The Dungeon Crawler genre has gone through quite an evolution. In an age where video games were in their infancy, were forming parties and traveling fantastical lands. Dungeons & Dragons took hold of geek culture in the 80’s, and people are still playing it to this day. it wasn’t until the 90’s when dungeon crawlers became an important part of the video game industry; games like Final Fantasy, The Elder Scrolls, Diablo, and Baulder’s Gate popularized the genre. Gamers across the world now put hundreds of hours into deep RPG games in which they collect loot, level up, and take on quests in a digital space rather than on pen and paper. Dungeon Stars takes some notes from these kind of influences, but yields unexpected results.
At first, Dungeon Stars looks like an easy one to write off. It has the style and feel of a mobile game, but it is fun to play and doesn’t contain any in-app purchase or microtransactions. The gameplay feels very akin to an endless runner such as the Temple Run series, except we get to slay monsters instead of avoiding obstacles. When first dropping into a dungeon, the character will start running automatically, but the player must still take part in the action. Holding the left arrow key will block while holding the right arrow key will execute a strong attack, and you can tap either of the arrow keys to do a basic attack. Abilities and character changing are mapped to various keys toward the left side of the keyboard. The one downside is that there is no controller support, so tapping those arrow keys and the way the game has you positioning your hands can feel tiresome.
Dungeon Stars is not an endless runner though. There are a number of stages which involve objectives that each run will have you completing. Some of those goals range from dungeon size, defeating certain bosses, to rescuing a specific pet or character. I liked that there was more to the given objectives; I discovered many temporary dungeons that were more challenging and contained better rewards. Some of those temporary dungeons were only available for a few minutes which had me collecting items and equipping gear fast enough before I could miss out on them.
When traveling these dungeons, I was not stuck with one hero at a time. Dungeon Stars has a well thought out party system that has you switching characters on the fly. The reason for such a gameplay mechanic is that there is a combat triangle that loosely reminds me of Fire Emblem. Rather than weapon type, this triangle is based on the colors of red, white, blue, and green. All of the players characters are based around these colors which also involve the elements of fire, ice, and poison. This systems offers a fun strategy along with making use of a character’s ability at the right moments. At the beginning there are three to choose from, but more can be rescued later. I’m not sure yet if the unlocking of heroes is procedurally generated, but that randomness would make unlocking heroes even more rewarding. All of them can also be leveled up if you got the gold and required items.
Unlocking heroes is not the only thing that kept me running through these dungeons. There is a surplus of loot that can be collected; I had enough for three heroes before I even had a third one. These items are usually necklaces, belts and runes that have special effects. Some of them might have an increased chance of stun or critical hit while other items can offer a chance to gain a magical shield, or cause an elemental attack. Each character can also have a pet flying beside them at level 2; along with my first two characters I had one that could heal and one that would shoot ice attacks. The pets also act as an extra ability that can be very useful. It seems that all of these items coincide with elements and that same color triangle that I previously mentioned.
The silly art style is one of my favorite things about Dungeon Stars. It just helps in making this game feel like a good time. The 2D characters and 3D side-scrolling environments remind me of Stick it to the Man. This kind of art style is endearing to me, especially since gaming is always ripe with dark stories and extreme violence. It’s good to play something with a lighter tone once in awhile between the military shooters and dark fantasy every once in awhile. Although, I do feel that the strange art style might also cause people to dismiss this one.
Dungeon Stars has been so much more fun than I expected. When playing it, I found myself wanting to complete just one more before I planned on exiting the game. Most challenges can be replayed in case your characters might not be strong enough to complete a run. That helps keep the action going rather than having players hit a wall. Even in its state of early access, I would recommend Dungeon Stars if you need to take a break from whatever else you are playing—it’s the perfect palette cleanser. This game has helped me break up some long sessions of games like God of War and rest my brain for awhile. It is quite fun to obnoxiously mash on the keys and kill a bunch of creatures and goblins, except maybe late at night when you got family sleeping in the room nearby isn’t such a good idea.
Early Access copy kindly provided by HomeRun PR