Invite your friends round to see the pile of gold, magic swords, the cat of nine tails!
Being a long-time dungeon master in ye olde D&D, the dungeon management genre's always had a certain appeal to me. I was a huge fan of Evil Genius – I think I've bought that title at least three times to date, thanks to lost discs or lending them to folks, never to see the game again. Each time, the repurchase was worth it; the genre that Dungeon Keeper started has always had a lot of meat to it, offering plenty of play time and depth.
[image1]Dungeons stacks up, on the whole; it's got the content and quality sufficient to make it a successor to the Dungeon Keeper line. It is, however, not a complete follower of the genre's standards; it took a few rounds before I'd adjusted my mindset appropriately. Initially, the emphasis upon 'entertaining' adventurers struck me as odd. After all, years of Dungeon Keeper and Evil Genius had taught me that you build diabolical traps to ensnare would-be invaders of your secret lairs, not let them take your treasure, marvel at your decorations, and nab your arms and armor.
It clicked, of course, when I was told to beat the hell out of them and put them in the dungeon, for extended torture. That was more like it! Can't be an evil dungeon master without some good old fashioned torture, after all. The torture angle is to extract a key resource in the game – soul energy. Essentially, you have to charge up the heroes with an exciting dungeon romp, and when they hit the peak of their adrenaline rush, you bring the jaws of the trap smashing down on them. Then all you have to do is extract their delicious, chocolate-y soul energy, and use that to fuel further expansion.
The gameplay, as a result, has a curious blend of some Sims-like qualities and the classic Dungeon Keeper-esque mechanics. Fortunately, the Sims aspect of the game is relatively light in touch, and it has a more satisfying directness. You won't have to worry about the usual Sims problem of naming one of the them after an elementary school bully and walling him off with a fully stocked fridge but no toilet. Instead, you just beat them senseless and chain them to a rack!
Building the vanity aspects of the game into the Sims elements also makes the time spent on crafting a good-looking dungeon feel like less of an ego exercise; frequently, in previous examples of the genre, it was more practical to build your dungeons into these carefully crafted death corridors that looked absolutely dull or silly. Dungeons prompts more inventive and frankly interesting dungeon designs.
[image2]The campaign features a fairly tongue-in-cheek story about your mighty Dungeon Lord getting betrayed by his demonic girlfriend. While it hardly seems a surprise that a succubus would betray you, it doesn't really do to rub an unholy mastermind's nose in that fact, hmm? Aided by an amusing, peg-legged goblin sidekick, the campaign is basically just working your way back up the dungeon lording hierarchy to take your girly down a notch. Of course, along the way, you have plenty of hobbits, elves, and other would-be hero sorts to stomp in order to prove your worth. Nothing like a little oppression to show your ex that you still got it, eh? Has a certain cathartic appeal, I can't deny.
A few fun gameplay types, including a survival mode that requires you to keep the torture going, help round out the game, and add all the more hours of play to the pile. On the whole, Dungeons can give you plenty of enjoyment.
Dungeons has solid looks; though it doesn't compare to a megabudget AAA title, the artists did a great job getting the characters' personalities to come through. Animation is solid, textures are all around good, and nothing really jumps out as poorly done or an afterthought. Sound and music is likewise in a decent state without really blowing me away. Overall, the game shows quality work by professionals.
The voice acting, especially, deserves note; the performances are the right kind of fun, not-too-serious work that fits a title like Dungeons just right. The supporting cast is amusing for their tone and dialogue, and unlike some games in recent memory, the voice work doesn't outgrow its welcome.
[image3]Dungeons' biggest problem is really the up-front investment it requires. There's a distinct learning curve for the game, even if you're an old-had at the Dungeon Keeper genre, as it went for a different collection of gameplay emphasis. Coincidentally, it may take a few hours of play time before you start feeling the fun. This is a very real problem, and I see no way to sugarcoat it; all the same, I found the game very enjoyable once I grokked the style and started digging into the game's merits, rather than lamenting that I hadn't just loaded up Evil Genius again.
Give it a play. It's worth your time.