Super Dungeon Bros Review
A not-so-epic dungeon crawling experience
Super Dungeon Bros resembles a sort of gaming purgatory - and that’s not just because of the unusually long loading screens, or the endless waiting in the lobby for an online match to begin. The game itself just provides a consistent feeling of “meh” when it comes to both fun and overall quality. It doesn’t do much particularly bad, but at the same time the gameplay feels somewhat shallow and does very little to excel or stand out. What you’re left with is a mildly enjoyable local multiplayer dungeon crawling clone, where the solo mode grows stale rather quickly and the online mode (assuming you’re able to find a match) is flawed and weak in its current form.
The game stars four heroes that personify just about every rockstar bro cliché you can imagine. They don’t exhibit characteristics so much as stereotypes. Frequently during gameplay they will pipe up with various bits of commentary that attempt to be humorous but usually only succeed in being annoying and/or awkward (and sometimes inaudible). The story element is even more basic than the gameplay. Upon an admittedly well-crafted, albeit brief, cut-scene introduction, one of our warrior bro heroes plays a record that mentions a fantasy world of “Rockheim,” which is crawling with evil monsters. The record then morphs into a portal and our heroes are transported to a realm consisting of three unique worlds - an underground dungeon crawling with undead, an icy mountaintop brewery, and a poisonous wildlife-laden bog. Just what is the nature of this world? What’s the deal with the strange monsters? What is the ultimate goal for our zany heroes? For that matter, just who are these characters and what is their significance? The developers, I suppose, leave that up to your imagination. Either that or they simply didn’t feel like coming up with anything. Of course in all fairness, it’s easy to look past any lack of story or worldbuilding if only the gameplay proves interesting and fleshed-out, especially in a cartoony multiplayer hack fest. But unfortunately, Super Dungeon Bros falls largely flat in this regard as well.
Within each of the aforementioned biomes of Rockheim are several levels, or “depths,” that grow increasingly difficult and intricate. The biomes themselves provide a distinct overall feel and somewhat of a visually appealing backdrop, yet the layout of the depths prove to be consistently bland, quickly growing repetitious. The game makes an effort to combat this with its random stage generator that at least guarantees you won’t be playing through the exact same depths during each playthrough. However, the differences are normally minor, and you will still recognize familiar layouts upon multiple sessions.
When arriving at the beginning of the first depth, you’ll be provided a series of possible game customizations in which you can essentially add or subtract from the difficulty in various creative ways or make slight alterations to the gameplay. This will affect the rewards you are given throughout. It’s a feature that proves a subtle, yet interesting component to the game that at the very least injects a bit more replay value and variety. As you proceed onward and begin hacking and slashing through the series of platforms, traps, and enemies, you’ll notice the intensity continuously ramp up as both the quantity and strength of the enemies increases, almost reaching an absurd level if you decide to linger too long. The game’s “threat meter” notifies you when things are picking up, and once it fills up you’ll all but need multiple players to survive the waves of baddies being thrown at you. Either that, or you’ll need to hightail it to the portal that takes you to the next depth, as you maneuver and hop your way through the chaos that engulfs you.
The game’s somewhat slow response time when attacking comes particularly apparent during these intense moments. You are given normal as well as a more powerful attack; the latter can only be used every few seconds. Even your default attack however feels slow and ineffective at times, compared to the speed and precision of the enemies constantly being flung at you. Put simply, attacking just doesn’t have that sharp or tactile feeling to it, which is a shame for a fast-paced game like this.
For good measure, you are also provided with a special attack, which is enjoyable to pull off and can certainly aid you in getting out of a tight spot, but unfortunately you are only granted two of these during each playthrough. In a rather odd, but nonetheless useful feature for a dungeon crawler such as this, you also have the ability to bounce on the heads of your enemies like Mario and chip away at their health this way. This cartoony function doesn’t deal much damage, though it enables you to trek through the stages more hastily and safely. This is particularly useful when you are venturing on your own, are close to death, and struggling to find the rarely provided beer mugs that heal your hero.
