Dungeons & Aliens
Developed By: Kool2Play
Published By: Arts Alliance
Category: Arcade, Adventure
Release Date: 03.15.19
The Switch has been getting a ton of mobile game ports since its launch a few years ago. While mobile gaming has come a long way since its inception, unfortunately mobile ports aren’t always the greatest idea for a console with the Switch’s power. Case in point, Dungeons & Aliens for the Nintendo Switch from Kool2Play. It’s a take on the auto-playing tower defense game, and it’s the perfect game to pull out on your phone and play for a few minutes when you’re on the train or waiting in line for something. Sadly, it’s not really all that fun when you’re ready to sit down and spend some time playing a game.
Magic Vs Mutants
The tone of the story is pretty fun, with some cheery writing for the grumpy mages. Aliens attack a kingdom, and three wizards must rescue everyone to save the day. The wizards are funny little guys – I can’t tell if they’re dwarves or not themselves – each with a different element – fire, ice, and lightning. The story isn’t deep and there aren’t any character arcs, but the skits that sometimes play before and after boss missions are amusing enough to keep the atmosphere fun and lighthearted.
Waves of Stagnation
The basic gameplay is pretty simple, easy to understand, and, unfortunately, not especially fun. Wave after wave of mutant aliens swarm in four lanes towards your group of wizards, which grows from one mage to three by the end of the game. Villagers will also appear and run away from the wizards, and you must defeat the aliens pursuing them until they make it to the safety of your wizard’s shields. The game auto-attacks whatever enemy is highlighted under your cursor but you can choose when to use your special attacks – if you have any left. Specials are limited, and you have to buy more uses with gold gained from clearing levels. Your first mage’s special rains fireballs down on your opponents, the second mage summons great bolts of lightning, and the third mage covers the screen in ice, freezing the aliens where they stand. When you beat a level, you get one, two, or three stars depending on how many villagers you managed to save during the level. More stars equal more gold.
There are several barriers present in every stage that serve to block the aliens’ progress. You can rearrange these defenses, but not spawn new ones, which kind of sucks. Having the ability to spawn new barriers would be a pretty useful ability – especially the explosive barrels. When an enemy attacks one of these barrels, it explodes, damaging enemies in its own lane, as well as in adjacent lanes. These barriers don’t impede the villagers, which is pretty useful. They’d have died a lot faster than they already did. As I said, the main problem with the gameplay is that it’s just not very fun. You really don’t do a whole lot, just move a cursor around and occasionally hit the special button. There’s not a whole lot of skill involved; when there are too many enemies on-screen and you have no specials left, it’s pretty much game over. No amount of fancy playing will save you.
There’s Gold in Them Thar Aliens
Between levels, you can use the gold gained from winning to buy new upgrades for your mages. You can upgrade the power and effectiveness of their regular attacks, their special spells, and the health of your shields. You can also upgrade the durability of barriers on the field, which sort-of-but-not-really makes up for the fact that you can’t place your own barriers. The big problem with this system is that grinding to power yourself up takes a while, making the game more tedious than fun when you get stuck on a level. You have to replay an easier level a lot to get enough gold to upgrade yourself and try again.
But perhaps the most tedious part of the game is that you have to buy uses for your special spells, which makes buying power-ups take longer. If you run out of spells, they don’t regenerate if you retry. There is no way to get more spells except by buying them. It’s a system that feels designed to drag out the gameplay experience, and it comes at the expense of making the game less fun. Basically, if you get stuck on one level, it will take forever to upgrade yourself and get enough spells to use. It really sucks a lot of the enjoyment out of the experience. A cooldown for abilities would have made for a much more streamlined experience.
Dungeons & Aliens sports some pretty neat hand-drawn character sprites and backgrounds that look good in action. The alien designs span a large, unique range of design elements, from insectoid to goo monster to I-don’t-even-know-but-that-sure-is-a-lot-of-spikes. Put up against the best-looking games on the Switch, it’s clearly not in the AAA-range, but it’s a perfectly presentable game. The music is similarly adequate, with a selection of tracks ranging from simple wind instruments to full-blown orchestral battle music with pulsing drum rhythms.
Dungeons & Aliens doesn’t use the Switch’s motion controls, but it does make use of the touchscreen. During battle I found the thumb sticks to be easier to use than the touchscreen, but for navigating menus the touch functionality was far superior. I recommend playing this game undocked, as that more fully replicates the mobile experience for which Dungeons & Aliens was originally intended.
TL;DR: Lackluster, but sometimes charming, mobile port