Dungeon Punks is the latest attempt at side-scrolling brawlers on the PS Vita and on the whole the game is a fun addition to the genre. You take a team of three to six fighters to tackle dungeons filled with all kinds of nasties, complete side quests and beat the dungeon boss, rinse and repeat.
At the beginning of the game you select one of six characters, each with their own specialities and skills; for example the red dwarf favours strong melee attacks whereas the tempest knight favours more magical attacks. Don’t worry too much about your starting character as you’ll quickly unlock the rest and can freely switch between them throughout the game. This isn’t a game about meaningful decisions so don’t expect to lose any sleep over how to upgrade your characters or which ones to unlock first.
The gameplay is straightforward enough, you move your characters through the 2D environment utilising basic attacks and skills to kill the enemies in your way. There are three of your party in battle at any one time and you can switch between any of the characters at any time. Each character has access to basic melee attacks and a small selection of spells that are specific to each character. Thankfully each character is pretty unique which helps with the variety in combat, one party member may be able to summon apparitions which freeze the enemy in place whilst another can summon forth pillars of flame in front of them. Each move has its own effects though you’ll never really feel the need to strategize which moves to utilise which is disappointing.
One of the touted features of this game is the ability to tag in your other party members to build up combos, it works easily enough a simple tap of the circle button switches in your off-screen party member, all the time a character is off screen they build up magic so they can unleash spells etc. when they jump back into action. Again there never really felt a time that switching in another character strategically benefitted me over continuing to use my current character other than for the sake of mixing it up.
Part of this comes down to how the combat feels, with only one basic attack button you won’t find yourself stringing together any fancy combos, and each attack feels slow in an almost clunky way. As such the combat just doesn’t feel as satisfying as it could, not helping this is the control scheme, not awful by any means but a little unorthodox. Movement by default is mapped to the d-pad with the left stick disabled (You can enable it in the options), attacks are on the X button and square is used to utilise magic attacks alongside a directional input. To pick items up on the battlefield you have to press the attack button which causes all kinds of frustration when you desperately need that health potion that dropped mid fight. It’s workable but definitely required adjustment.
Onto the game flow, as you start each dungeon you’ll organise your party into three groups of up to two characters per group. Then you’ll fight your way through the various rooms of the dungeon filled with enemies and traps, often finding an NPC part way through that will give you a side quest – these are optional but can give you some much needed experience and gold so there’s no reason to miss them. Each dungeon will have exits throughout where you can escape if you begin running low on health, these will be used often as having your party wipeout means less experience earned, thankfully they were placed frequently enough that dungeons were not too punishing but also the game never became risk free. A dungeon is complete once you beat the boss of said dungeon, once finished you get sent back to the ship where you can buy more gear, upgrade your characters and so on. Don’t expect to clear every dungeon first time, it is expected that you’ll need to retry a dungeon with more experience and better gear so don’t be afraid to explore the level and retreat when you’re running low on health.
Upgrading your characters is relatively shallow with only a small pool of spells to unlock and upgrade in a very linear fashion. Gearing your character up offers slightly more variety in how you want your character to play though even this is limited to a few stats such as trading off attack power for speed etc. Though the RPG elements are perhaps disappointingly light they certainly help elevate the gameplay from a standard brawler.
The games visuals hold up really well on the Vita, thanks in part to the colourful palette on display here. The enemy design is varied and interesting from giant birds to weird frowny mushrooms and the environments were more than able to back it all up. My only gripes with the presentation were to do with the UI, when going through the shop text is small and it’s difficult to decipher much at a glance, mid combat UI such as the magic bar is difficult to see how close you are to being able to use a spell, again nothing major and it’s definitely workable.
I’m also going to take this chance to mention the games writing, one of my favourite parts of this game is that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. The story is mostly humorous poking fun at these “couriers” (definitely mercenaries) who just can’t catch a break. It’s a nice break to have a game that just wants to be fun and light-hearted not getting too bogged down in trying to tell a meaningful story.
There is plenty of content for you to get through with over twelve dungeons with side-quests plus a new game plus mode for when you finish the campaign – so you’ll have plenty to get through! As a bonus for PSTV owners you can also plug in extra controllers and play co-op or even enjoy some PvP in arenas unlocked for clearing dungeons.
So in summary Dungeon Punks is a respectable entry to the RPG brawler genre. The story is fun and light hearted, with simple gameplay. While not quite excelling in depth or intriguing mechanics the game is more than competent and definitely worth your time.