Indeed, Super Dungeon Bros like many dungeon-crawlers of its ilk, seems more-or-less designed to be played with multiple people. Particularly in the later stages, attempting to go solo and reach the boss that awaits at the end of each world, let alone defeat them, will prove a difficult task to say the least. Playing on my own I found myself hopping over enemies and scrambling to the exit often, especially during the more difficult depths. Though, this could largely be because of my impatience with the game’s repetitious nature. Nonetheless, you are enticed to do some exploring across the diverging paths that sometimes crop up, as they may often lead to riches which you can use to purchase helpful items within the stages, as well as cash-in on upgrades for your character. The only real loot comes in the form of gold, as well as occasional gems, which can eventually be used to purchase a myriad of more powerful weapons, new headgear (aesthetic only), and even soundtracks.
The characters, much like the stages they inhabit, are uninspired and feel too similar to one another. There is nothing that differentiates one bro from another outside of their color schemes and unique cheesy banter mentioned earlier. Some sort of variance in physical attributes or statistics could have provided some depth that the game sorely lacks. The only real customization comes via the upgrades, or the unlockable weapons, most of which will take an arduous amount of dungeon-crawling and replaying old stages in order to afford. However, the player upgrades don’t even carry over in between play sessions, forcing you to power through an entire world in one sitting if you want a realistic chance of survival.
The game shows some life in the multiplayer mode, instantly ramping up from mediocre to average when teaming up with other players. The online multiplayer leaves something to be desired, but it’s fun on the rare instance you get a good match going. When it comes to the online play, there are a couple major hurdles to be overcome. The first is simply finding enough players to start a match at all. I’ve often spent several minutes just waiting for a game to initiate. Then after roughly a minute of loading, you have to cross your fingers and hope the lag is kept at a minimum, which was a rarity in my experience. Dealing with the usual framerate issues on top of the lag hiccups that occur during online sessions, severely handicap what could have been a moderately fun experience.
The local multiplayer on the other hand is far more tolerable, and dare I say, somewhat enjoyable at least in short bursts. Having players in the room who are on the same page as you during the heat of the action, as opposed to watching strangers wandering off, falling from cliffs, or recklessly getting skewed by spike traps, is itself an improvement. Not to mention, you have the luxury of dealing with the framerate problems exclusively rather than piling on connection lag, waiting for a match, and disconnects on top of it all. Playing Super Dungeon Bros locally with three other comrades is simply the way the game was meant to be played. It even brought back flashes of the good times I’ve had with Gauntlet and Castle Crashers multiplayer. Though it still doesn’t touch these titles in either quality or complexity.
Aesthetically, the game is at least servicable, taking on a colorful and cartoony, World of Warcraft-esque vibe, and offering some nice looking effects from time to time. There isn’t much that stands out on the graphical front but it gets the job done. For the amount of time you’ll spend waiting for it to load though, you’d think the game would resemble Skyrim in graphical prowess, rather than a free-to-play title you’d typically find on your mobile phone. The game’s music resembles a hodgepodge of basic rock guitar riffs and synthetic melodies playing faintly in the background, which are typically drowned out by the frequent sound effects of the action anyway. Like the game itself, the soundtrack is just sort of “there”, and doesn’t really stand out.
In short, Super Dungeon Bros isn’t a particularly bad dungeon crawling experience - and it even borders on the enjoyable when playing locally. Nothing within the game is really broken per-se, outside the sometimes lag-ridden online mode, and the overly drawn-out load times. It’s more a case of missed opportunities when it comes to this one. The game is short, and both its maps and characters lack variety or distinct features. There is little depth, customization, or any real story, and the mechanics also feel as if they could use some refining or tightening up. I simply can’t recommend this brawler at its usual asking price of $20. Even at a heavily discounted price, be sure to have some friends on standby willing to play alongside you in order to get the most out of the experience.