Developed By: Goblinz Studio
Published By: Plug In Digital
Category: Adventure, Strategy, Dungeon Crawler, Turn-Based, RPG
Release Date: 5.25.18
Way back in 1998, a much younger John picked up a game at Blockbuster called Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSX. I didn’t beat it during the rental period, but I begged my parents for money until I could buy it. It ignited a lifelong love of strategy RPGs that persists until this day. I’m still a little jazzed every time a new one comes to my attention. So when Dungeon Rushers for the Nintendo Switch came up for review, I wanted in. It’s sort of a port from a mobile game, but the developers tweaked it for console and PC release, and that version has some redeeming qualities, but, sadly, it’s nothing to write home about.
Rush For Glory
Dungeon Rushers starts with a young boy’s dream. Elian, toilet scrubber extraordinaire, wants some quick cash, and dungeon diving seems like the easiest way to get it. So, into the dungeons he dives. He’s not super prepared, but he makes it through his first dungeon with a relative lack of calamity, so on he goes assembling his team including Thorgrim the dwarf warrior-accountant, Pod the silver-tongued minstrel, and Miranda the small-business owning vampire. Most of the game focuses on traveling from dungeon to dungeon, exploring them and grabbing loot. There is a light story that goes along with it involving a giant conglomerate buying up smaller mom-and-pop dungeon operations creating a giant, soulless dungeon super corporation that’s rather amusing, but really, the story is just a backdrop for the gameplay. The writing is sharp, light, and fairly clever, so it makes for a lighthearted atmosphere that makes up for some of the gameplay’s shortcomings when they pop up.
Exploring dungeons plays out a little bit like a board game. Upon entering a dungeon, players move onto new tiles. Most tiles are empty, but some have traps, treasures, or enemies. Landing on a tile with a special encounter will activate the event and the player chooses how to resolve it. There are two types of traps; magical and physical. Some characters have abilities that can be used to disarm the traps, or you can just choose to set it off anyway (more on why you’d ever want to do that later), causing some damage or inflicting a status effect. Treasure tiles have a multitude of effects; sometimes it’s a treasure chest and you get some loot, sometimes you encounter a shrine or other item that grants a buff or debuff, and sometimes it’s a trick and an enemy will pop out, starting a fight. Enemy tiles, obviously, have enemies, and a fight starts. Finding the dungeon’s final treasure chest ends the expedition, called a “rush.”
Fights are standard turn-based fare. There is a turn counter in the upper right corner which establishes the order of action. Characters with higher speed go first, and, if you plan well enough you can defeat some enemies before they get a chance to attack. Each of your characters has three unique abilities, as well as three abilities standard to everyone (guard, skip a turn, and use items). Player parties consist of up to five characters, while enemy parties consist of up to six. There are some enemies that can summon other enemies, so you may have to defeat more than six enemies in one fight, but at least you get extra experience points for beating them. Like any RPG, you get rewards at the end of every fight. You always get some XP and gold, and sometimes you get items as well.
There are a few different kinds of items, which are again, pretty typical RPG tropes. You’ve got weapons, armor, and accessories that can be equipped, potions that can be used to restore lost HP/MP or counter negative status effects, and crafting ingredients that are used to craft new items. Crafting is done outside of dungeons, on the world map. There is also a shop accessible from the world map, which is kind of useless a lot of the time. There are only every eight items for sale after each rush, and if you want another set of inventory to browse, you have to finish another rush. The items for sale are usually worse than things you can find in dungeons. There is also the option to buy different levels of mystery items, but even the highest level of lottery item generally turns out to not be useful.
There are two types of dungeons; the general dungeon which is one level deep, and keeps, which have multiple levels. Regular dungeons have a set of three objectives that, when all completed in the same rush, unlock hero mode for that level. The objectives often work together to make each other harder; for instance, some dungeons have a limit on the number of field abilities you can use, usually three. If another objective is to use less than three abilities and there are four or more traps in the level, that means you have to let one trap hit you or you can’t unlock hero mode. Most traps either do damage or cause a status effect that causes damage, so it makes for a tough choice sometimes.
This strikes me as something left over from the game’s mobile roots; perhaps something you can get around with a microtransaction. I’m not saying that’s definitely true, but it feels like the sort of thing you see a lot in freemium games. Another thing I found somewhat frustrating was an uneven difficulty progression. Some random dungeons just had more traps and enemies, which, combined with conflicting objectives, were just plain hard to get through. Especially if one of those objectives is not to use healing items, which is a very popular objective. Furthermore, leveling up is a huge grind, and it takes forever. If you’re having trouble getting past a certain dungeon, leveling up is a time-consuming solution, but it’s also kind of your only choice. A new tier of items unlocks when you enter a new area of the map, but everything unlocks at the beginning of the area, so once you have your characters decked out in new gear (which happens after the first few dungeons of each area), getting new equipment isn’t really an option for advancing. These balance issues really undermine an otherwise solid game design.
Oh, yeah; that other type of dungeon. Keeps are five level castles. Beating one level of the castle unlocks the next level. The rewards for clearing a level of a keep are generally greater than the rewards for clearing a regular rush, but not always. Clearing a rush in hero mode generally has greater rewards than clearing a regular rush as well. The biggest advantage of hero mode and keeps is the same; the levels no longer have those restrictive objectives. So even though the enemies in hero mode are tougher, the dungeons were easier to clear.
Pixel Dungeons and Pixel Dragons
Dungeon Rushers has an old school pixel style which looked pretty good, but not amazing. The characters are designed in a fairly generic fantasy style, but the cartoony elements give them some personality. Attack animations can be a little choppy since they don’t really have that many frames, but it’s all perfectly presentable. The backgrounds are actually a little more detailed than the characters, and again, they have some fairly generic fantasy dungeon designs. Overall, the game is attractive enough, but I’ve seen some absolutely stunning pixel art in the last few years, and Dungeon Rushers doesn’t really measure up.
In terms of the game’s audio design, the music is pretty good. The regular dungeon ambience theme is slow and builds a sense of mystery and the unknown. The battle theme is fast-paced and engaging, and adds a sense of action to a battle system that, while fairly smooth, can sometimes be a bit dry on its own. There’s no voice acting, which makes sense with the classic game aesthetic and emphasis on gameplay over story.
Dungeon Rushers has no motion controls, but you can use the Switch’s touchscreen in undocked mode. You can use the touchscreen to do anything you can do with a controller, but I found it to be a lot less convenient than just using the controller. I thought the graphics looked better undocked; things were a little too pixelated on a big screen. So for that reason I recommend playing the game undocked.
TL;DR: Solid enough game design with some serious balance issues and a thin but amusing story.