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Review #242

Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War
Developer: Global A
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date 12/10/2008

Once upon a time there was a movie called Teen Wolf. It was a funny little comedy starring Alex Keaton aka Michael J. Fox and it was an outside the box comedy – even for the 1980’s. Well a few years later along came Teen Wolf Too. Now this sequel featured Justin Bateman instead of Michael J Fox, but it did boast one bit thing in common with the original film – the script. Yes that’s right – it was nearly the exact same script. The movie featured the same plot, same characters and even some of the same exact lines of dialogue. Sure there were a few changes, like TWT featured boxing instead of basketball and it took place in college instead of high school, but that was about it.

After twelve hours with Dungeon Maker II, I found myself having that Teen Wolf Too déjà vu (Hey, that rhymed!) all over again. It was the same exact game. The same weapons, same monsters, same exact town layout. I had never before experienced a game this close to the game that had come before it, and I’ve played a lot of Street Fighter 2 variants! Thankfully around the fourth dungeon, we started to see some slight changes to the game. But was it enough to give Dungeon maker II a positive review, or was this the most shameless retread I’ve ever played?

Let’s Review

Seventy Thousand years ago there was a great war fought between demons and gods. The gods won and the queen of the demons agreed to a truce. Even though the truce is over none of the demons dare to wage war again due to the fact the gods would once again slaughter there. There is one demon by the name of Revenger who gets it into his head that he can at least annoy the gods by slaughtering humans. Humans are worried because the gods don’t really care about them and if Revenger pisses them off too much, they’ll drop a mountain on the Earth, killing Revenger and several hundred million humans too. Call it collateral damage.

You are the Dungeon Maker. You travel to a small town beleaguered with monsters. You build a dungeon on the outskirts of town so that the monsters will move in there instead of harassing townspeople. Then you can go in and kill them at your leisure. Yeah, I know. It doesn’t make much sense, but this is the plot of the game. Along the way you’ll pick up an annoying kid sidekick, a shape shifting monster for a pet and you’ll help towns people out with side quests and even help the king of the kingdom by trapping and slaying boss monsters like the Manticore. Repeat for several dozen hours or until you get bored – the latter of which is more likely.

There’s not a lot of substance to DM2. It’s the same exact town layout, some of the same exact quests and even the same exact plot albeit it with a little more substance what with a giant angry demon being the centerpiece instead of the first game’s “Let’s just build a dungeon and commit monster genocide” plot. Nearly all of the dialogue in the game is throwaway except for the bits that tell you what your next subquest or main plot point are. Every character. Including the protagonist, is two dimensional and there is not even a semblance or trying to flesh anyone out. The emphasis is on making the dungeon rather than developing your character or truly pushing through the plot, so people looking for an epic RPG saga will be sorely disappointed. What’s here is passable, but it’s about what you would find in an old 8 bit RPG.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

There’s a slight graphical upgrade from the previous game. Although I hate that the new main character looking like Harry Potter (No one would go into hand to hand combat wearing glasses!), I am happy to see that any item you purchase will change the visual representation of your character on screen. The same monsters are in the game and although they look very similar to the original game’s version, the colours are brighter, the models are larger, and they do look nicer. Meanwhile, the dungeon looks exactly the same. As mentioned earlier, the town layout is EXACTLY THE SAME, but it has been given a face lift and shop keepers have been given new character portraits to make them into new characters.

In battle, you’ll find that the graphics have moved up from 16 bit quality to mid PSX in appearance. I do like the introduction of boss characters though as the game gives you a close up of the model and lets them have a little action pose to try and get over the importance of the fight you’re about to engage in.

Dungeon maker II is put to shame by practically every other PSP RPG’s graphics, but like the story, what’s here is passable. There’s an improvement on the original’s graphics in every way, but this is still a game I’d put on par with something like the old PSX SRPG, Brigandine.

Graphics Rating: 5.5/10

3. Sound

There’s no voice acting, so don’t go looking for that. There’s also little in the way of sound effects. You gets a noise when you make a new room or when you open a door, but that’s about it. DM2 is about as bereft of noise as it gets. I can understand the graphics and story taking a back seat to the
simulation/building aspects of the game, but no noises for combat? Seriously? This boggles my brain.

