Review by TheSpelunker

"I couldn't think of a more straightforward name for this game if I tried."

Back in the prehistoric age there was a game called Gauntlet. You had a fighter or if you wanted possibly a wizard, and you rushed through dungeons, fighting with swarms of creatures that came from lairs and rather than kill the creatures you'd hope you killed their lairs. In general you died a lot, though, and it was fun for the arcades, but lacking at home. Later, a game called Dungeon Explorer tempered Gauntlet's idea some. Rather than start in a dungeon, you started in a town. You could visit more than one dungeon and got around by an overworld. As a result Dungeon Explorer was a bit better for home entertainment than Gauntlet was. It had less seriousness with regards to high scores and that sort of stuff, but at least for me that was all right because I seldom shared my Gauntlet high scores with anyone. And it wasn't that my high scores were bad! It was just that no one cared!

Although Dungeon Explorer retains the multiplayer capabilities that made Gauntlet popular, it conversely has a more robust story-based game than Gauntlet did. It has a password system, a bit of non-linearity, and other things also. It more generally has ten times the variation. In the game your objective is to find the ORA stone, which is constantly rumored to be in various dungeons, and you must explore these dungeons in the order suggested by the king of Axis Castle. Inside dungeons are monsters, puzzles, special items, and magic, and at the end of each is a boss. Then you are usually dropped into an overworld area or town, where you search out the next dungeon. The objective of the game not surprisingly is the exploration of dungeons, but throughout you may find that there is enough of a variety of dungeons to work through that you forget all about the obvious grind happening.

To get you started, the game offers a quick list of classes that you can pick--and classes that your friend or whoever can pick if they want to play with you. If you waited around at the introductory screen you would have seen detailed descriptions of each class. Certain classes vary in stats, of which there are four (agility, attack, strength, and intelligence) and magic, of which there are black and white types. Even though you are a dungeon explorer, you only know one type of white magic and one type of black magic per class. A thief, for instance, knows Magic Curing (heals life and cures poison) as his white magic and Vaporizer (damages all minor enemies onscreen) as his black magic--perhaps it's not particularly thematic to the class itself, but it works. A fighter has weapon boosts, a thief moves quickly, and classes such as the warlock have strong magic. Although some classes are the obvious underdogs it does mostly even out.

After you choose your class it is time to hit the dungeons. The first dungeon is Bullbeast Dungeon, which is named for the boss that waits at the end. Although you don't fight him till last, there is other fun stuff beforehand. Goblins and creatures called Splatter Slimes for instance lurk in the dungeons, spawning from lairs that you must kill ASAP or else they won't stop coming. Several power-ups in corners will increase your stats, such as agility, which you run faster if you have more of. Or you can increase your strength and gain an unprecedented increase in life--but only AT. or attack increases your damage. Bullbeast Dungeon has a few stone puzzles, where you push stones and open ways leading further into the dungeon. You must also find stairs on every floor to access the next one, but generally you can backtrack if you want; and sometimes continuing to kill enemies as they spawn is lucrative. Eventually enemies may drop extra black and white magic bottles (each cast consumes a bottle, and you can only hold nine bottles) or items such as holy water that stop monsters' lairs from spawning.

After you beat Bullbeast a crystal appears, and it shifts between four colors that correspond to your statistics. Pick it up and you increase not only that particular statistic but gain a level. Yet with a new level there are no skills or anything that must be picked; you simply gain hitpoints and stats, which reinforces that Dungeon Explorer is more action than RPG. Go on to the next dungeon or meet with the king, kill the boss there, etc. At some point certain static gates will unlock for you, allowing you access to new areas. Conveniently, a bridge to a castle is destroyed till it's time to visit that castle. Afterwards a nearby settler says, "Thank you for repairing our bridge! Now you can go kill the tigerbeast for us!" Obviously Dungeon Explorer is linear by today's standards, but if you want you can still get creative and explore a bit. There is usually some hidden dialogue or a house in most areas, and some of the dialogue doesn't make sense, leaving you to wonder for a while.

Things start to heat up after a bit, because later on some dungeons are nasty. Harder obstacles appear in them (treadmills that knock you into torches or enemies), flame spouts shoot fire, and there are areas that it is fair enough to say require magic if you don't want enemies to hit you. Bosses were never easy either. Although the game has a password system, you may hate plopping into the Axis pub after a nasty boss decimates you. The tigerbeast, for example, takes up the entire corridor and runs in a straight line. If your agility isn't high enough he will trounce you, and slow characters need to find other means, which may take a few tries. You only have so many lives, and extra lives are scarce.

And this is great for a while. Eventually however, if you are not playing with another player it may start to slow down, which is perhaps the curse of most multiplayer action/RPGs--that they are not as exciting as they could be for a single player. It is a lot of repetition but with limited progression as in a full RPG. Thus it seems logical that multiple players will enjoy action/RPGs more and full-fledged RPGs are better for single players, and I suppose in the end it is a bit of dilemma as to how to 'rate' action/RPGs games because of this. But then one can look at certain other games of this type, mostly successful, such as Zelda or Secret of Mana, and see a number of ways that Dungeon Explorer could perhaps improve. Mostly this is in areas of story (neither of the aforementioned games had kings that randomly named dungeons for you to find artifacts in) and progression (although I appreciate the no-frills give-me-a-few-hitpoints-when-I-level-and-get-back-to-the-action, it was nice to find swords and items that gave me new abilities in other action/RPGs). Dungeon Explorer is certainly not a failure, because it is engaging, fast-paced, and undoubtedly fun for the single-player--at least for a while--and it endures longer for multiple players. Heck, you romp about in dungeons and whack monsters. But I think in general time will tend to favor action/RPGs with more visible progression and memorable stories over the wilder shoot-em-up(or projectile-em-up?)'s such as Dungeon Explorer.

Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/21/06, Updated 07/26/06

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