Dungeons, loot, combat and RPG elements. Has someone been looking at my Christmas list? It’s no secret I love a good RPG, the worlds, the weapons, the quests and just being transported to a new world really resonates with me. I like upgrading my characters and watching them grow, get more powerful and watching them progress through a game.
I have never heard of Dungeon Stars before so I was a bit apprehensive. It’s got the word dungeon in it, so it can’t be that bad right? Dungeon Stars is an auto-runner RPG hybrid, which when I write that down it sounds weird. It is weird, but it sort of works. Auto-runners are normally found on mobile platforms, mostly due to the lack of buttons on mobile devices. Your character normally runs and you have to make them jump or attack at certain points. These games are OK, not my cup of tea but I know some people like them and that’s fine.
In Dungeon Stars your character runs from left to right automatically. It’s up to you to vanquish the various beasties thrown at you. It does feel like a mobile game, I know the Nintendo Switch is mobile but that’s not my point. The levels are set up and the feel of the game makes me think I am playing a mobile phone title. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, I am just letting you know how it felt. Your goal is to get to the end of each dungeon, collect your loot, upgrade and strengthen your team and move on to the next dungeon.
You have various options when traversing through the dungeons, you can attack, block and slam your way through waves of foes. Timing is quite crucial, a well-timed slam will break enemies shields and a well-timed block will negate some damage. This is where Dungeon Stars has a bit of depth. The battles play out a bit like a strategy game, your character will navigate the level by itself but its success will depend on your timing and choices. You grab loot as you go, grab all the cash you can and hopefully come out the other side victorious.
There are other nuances present in the battle system. There is a paper-scissors-rock type system where some combatants are more powerful against others. Eventually, you rescue more heroes and can take numerous allies with you into battle. You can swap them at any time with a simple button press and they act as lives as they die. Due to different heroes being different colours this also plays into the paper-scissors-rock battle system and means swapping your heroes regularly in battle can give you an advantage. You always have to be on your toes to make sure you have the right hero selected and use the correct moves at the right times. It’s quite a likeable and simple battle system.
Add on top of this your special skills, which are different for each character and you have quite a serviceable battle system. Your four face buttons on the left joycon act as your specials and they have a cool-down, you have spells, special moves and even moves for your pets. Mixing your normal moves, special moves, pet moves and swapping heroes is the key to success and after a while becomes quite natural. There is quite a bit of hidden depth here, even though sometimes it does feel like the game plays itself. It is a nice game to play while you on the move though, or watching TV and it’s perfect for the Nintendo Switch.
Sometimes while dungeon delving you can unlock secret doors that lead to time-sensitive alternate dungeons. You have a small amount of time to enter them and raid their treasures. They seem to be a bit more difficult than the normal dungeons but do offer better loot. Overall though these dungeons were just harder versions of the standard dungeons and offer a small variation over the main game. The enemies you encounter through this small title are quite varied but after a while, they do get repetitive. Once you are used to blocking, slamming and using your powers it becomes quite easy. Bosses spice things up a bit, they are littered through levels and sometimes you have to fight multiple at a time.
Inbetween excursions you do have a hub to manage your troops. You can equip the loot you have collected and promote your heroes. You can even visit the shop to spend your hard earned currency. The shop can be refreshed for a price and the stock does change at regular intervals. To promote your heroes you will need a certain amount of cash and at later levels, certain items. Your heroes have slots for amulets, armour, rings and even a pet to fight beside you. All these items are found in levels as randomly dropped loot and makes plodding through the levels worthwhile. In between the actual floors of the dungeons you have a small opportunity to heal up and revive fallen teammates. These consumable items are also dropped as loot or can be bought in the shop.
I really like the art style and presentation in this quirky little title. It’s got a cartoony, comedic hand-drawn style to it. Your characters helmet will hop up and down on your head when you run, you swing your weapon round extremely emphatically and I like it’s aesthetic a lot. It’s pleasing to look at and has a certain amount of personality to it. The sound is not quite as good, the music is OK, there’s no dialogue and the sound effects are good if not remarkable.
Dungeon Stars performed well most of the time. I did have the odd micro-stutter when swapping characters or using abilities but it was very rare and hardly noticeable. Apart from that the game performed very well, it ran smoothly and I had no crashes or game breaking bugs. It’s always nice to see this and I like games that have been tested properly. Games that crash a lot or are broken have been too regular in recent years. That’s definitely not the case here.
Initially, I was put off by the fact that the title felt like a mobile one. Once I drilled into the combat mechanics though, my feelings changed. There are hidden depths and strategy to be had if you look deep enough. Even though I am not a fan of auto-runners, I got used to it eventually and just sat back and enjoyed the combat system. The combat system is fun and easy to operate, the loot and upgrading your team of heroes is rewarding.
I did have a few issues, sometimes I felt like I was just going through the motions. It sometimes felt I was plodding through the stages and sometimes it felt like the game was playing itself. I think though that’s just the type of game it is. I just prefer to have more control over my characters movement. It is, however, a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch, ideal for playing in short bursts, on the go or when you are out and about.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*