It must get awfully tiring being a dungeon maker. Every day you wake up and set out into your dungeon to battle monsters and build rooms. After a hard day’s work it must feel worthwhile knowing you’ve got boiled vegetables waiting for you before you hit the hay and wait for the next day for more monster fun and frolics. This is essentially the whole basis to which Dungeon Maker stands. It’s an addictive lark at times, but unfortunately the dungeon making novelty rubs off extremely quickly, and it does little to hold your interest for as long as the game’s conclusion.
The game starts with your hero – a painfully generic anime boy – having a wander, and stumbling across a magical talking shovel, as you do. You soon find out this shovel can build massive dungeons that attract all kinds of monsters, and seeing as your local town mayor wants a boost in tourism, he expects you to painstakingly work your magic making dungeons and beating monsters, in order to attract curious visitors to the town. There’s nothing particularly interesting about the story, and apart from the at times genuinely funny talking shovel, the characters are utterly forgettable – the main protagonist in particular, couldn’t be more uninspired. It’s a shame that there aren’t any animated cut-scenes or voiced dialogue, as this would’ve helped add a little life to the characters. The scripting is decent and more humorous than your average adventure game, but as it stands you won’t care much for their muted antics, or the stunted story.
When you start the game it’s often a case of, ‘is this it?’, as all you’re presented with is a simple map of a few locales that’ll you come to know very well as the game progresses. The map acts as a central hub to the entire goings on in the town, and is where you’ll return to after a day in the dungeon. You have a shop that sells magic, a shop that sells the rooms to fill your dungeon, and a shop that sells weapons and armour (albeit rendered a little pointless as the weapons and armour you’ll want to use first and foremost will be the ones you find in the dungeon, later sold here almost as a back-up). There’s also a few other areas but these are of less importance and serve more as places that move the story along.
The way the ‘dungeon making’ works is relatively simple, and you won’t have trouble wondering what to do at the beginning; it’s a very natural mechanic. You start off making space in the dungeon, for which you’ll later build rooms in. Once you have a few rooms built you retreat for the day and when you return the next morning there will be monsters waiting dependent on the type of room you’ve built. At the start only one type of room is available, but as you progress you can buy more rooms and different enemies appear. Unfortunately, you’ll be battling with the same types of monsters for what seems like ages before you meet a new type of enemy – the pacing in the game is terrible, as the last thing you want in a game like this is repetition, and that’s exactly what you get.
It starts off as a good type of repetition. It starts off being addictive – you’ll excitedly hurry back to your dungeon day in, day out, to see what monsters and items lurk in the depths of your creation, but soon enough it all grows tiresome, and you’ll be crying out for a new enemy, a new environment, anything that breaks the monotonous slog of same enemies, and same outcomes. Unfortunately this bad pacing can be applied to the weapon, armour, food and magic progression – it takes a long while just to be able to buy a new room or magic spell, and even then the novelty of a new piece of magic wears off fairly quickly.
It’s not that the game is decidedly bad, it’s just it lacks decent pacing, progression, and a more refined concept. The battle system is one of the game’s stronger points, however, and while still susceptible to becoming tiresome, its stylistic qualities and overall presentation is impressive. The monsters you will face are well designed, noticeably stylised and in most cases original. They each fashion a cel-shaded aesthetic, and stand out from the rest of the game’s shortcomings. Battles take place in first person, and are turn based. They work a lot like many RPGs such as the handheld Pokemon games, or most Final Fantasies. If there were fewer battles with the same monsters, and more wholly new areas, then the battle system would shine.
Level progression in the game is perhaps the main reason for the fact you’re asked to grind through a lot of the same. To unlock each new level of your dungeon you’re expected to fulfil a certain task. This is usually something like ‘create x amount of rooms to lure out x amount of monsters’. Once this is done a boss monster will appear, and, after felling said boss, you unlock a new level which consequentially has some new monsters to battle, and new items to retrieve. Bosses are generally tough opposition, but thanks to the game’s forgiving (and decent for that matter) handling of your player’s knockouts, they won’t frustrate too much.
Other parts to the game include two extra characters that join your party later on – one is an aptly named ‘mimic slime’, which acts like a pet that can mimic any opposition’s physical traits, and the other is a girl trained in the art of magic. You can level up your traits by eating a meal every day from the ingredients you buy or find in the dungeon, and this is a charming affair that adds a little spice to proceedings. Odd as ever, the game doesn’t use the DS’s stylus at all, which kind of puts a dampener on things.
While playing through Dungeon Maker, you realise something about the game – the more you play, the less you can be bothered to progress. It’s certainly too time consuming if you really want to see everything the game has to offer. If you like level grinding, slow progression and impressively designed monsters, then you probably will enjoy Dungeon Maker, it’s addictive at the best of times, and will raise a smile on your face more than once. It’s just a shame that everything’s such an arduous task to complete. Much like physically digging a hole, Dungeon Maker is a game of repeat actions, samey scenery and a lot of tiresome slogging – now if that sounds like your kind of game then you might have just hit gold.