Why? That was the question that I asked myself over and over again when I was playing Super Dungeon Bros. Why should anyone stump up the necessary scratch to buy this game when other, far more accomplished genre and multiplayer efforts exist? Certainly, any co-op focused dungeon crawler in the vein of Blizzard’s classic Diablo should be an easy win, if only because there aren’t that many of them available on PS4. Yet somehow, Super Dungeon Bros manages to make the least of this opportunity by offering up a hack and slash effort that is simply far too flawed to recommend.
A (very) poor man’s Diablo
Before we even get to address the actual dungeon crawling, it’s important to acknowledge the general tone that Super Dungeon Bros is going for. Described as a ‘rock-themed dungeon brawler’, Super Dungeon Bros has up to four players picking characters from a quartet of colour-coded rock and roll warriors, all the while the thrum of electric gear and drum blares away in the background.
While the soundtrack is serviceable, the cast of characters are inane to say the least. Falling into a variety of cringeworthy 80s stereotypes that in turn are named after rock legends from the same era, you have flame-hued Freddie who apparently “doesn’t under the concept of fear” and yellow stained Lars who is seemingly “a lover and not a fighter”, and so on and so forth. Now, cheesy biographies aside, the really irritating thing about this lot is that they utter these awful catchphrases every time they take damage or put down an enemy which, in all honesty, make me want to eat my ears.
Ultimately then, Super Dungeon Bros is about as ‘rock’ as Coronation Street is on omnibus Sundays. In fact, Super Dungeon Bros both looks and sounds like it was conceived by my next door neighbour, who at age 73 years, has about as much a relevant idea of contemporary or classic rock as Queen Liz does. Also, there’s no real story in Super Dungeon Bros. Sure, there’s some tragically thin plot fluff about our rocking quartet putting on a record and being sucked into an alternate dimension, but that’s it. That is literally it. If you’re looking for any kind of intriguing story or cast of interesting characters to get behind, you won’t find them here.
Anyhow, once you’ve chosen your warrior from the four available, who are separated by colour, catchphrases and basically nothing else, you pick the weapon you want to take with you and then off you trot into the first of Super Dungeon Bros three themed worlds. Split across crypt, brewery and jungle themed environments, the worlds in Super Dungeon Bros simply aren’t memorable in any way. Worse still, from a design perspective, things get even worse because while the worlds are randomised, they seem to be culled from the same set of five or six level chunks, which means that you’ll encounter level layouts which you’ve only just seen one playthrough earlier.
Sorely lacking combat
Dungeon crawlers pretty much live or die by the calibre of their combat and so, with that line of thinking in mind, Super Dungeon Bros already finds itself already six feet under the ground as the main course on a five-year long worm buffet. Purely from a perspective of palpable feedback, combat simply lacks any sense of heft or impact. For all intents and purposes you could be attacking lumps of butter, rather than a horde of undead folk with their cracking spines and snapping femurs, since your strikes just have no feeling of collision or weight to them whatsoever.
Mechanically, the combat finds itself sorely lacking too. Basic and strong attacks can be carried out alongside a special ability that has finite use, but outside of those moves and an obligatory evasion roll, there is precious little nuance to Super Dungeon Bros monster bashing pursuits.
To make you think otherwise however, the developer has implemented a couple of wrinkles to the usual dungeon crawling formula. The first of these is a set of modifiers that you can trigger at the beginning of the level, such as exploding enemies or make your foes do less damage, which can increase or decrease the score your receive at the end of each level. A neat idea you might think, as such an approach would encourage you to tax yourself at higher difficulty levels. The real problem however, is that it just hasn’t been balanced correctly.
Take for example the exploding enemies thing; if you decide to equip a ranged weapon you’re completely fine, since one shot into a group of oncoming beasties will cause a chain reaction that wipes them all out. Happy days. If though, you are brandishing a melee weapon you’re pretty much in Screwsville since as soon as you hit your enemy, they instantly explode and take half of your health, leaving you unable to get out of the way in time. Not so happy days.
Something else that developer has introduced is the idea of a ‘threat indicator’ which contains a number of blocks that gradually fill over time before being reset when you reach the next level. The proverbial catch twenty-two here is that each time a block fills, so too does the screen with a massive amount of random enemy spawns (in this scenario the exploding enemies thing becomes almost impossible to deal with), with the bar continuing to do this for each block filled until it reaches the top, at which point you end up with a never-ending sea of enemies appearing from thin air that want to cave your face in. In all fairness it’s actually quite a novel system since it keeps you on your toes, and more than that, forces you to consider a swift pace as you rampage through each level.
In an attempt to spice things up outside of the combat, developer React Games has decided to throw in dozens of traps per level, such as spiked floors, rotating blades, swinging axe blades and more for you to dodge in-between your bouts of baddie smacking. As it turns out, evading these hazards combined with the threat meter keeps things feeling frenetic and can, for a brief interval at least, make you forget about the overwhelming flaws Super Dungeon Bros showcases elsewhere.
The idea that any game is made better by the presence of co-operative play, has always stricken me as a lazy merit to be handed out to games which would otherwise be pretty terrible. Super Dungeon Bros assuredly falls into this category but even so, when the friends have popped around and the (many) beers are flowing, it can be somewhat tolerable to dip into the game for quick five to ten minute session before you remember that you own Diablo III, Overcooked, Helldivers, or, well, anything else.
Technically speaking, Super Dungeon Bros remains largely functional; its isometric visuals embrace an art style that eschews the more mature stylings of other dungeon crawlers for something much more cartoon-like, while the animation all trundles along at a respectable clip. Where things take a nosedive in this regard is in the loading times; the game simply takes far too long (around thirty seconds) to load initially, with the retrieval of saved games also proving to be similarly sluggish.
A poor dungeon crawler with little in the way of redeemable features, the rock-themed, smash and loot concept of Super Dungeon Bros is one that still holds allure, yet it is one that has been utterly condemned to failure here. Super Dungeon Bros isn’t rock, it certainly isn’t super, but most tragically of all, it just isn’t any fun either.