There’s not a lot in the way of a musical score either. There’s a general town track, a general dungeon track, a fighting in the dungeon track, and a boss battle track. That my friends, is your musical output. None of the tracks contained herein are offensive, but they’re not very good either. In fact, I spent a good portion of the game playing with the sound off and I even forgot I muted my PSP – that’s how negligible the auditory experience is with this game.

Like the first Dungeon Maker, DM2’s weakest area is with the music. Although a lot of the game does the bare minimum to make the experience of playing it worthwhile, one can’t help BUT notice the utter lack of detail paid to the auditory experience of this game. Considering how repetitive DM2 is, one would think they would try to put something in that offsets the monotony for those predisposed to ADHD.

Sound Rating: 3/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Like the other aspects of the game, this is pretty much the same as before. You go into the dungeon. You build your dungeon. You leave your dungeon. You eat a meal, buy stuff for the next day and go to leave. You go back to your dungeon and keep building it while killing anything that shows up in hopes it drops you items or money – which they rarely do. Repeat for several hours until the floor is completed or you’ve killed the boss for this level. Repeat on the next level. That’s the game folks.

The control scheme is the most changed aspect of DM2 and it’s not for the better. For one thing, you have to draw your weapon out and then computer will automatically make you sheath it after a certain amount of time. If your weapon is sheathed when you encounter an enemy, you would think that the goblins or gnolls would just walk all over you, right? Wrong. The game pauses everything, lets you draw your weapon and the monsters just sit there until you are ready. THEN combat begins. This seems utterly absurd and I constantly questioned why this was put in. The rest of the controls are just as weird. Your blocking button is the L button, which also serves as your camera control if you use it with the D-Pad, which also is your movement controls. So let’s say you want to turn around and block someone from attacking your spine? Too bad! You adjusted the camera instead. Take that damage boy! Besides the L button and the O button, which is your attack button instead of the usual X in games, your entire control scheme depends on hitting the R button in conjunction with something else. Do you want to cast a magic spell? There’s no one simple button press to do that. You have to hit R + Triangle which pauses the action. Then you have to scroll through your list of spells. You select your spell and the game goes back to the action. Why is there no quickcast where you have a spell set to a button. God knows your X button isn’t doing anything.

Building your dungeon is pretty easy. You just go to a wall, press triangle and then pick what piece you wish to lay down. This is exactly like the previous game (Surprise) but once you hit the fourth level of the dungeon you’ll be able to give levels elemental leanings and attract more specific monsters. This is a decent addition to the gameplay, but it’s still a pretty shallow one that doesn’t really add anything to the overall experience.

So let’s talk about the one new thing that actually changes the game up a bit – your little pet genju. Genju is a shape shifting creature who is meant to be the mascot (Pikachu) of this game. It’s a shape shifting creature that can take on the form of either a human sidekick or certain monsters that you kill. You can setthe Genju’s AI and now you have a buddy that helps you kill things. Except that the Genju can’t die, is far more powerful than you and learns spells for free where you have to pay for them. Do you see the inherent problem here. Just stock up on health potions and let the Genju slaughter everything. You just stay in a corner and heal it when it drops back to 1 HP as remember, it can’t die. At 1 HP it just turns back into a cute little thingie. Even worse is that unlike you, Genju gets XP for kills while you get absolutely nothing save for the rare item or gold they drop. For you to increase your abilities, you have to eat a meal at the end of the game day, which raises your stats somewhat. This would be a fine mechanism except quality items that raise stats other than HP are even rare than general foodstuffs leaving you to expand your abilities at a snail’s pace while genju becomes crazy powerful. Although it’s neat to get a sidekick, the entire process of the sidekick is so out of whack and poorly thought out that YOU become the sidekick and the game’s molasses like slow pace is accented even further because you get to watch something else cruise through the game while you’re lucky enough to get enough gold for food and one or two building pieces per day. Ugh. So yes, on one hand we have a nice new nifty addition, but on the other hand it’s implemented so poorly that it makes the game less fun.

