A Lesson In Dishing Out Pain: Dungeonland Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the PC.

Not all villains dwell in dark lairs, plotting and scheming – and they don’t necessarily have to labour under the cover of night.  In fact, a nefarious mastermind might be brilliant enough to create a pastel-coloured fairground just to lull unsuspecting victims in – and then let the bloodbath begin!  Interested? Well, indie developer Critical Studio has created the perfectly wicked game Dungeonland, which can only be described as an amusement park for the sado-masochistically inclined.  In this humour-filled hack-n’-slash adventure, gamers can choose to either play as heroes trying to outsmart the despicable Dungeon Maestro, or become the evil DM himself and cook up nasty plans to wipe the heroes from existence.  Does Dungeonland manage to live up to its bold and twisted ideas, or is it just a cotton-candy experience that will melt away into nothingness?

The moment you open the game, you’re greeted with a triumphant medieval fanfare, and a large sprawl of land bedecked with tents, streamers, and glittery confetti beneath a towering bright pastel-coloured castle fairly beckons you to come explore its grounds.  This opening screen truly sets the tone of the game, as the cheerfully colourful visuals belie the artwork camouflaged within.  Those with a keen eye will soon spot the tiny purple dragon spewing flames at parapets, the fireballs hurtling through the sky, and the magical forest being consumed by fire and smoke.  If that isn’t foreboding enough to have players on their guard, I don’t know what else would be – short of a bolded sign yelling, “Danger! Beware!” at the entrance.

Upon creating your profile, you have the option of either playing with the typical mouse-and-keyboard setup or plugging in a gamepad.  Be warned, though: this game was developed with gamepads in mind, and the mechanics are not very keyboard-friendly (as you’ll have to use the keyboard to move around, but use the mouse to target enemies).  Once you’ve set up your profile (i.e. entered your name) and chosen how you want to play (either locally or Online), you’re brought to the amusement park map, where you can pick between four available areas (as the fifth is under construction).  Adventure Mode has three areas (Cannibal Kingdom, Arcane Kingdom, and DM Tower) to explore as the heroes, and you will be fighting all sorts of cute, murderous foes that the Dungeon Maestro throws at you.  Whereas the fourth area, DM Mode, allows you to take the reins as the evil Mastermind and devise dastardly plans to maim, torture, and squash the heroes like the tiny bugs that they are!

In Adventure Mode, once you’ve selected a gameplay area, a mini-menu pops up, allowing you to choose the difficulty level you’d like to play – Hard, Harder, or Impossible.  For those who are feeling extra masochistic, you can even add extra challenges to any given level as well.  Players then choose between three character types: the Mage, Rogue, and Warrior. Each archetype starts with one specialty and then must level up to unlock the other two as the game progresses.  For example, a Mage can only specialize in Fire skills to begin with, but as you collect more coins, you can unlock (i.e. buy) the Ice or Electric specialities (750 gold and 1500 gold, respectively).  Similarly, a Rogue starts off as an Assassin and can be upgraded to a Gunner or Archer, whereas the Warrior will initially be the Vanguard, but can be promoted to Lancer or Defender.

This game heavily emphasizes co-operative play: you loot together and you die together.  What does this mean?  Well, when you’re hacking and slashing your way through foes and picking up gold, the riches are split evenly amongst you and your companions (whether they’re bots or other players).  Similarly, if you pick up Health, it gets distributed evenly within your group.  This ‘all for one and one for all’ mentality seems grand… until you realize that the amount of Resurrects showing in the upper right corner of your screen isn’t for you and you alone – again, it’s a group resource.  This means that if you only have three Resurrects during the round and your group has had a total of three deaths… guess what?  It’s ‘so long, losers!’  The round ends, even if a character is still standing, with full health.

Players will soon learn that looting is key to slaughtering your way through this game, as you’ll be in dire need of those coins to purchase more useful skills, armour, and weapons.  If you’re hoping to play solo with the bots as your companions, you’ll quickly find that the difficulty level names weren’t tongue-in-cheek – the enemies are relentless, and when you think you’re already surrounded by a horde of twistedly cute foes, a Danger Event begins, swarming you with even more deadly opponents!   Your best bet is to steer clear of the Adventure Mode for a while and head on over to the DM Mode for some fun-filled carnage (and quick money).

