One of the qualities that makes video game distinctive is their iterative nature. Quite often, developers unabashedly draw from successful titles, offering just enough digression to hold off the lawyers. Such is the case with React Games’ Super Dungeon Bros, a downloadable, multi-platform title inspired by Phenomenon Games’ Meltdown.
Both titles send from one and four adventurers into a succession of isometric, procedurally created stages, where groups of enemies emerge and use their communal strength to overpower players. Both attempt to court commitment from gamers by the inclusion of light role-playing elements, where players spend money dropped by defeated foes to purchase the kind of upgrades that are needed for sustained survival.
Of course, there are a few cosmetic and mechanical differences. Notably, Super Dungeon Bros shirks the cool futurism of Meltdown, offering a deliberately anachronistic meld of high fantasy and metal music. And while Double Fine’s Brütal Legend, proved the amalgam can be charming, here it’s a bit underdeveloped. Save for controlling characters named after rock royalty (Axl, Freddie, Lars, and Ozzie), repetitive catch phrases emitted by each dungeoneer, and a largely generic, guitar-driven soundtrack, the music references feel like an unsuccessful attempt to endow Bros with distinction.
Another difference is the effectiveness of weapons. Super Dungeon Bros. provides players with either a broadsword capable of taking out adjacent enemies or a crossbow which emits a ranged attack. But jump into the game with less than three players and you’ll find that both devices have vexing limitations. You’re unable to swing your blade while moving while a succession of attacks can leave your dungeoneer dizzy. Between the limited ammo capacity and the long reload times for the bow, you’ll likely be a sitting duck against swarms of enemies.
In execution, that means players will either have to grind to afford a better weapon or collect several cooperative partners to overcome Super Dungeon Bros’ lack of scalability. While online play should be an option, the game’s servers are almost vacant at all times of day. For those who can’t round up a quartet of local participants, friend invites are a viable option, demonstrating that Bros can be played online with a minimum amount of lag.
But those seeking an individual experience, Dungeon Bros is certain to frustrate. While the incorporation of a threat meter means that continued exploration grows increasingly challenging, it can stymie single-players. Although jumping on opponents deducts a bit of heath from foes and players can almost dodge-roll their way to safety, it’s incredibly easy to find yourself encircled by enemies. More than a few times, I tried to approach Super Dungeon Bros methodically, only to end up facing a legion of adversaries that turned the framerate into a sputtering mess. While the incorporation of modifiers extends a risk/reward proposition that purports to balance difficult and dividends, almost all the choice elevate the already loft level of adversity.
That said, there are a few bright spots. Find a foursome of adventurers and players naturally fall into roles. And with a developed duo tackling crown control while another pair picks off for from afar, Super Dungeon Bros briefly reveals glimpses of its ambitions. Another enjoyable moment is luring the game’s opponents into the traps meant to siphon your own health. Watching a spinning blade slice a through a throng of belligerent baddies never grows old.
Coupled with long load times, in-game purchases for characters and music in an already content- meager game, Super Dungeon Bros is tough to recommend. While the game comes together when four local players gather together, for anyone else the experience can be more exasperating than enjoyable. While it’s still possible for developer React Games to turn things around, in the meantime Meltdown offering a similar, yet more polished excursion.
Super Dungeon Bros was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.