As a preteen, I was fascinated by graph paper. During class, I’d spend countless hours clandestinely designing dungeons, some destined for Dungeons and Dragons exploration, while most were pure folly. I had almost forgotten about this awkward period, if not for 2007’s Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground. The PSP title reinvigorated lost memories, with its labyrinth-constructing game mechanic. The title polarized critics; some appreciated its premise and execution, while others bemoaned the game’s repetitive nature. I enjoyed the title’s distinctive flavor, and found the game inexplicably addictive.
Dungeon Maker 2: The Hidden War doesn’t stray far from the original game’s formula. Unlike most role playing games, the star of the game is not the protagonist, but the dungeon itself. As players craft every room, corridor, and design aesthetic, the maze itself becomes the star of the game. Unlike most RPGs, where a bond is attempted between the gamer and the main character, here the connection is forged between player and dungeon.
We wish we could cast spells to expand our offices. “Abra Cadabra, Olympic-sized pool!”
DM2’s narrative begins as an ancient feud breaks out between gods and demons. The gods acheive a domineering victory, and a demon queen agrees to a 70,000 year truce. Eons later, the armistice has expired, and a sole demon seeks to inspire a world-changing insurgency. Now, the human population looks toward the player to build a labyrinth clever enough to lure the demon in, where he can be vanquished. The player begins the game in a small town with eight locations; each of these placements sell all the necessary materials and supplies for the player to build a complex dungeon.
Once players stock up on rooms, halls, turns and health potions, they will venture into the maze’s depths. Here, two activities vie for the player’s interest- dungeon squatters require slaughter, while the maze needs to be expanded and retrofitted for monster appeal. With two interchangeable weapon loadouts, and a customizable magic system, combat is modestly enjoyable. Most of the game’s foes can be defeated by interrupting their attack animation, making fighting a bit simplistic. However, maze customization is an involved affair- monsters avoid throughways like elevators and forks, and prefer the nooks proceeding by winding paths. Different species have different tastes also, while some prefer lush dens, other take refuge in a spartan lair.
Something’s burning in the kitchen, and it doesn’t smell good.
For the slightly obsessive-compulsive, Dungeon Maker 2 can captivate the player for hours. I found myself playing for longer periods that I expected. However, the game is well designed for a portable system, offering the player 15 minute chucks of satisfying underworld exploration. With a spare quarter-hour, I’d try to make a quick loot gathering run, or flesh out a corner of the maze. The title keeps an extensive list of quest details, so players always have a laundry list of objectives handy. One drawback is that money is hard to come by at the beginning of the game; the title can be painfully frugal when starting your career.
Graphically, the game is rather utilitarian and reminiscent of early PS1 efforts. With the exception of the town’s hand drawn characters and some magic attacks, most of the dungeon visuals are a rather bland affair. However any lack of graphical flourish is compensated by the game’s framerate- it is always fluid, without a hint of slowdown. Strangely, your dungeon building is serenaded by cyclical 80’s inspirited alternative rock.
How popcorn was popped in the pre-microwave oven era.
Gamers who enjoyed the first Dungeon Maker title will find a reasonable amount of improvements in the sequel. Players can now have a pet wildcat, Genju, who can assist in battle, as well as a cheerful assistant to help with household chores. On the downside, the game now incorporates an unnecessary speed switch from dungeon exploration to combat. At least the player’s weapons can be auto-equipped in the presence of adversaries.
Overall, Dungeon Maker 2: The Hidden War isn’t a game for everyone. Some will be turned off by the title’s repetition, while others may scoff at the game’s pedestrian visuals. However, for anyone who feels a tinge of excitement from engineering their own labyrinth, or is interested in a unique dungeon-hack for the PSP, should consider picking this title up. It’s a delightfully niche game that I’ll be sinking many more hours into.