When you mosey on down to the DM Mode, you’ll discover that, as the Dungeon Maestro, you must cook up a plan to creatively dispose of the irritating heroes.  You’ll have a deck of seven Spells at your disposal, and at the beginning of each round, you can create your perfect deck of destruction.  There are five categories of Spells (each with four different cards to choose from): Structures, Combat, Tricks, Traps, and Support.  These all have a good mix of both aggressive and passive options, such as a Beer Tower that fires at the do-gooders; the Polymorph to Sheep Spell which turns a hero into – you guessed it – a fluffy, harmless cotton-ball on four spindly legs; or planting a False Drop that looks like health but in fact damages the unsuspecting hero.   After you’ve got your deck of Spells, you can then choose three Monsters, two Specials, a Boss, a Possession, and a Trait.  Again, you have enough cards available to make up an entire plan and can unlock other cards once you’ve amassed enough riches.  Monsters are your garden variety enemies (e.g. Wizards, Imps, Dragons), while Specials are super-enemies with crazy skills (e.g. the Rabbit Breeder that “summons suicidal bunnies” in hordes and the Phoenix who fires lasers).  A Possession will either give you the ability to teleport in the blink of an eye or heal yourself and minions around you, whereas a Trait gives you an additional boon on the playing field (such as getting one extra Mana).

If you’re anything like me and spent hours trying to hack through foes in Adventure Mode (and found that you couldn’t last through the first five minutes of a given round), then the DM Mode will be the perfect outlet for your pent-up frustration.  Only limited by your Mana and recharge times, you can literally rain havoc on the three heroes – and make money doing it!  You can toss all your minions, spells and devices at the happy trio all at once, trying for a quick death, or draw out their suffering, adding a Dragon here, a Wall there, and reap the rewards of a longer round.  If anything, the DM Mode will act like a tutorial for you, giving you time to get used to the controls, while earning enough gold to purchase better items.

For those of you who feel like sharing the pain, you can play with others in Online Multiplayer, create a Private Match, or play with up to two others locally.  Mind you, the layout of each game area doesn’t change, and the Difficulty levels remain ridiculously hard.  However, supposedly, if you have real-life companions, your group of heroes will last longer against the deluge of homicidal cuteness in Adventure Mode.  The developers have emphasized in loading screens that this game is better played cooperatively with others, communication is key to winning, and using a gamepad will be much easier on you.

Unfortunately, those of you without gamepads may find that this game is a lesson in patience and ambidexterity.  While using the keyboard-and-mouse setup, you’ll find that you can’t just use one or the other, but rather both peripherals together.  You must use the keyboard to move your character around (whether using the typical WASD, arrows, or your choice of remapped keys) and can only target enemies using the mouse.  Otherwise, you’ll literally be firing aimlessly, as your character aims anywhere but at the object/monster that you want to hit, unless you’re butting right against said target – and even then, it’s only a possibility.  It doesn’t help that the enemies are hard to kill to begin with!

All while you hack, slash, scream and snarl in frustration, a merry tune plays in the background.  The game only has perhaps a handful of songs, each with several bars that loop endlessly.  The music is fitting with the medieval amusement park theme: often cheery and provides the perfect accompaniment for an adventure through the dangerous levels.  When Danger Events occur (i.e. murderous swarms of death-dealers), the music changes to suit the full-on combat mode, with heavy bass and drumming setting your blood aflame for battle.  Sound effects and voice acting are just as simple, with each character having a small repertoire of lines to utter (aside from the grunts of pain and cries of death).  Perhaps the best feature of the audio is the voice acting for the Dungeon Maestro.  You can tell that the actor had a ton of fun playing the evil mastermind, gleefully delivering lines like, “In the unlikely event of your survival, make sure to get your photographs by the exit.”   His perky amusement-park announcer’s voice juxtaposed with the nefarious lines will surely bring a smile (or at least a smirk) to your face.

If you get a chance to explore the levels, you’ll see that the visuals are pretty amazing, too.  A lot of humour has been infused into the artwork, and the developers clearly enjoyed creating a twisted version of a children’s amusement park.  Everything is accented with pastels or other bright colours; this isn’t a dark and gloomy setting at all, which is at odds with the amount of bloodshed that happens on the fairgrounds.  Players with a slanted sense of humour will surely appreciate the randomness of the environment (e.g. the various monster statues done in soft pinks and purples) and character designs (like the Breeder Rabbit that looks like a deranged magic trick gone wrong, spawning fluffy bunnies that kill, kill, kill!).  Whether it’s the golden trees, prancing sheep (that can give health when killed), or monsters, the visuals are enough to keep your attention for a good long while, as you try to see what other ridiculously funny designs are around the corner.

When all is said and done, Dungeonland delivers what was promised in its trailers: death, destruction, and despair – with several dashes of twisted humour thrown in.  People with a good sense of humour will appreciate the visuals and the script (especially that of the Dungeon Maestro).  However, even those with seemingly limitless patience might have their calm nature tested with the insanely hard gameplay and frustrating keyboard-and-mouse controls.   If you’re looking for pain, you’ll surely find it in the Adventure Mode.  Alternatively, if you’re looking to dish the pain, DM Mode is perfect for you!  If anything, purchase this game for a good laugh, while you try your hand at scheming to take down the troupe of goodie-two-shoes once and for all.

Dungeonland scores a 3.75/5.0

Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

February 12, 2013 - 8:00 am