Like everything else about DM2, Global A churned out a pretty by the numbers sequel where the only new pieces were so ill conceived that you have to wonder if anyone playtested the control scheme or the Genju bits. The game is certainly playable, but if you thought the first one was slow moving, you’ll feel it even more with this one.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

I’ve know I’ve been pretty harsh on the game, but it’s only because I played this game like two years ago without the II in front of it. However, if there’s one thing this game does right, it’s giving it replay value. There’s something inherently fun about building your dungeon, even if the going are pretty slow. You run around saving up for a new room or scheme in order to raise your rating up and bring in new monsters. You can always redo aspects of the dungeon at any time. You have a lot of flexability. It’s like a fantasy Sim City, just even slower than EA’s classic franchise.

You also have the ability to trade dungeons with a friend and then explore the first three levels of their creation. Yes I know, I wish you could go through the whole thing, but it’s just another flaw of this game. Still, trading dungeons is a lot of fun, and there are even room pieces geared towards tricking your friend or trapping rooms to cause them damage. Alas, there are not a lot of people on the network, so I only got to experience two other people’s creations. One was a fairly straight forward D&D type dungeon you would see on graph paper in middle school while the other had very little rooms but a lot of twists and turns. If the game didn’t give you a map, you could easily find yourself lost in there. It’s a lot of fun to see how creative one can get with DM2 and it’s trying other people’s dungeons that will keep a player coming back for more.

There are also special genju only dungeons, as if that little guy didn’t get all the attention and special stuff to begin with. These are a nice little diversion but again, it just drives home how useless your protagonist is compared to the genju. Still, at least there’s some new content, right?

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

DM2 is a lot easier than DM1, especially the boss battles. In the first game, the boss battles were pretty hard. Now, the AI is down, their damage is noticeably lower and you have an invincible death dealing sidekick to attack for you while you cast spells from a distance. Okay then. Genju alone destroys any semblance of balance once you get him and you go from needing a potion swig on each level of the dungeon if you explore everything completely to rarely if ever taking damage. It’s kind of sad.

You can’t get rid of Genju once you get him either. You’re stuck with him every time you go into the dungeon. Also, it can hurt you too, which is all the more reason to stand back with a distance weapon or magic and support it rather than getting maimed or killed by its brainless attacks. Sigh. The game ought to be called “Genju Battler Simulation 3000.”

So yeah, the boss AI is retarded, the rank and file monster AI is exactly the same as it was in the previous game so you already know everyone’s attack patterns if you played DM1, and Genju is like having Superman show up when your main character is Aquaman. Great. The only challenge in this game is going through your ever growing dungeon in hopes of enough coin being dropped to actually add on to your creation.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

Well if you’ve been reading the past five pages of this review, you know that hey, there’s not much originality in this thing! It’s like Global A just took the same game, made some new graphics and tacked on the genju and elemental bits at the last second to create the illusion of a new game. Even worse, you don’t experience the genju bits until you beat the level one boss, which will take two to three hours depending on if you fight him right away or are focusing on building your dungeon of doom. Then the only other new bits don’t come in until level four or so, which is about twenty hours into the game, meaning most people who played the first will be turned off by the game looking and feeling exactly like the first one but with a Mary Sue partner to slow things down even more. Oh goody.

I have railed about the lack of innovation and creativity in games before. God knows the Final Fantasy series has felt my wraith on this topic many a time, but never before have I played a game this carbon copied before. The only way it could have been less is if they just stuck a UMD of DM1 in and drew a II on the cover with magic marker. Sheesh.

So yes, there are a few new things, but when all the items, enemies, progression, AI, and town layout are exactly the same from one game to the next AND you have the audacity to charge $29.99 (Or more!) for this thing, you deserve to have your ass handed to you for being that greedy and lazy.

