Written at launch, November 2008. Don’t bother buying this.
Back in the late 1990s I absolutely adored Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper. Its dark, quirky charm was beguiling at the time, essentially Theme Hospital but with demons and dominatrixes. Unfortunately Dungeon Maker is nothing like this. I wish it was though, so very much. Admittedly I suspect Dungeon Maker isn’t aimed at me, with its cutesy and simplistic styling and its Pokémon style mentality; it is most definitely destined for the hands of younger gamers.
The premise of Dungeon Maker is pretty simple, you are a 12 year old boy looking for work in your local village, unfortunately there isn’t any, that is until a magic shovel appears. Yes, a magic shovel. Can you tell this game is a little Japanese in nature? I forgot to mention the magic shovel talks too (I guess it wouldn’t really constitute as magic if it didn’t talk) and it wants you to build a dungeon nearby your village. Why you ask? So that the monsters from the nearby forest are lured away to the dungeon of course! Yes I’m not so convinced by the plot either, but let’s focus on the gameplay instead. The game is quite RPGish in nature, albeit a very basic RPG. Even the graphics are basic to the extreme, and not once is the DS’s stylus required to perform any action whatsoever. Everything is conducted via the d-pad and buttons, very Gameboy Advance-esque. In fact this game wouldn’t look too out of place on a Gameboy Advance. Maybe Rising Star actually made this 10 years ago then lost it down the back of the sofa.
To be fair to it, designing a dungeon does require a small modicum of sense. Essentially the key is to encourage the odds of fighting three monsters at one time as it means more chance of acquiring a rare item. To attract monsters, you need to make the dungeon appealing to them by adding rooms and items such as straw beds for them. The further along you go, the more monsters appear, the more items you gain to sell on to buy more rooms to attract more monsters ad infinitum. Every now and then a boss monster appears, once you defeat that you gain another level to your dungeon and so the slog continues. The actual designing even takes a while at first too just to discourage you even further. You see, your magic shovel isn’t quite as amazing as it thinks it is, it can only dig so much each day before running out of magic points. Cue going back to the village to buy some items and rest for the night. The village shops are your generic RPG shops plus a furniture shop. Occasionally the mayor of the village has a chat with you too, but as you can guess it’s fairly standard stuff. The next morning you can go dig some more in your dungeon and if you’re lucky, you might even have a few monsters to fight too as of course, they don’t want to share the dungeon with you even if you are making their home nice and cosy for them. The turn based combat is extremely typical in nature and requires very little strategy, just press the attack button every now and then and you’ll be fine. As you progress in the game, you do acquire two partners in crime, a typical female magic focused character, and a more unique slime based creature that can mimic other monsters to gain special abilities or armour (not quite Cait Sith but functional). However, the game is still just oozing mediocrity, even the music is a bit of a slog and I found myself wanting to turn it down immediately with its constant generic drone.
It’s not that Dungeon Maker does all these things in a bad way exactly, it just does it in an extremely uninspiring way that makes it instantly forgettable once you turn your DS off. Then why bother returning to it? Go play some Harvest Moon or Pokemon. Both have similar concepts to Dungeon Maker but achieve it in a much more entertaining manner. Can I recommend Dungeon Maker? Well as you can guess, the answer to that question is a big fat NO. Kids might enjoy it more but then again why should they have to? The DS has a wealth of quality gaming for all ages, take advantage of it for you and your kids, don’t be subjected to this. It may not be the worst game in the world but nor is it worth your time. And if you’re really desperate to make your own dungeon, go pick up a copy of Dungeon Keeper, it may not be child friendly but it’s cracking fun.