are all dead. Needless to say after a while it gets very boring indeed. Even the boss-battles are generally the same. One of the loading screen quips remarks: ‘Every boss has a weakness: it’s face.’ Whilst amusing, this only serves to highlight Super Dungeon Bros’ limited scope.
Some of the dungeon puzzles are quite innovative; traps are often the greater challenge of the dungeon and this is refreshing. However, once again, the challenges of coordinating players online can be more exasperating than rewarding. In the local multiplayer scenario, there is more fun to be had, but the grinding nature of the combat still means after a while people lose heart. I remember playing co-op Dynasty Warriors with my friend, and how awesome it was fighting back to back against hordes of enemies, chaining together immense combos. Super Dungeon Bros attempts to capture but falls short of this epic legacy.
There are good ideas in Super Dungeon Bros, such as the inclusion of challenges, the Call of Duty-esque upgrades, and the teamwork-centred dungeon-crawling. Where it falls down is at the basics: good, satisfying combat and challenging gameplay. Pressing the same buttons over and over can only entertain for so long, even if your points score is rocketing up. What’s more, the pay-to-upgrade mechanics very much put restrictions on the content available to you unless you are willing to part with more money. Even the music is infuriatingly repetitive: I was lucky enough to receive a code for the additional music so I could change it up (though all the soundtracks are maddening after a certain point); the thought occurred to me other people would have to pay for that honour. Whilst Super Dungeon Bros does mark an interesting direction for indie games to take, overall it does not come together as a complete unit, which is ironic considering that is what the game is allegedly all about.