When first firing up Super Dungeon Bros, I was immediately reminded of Gauntlet, one of my favorite old arcade games of all time. This looks like a more cartoonish, playful and possibly even more entertaining version of that formula. The problem is, once you strip away the charmingly cute exterior, Super Dungeon Bros is a decidedly average experience that does a few things right but has a few things wrong with it as well.
You pick from one of four 'bros' who have a heavy metal/rock and roll sense of humor nestled into the colorful cartoon exterior. The biggest issue right off of the bat is that the four characters have nothing to distinguish themselves from one another except a different appearance. As old as Gauntlet is, even all of those years ago it seemed to understand that some differentiation between characters offered some different strategy and replay value at its core.
Here you basically use two buttons to tear your way through hordes of enemies in search of the exit to the next level. The Gauntlet influence here cannot be missed. You can choose to wipe the entire level out of enemies, or simply try to figure out the way to the exit and escape as quickly as possible. There are moments where the game's charm and combat are enough to carry it, but far too often the combat becomes repetitive. The real issue here is that while you have a melee and ranged attack, the crossbow is awkwardly slow and if you are playing alone your enemies will swarm you too quickly to really make use of it. The option is somewhat more viable with friends who are willing to use the infinitely more effective melee attacks, because they can keep the waves of enemies from getting too close. At its best Super Dungeon Bros is a pretty entertaining group experience, and there is no doubt that this was the principle in mind when designing the game.
However, Super Dungeon Bros is a fundamentally flawed solo experience. For one, the game lacks any semblance of proper balance if you decide to go it alone, and even two people really do not seem to be effective. Given that the game has been out for a bit now and I still struggle to find people to play with online, you will hopefully have some friends you can rope into playing because otherwise you will not manage to make any sort of substantial progress. The first couple of stages do a nice job of setting the stage and letting you get the feel for combat and the controls, but early on the difficulty begins to ramp up and the solo experience is frustrating.
This is a shame, because there are some pretty cheesy but still genuinely charming and humorous moments to be had here. It helps that Super Dungeon Bros has some really nice level design. The development team does not lack for environmental creativity, running the gamut from bright and cheerful to downright creepy depending on the stage. That is impressive as the dungeons are procedural generated, which adds plenty of replay value to the fight, loot and continue cycle. Add in the variety of traps per level (ranging from spiked floors to swinging axes and more) do a nice job of keeping the pace an energetic one.
The pace is also ably assisted by the coolest innovation in Super Dungeon Bros, which is a threat meter. The idea is that it will slowly fill up over time. Reaching the next stage will reset it back to bottom, but as it grows block by block until then, it causes random enemies to pop up. Remember earlier how I mentioned you could try to wipe out the enemies or exit? Well, in theory that sounds great, but this combined with the traps ensures that you won't likely stay on any one stage for too long, otherwise you will become overwhelmed.
Unfortunately this is where Super Dungeon Bros starts to show some weakness as well. Mobs of enemies are sometimes just too much to deal with. This is especially true of single player mode, but even with friends there can sometimes be such a crush of enemies (and don't even get me started on the exploding ones that almost beg to be deal with the ungainly crossbow) that forces you into simply mashing away at buttons with very little strategy, which can grow dull when it happens too often.
It is a shame that the mechanics just don't do more of the heavy lifting here, because the audio and visual are actually quite charming. There are no technical awards being won here, but the graphics are vivid and playful and match the game's goofy sense of humor.
One step forward, one back and a lot of things that are 'just okay', Super Dungeon Bros has its heart in the right place, but uneven balance and repetitive gameplay hinder what should have been a more entertaining experience. With friends, this game is somewhat above average, solo it is a less than adequate one. In the end Super Dungeon Bros is a merely average action-adventure dungeon crawling experience.
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Article by Nick