Originality Rating: 2/10

8. Addictiveness

Okay, I loved the first DM, even if it moved pretty slowly. I liked building my dungeon and boosting my rating and seeing what sorts of monsters I could attract. But DM2 is the same exact game as DM1 with a face lift and a new “helper” that takes you utterly out of the action parts of the game. You might as well just be playing a stats manager like EWR or Football Manager ‘09 instead. Even worse, the rate of items or gold being dropped appears to have gone down from the first game making this EVEN slower. There’s nothing worse than filling up every square space of a dungeon floor and then going through it only to get about 200gp. That buys you one standard dungeon tile piece or two straight lane pieces. Wow. You’re making progress here. So you have a game that moves even slower than the first and everything pretty much progresses and feels like the first. Are you really going to stay glued to this thing? Then the new aspects to level designs don’t come into play until you have a dozen hours or so logged into the game. Most people will have put this thing down due to boredom of having Genju do everything and it taking game weeks for a dungeon level to be built properly. Global A really should have put the new mechanics up sooner, say level two of the dungeon so as to keep people’s interest from waning.

I really wanted to like this game. I really wanted to get into this game. I spent way too much time fine tuning dungeons in the first title, but this is such a rehash, I could have just started a new game with DM1 and had a better (And cheaper) experience.

Addictiveness Rating: 4.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Dungeon Maker II is the very definition of a niche game. Sure The Sims has become a worldwide phenomenon, but that’s the exception to the rule. Sim City DS tanked. Theme Park DS tanked. Even the first Dungeon Maker was swept under the rug for the most part. Simulation building games have had their day in the same way 2-D fighters and Shoot ‘Em Up’s have fallen to the wayside. Of course, Dungeon Maker II doesn’t do itself any favours by passing itself off as a clone of the original in nearly every way. With a little more innovation, some rebalancing, or even adding a few new monsters, weapons, or quests, this game would have brought back the old DM1 fans and even some new people. But when you have the same exact side missions as the first like, “Catch a thief by building storage rooms” or “Build a fancy room for a ghoul because the undead like high class living arrangements,” you turn off your entire audience save for the most zealous of fan boys. Anyone with a quarter of a brain will put the game down before they get to the new content because it’s so late in the game (Save for the genju) and everything progresses exactly like the first bloody game. By now you can tell, I’m pretty annoyed by this, eh?

If you’re new to the game, you’ll probably enjoy it if you can handle the slow moving pace. IF you played the first, you’ll be annoyed that you spent thirty dollars on a game you already owned.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

Generally I am a staunch defender of independent or small publisher titles. Dungeon Maker II however is one title I can’t defend. It’s not even a sequel. It’s the first game with new graphics and, at best, five percent new content. The first was original and innovative and fun. This moves at half the speed, is highly derivative, lacks any challenge, and is so similar to the first I’m disgusted. Dungeon Maker II is the personification of my biggest fear about the current state of the gaming industry – where developers and publishers will put out the same damn game with a fresh coat of paint and the ignorant will lap it up like little sheep and happily be parted with their thirty dollars for an experience they have already had. This is up there with a Madden title where the only change from one year to the next is the roster and the occasional tweak.

Dungeon Maker II is everything that is wrong with our industry right now and everyone involved should be ashamed of yourselves. This is a perfect example of doing the absolute minimum to churn out a game and conning people into purchasing it. Congratulations DMII, you lit a fire under my ass that is generally reserved for games like Wrestlemania XXI or TNA Impact

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 5.5/10
Sound: 3/10
Control and Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 3/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 4.5/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10
Total Score: 39
FINAL SCORE: 4.0 (POOR GAME)

Short Attention Span Summary\
Wow. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the personification of redundancy, then by all means, go out and pick up Dungeon Maker II. You get the same monsters, same town layout, same quests, same progression, and same experience as the first game. You get a sidekick a few hours in, which is new, but this so called partner quickly eclipses your own character and the fact it is indestructible throws out any challenge the game would normally offer. You’ll have to get halfway through the game before you encounter any other new content, in DMII, so no one will fault you for putting this down (or in the trash) after suffering the biggest case of Déjà Vu in gaming history.

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