by Robert Thomas
reviewed on PC
Unsuccessful in Parody
Dungeon Crawlers HD is described on its Steam page as "what Ghostbusters might've looked like if it were set in a dungeon". I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I can say after playing Dungeon Crawlers HD, it's not anything like Ghostbusters. Instead, it's a generic, turn-based dungeon crawler with ham-fisted Ghostbusters references and poor attempts at satire and humor. It’s a mess of awkward mechanics, jokes and bugs and it is a struggle not to give up on it.
Bad Writing Thinly Disguised as Satire
The blatant attempts at capitalizing on the Ghostbusters franchise start early on. Each character is named in such a way that it resembles Ghostbusters characters. Payter, Aegon and Roy are later joined by Failston. Don't worry, I didn't get the reference on the last one either. Each is styled in classic RPG fashion, Payter is the barbarian, Aegon dons the role of mage, Roy plays the cleric, and Failstan is the ax-wielding Dwarf warrior. They make up a group of dungeon explorers who are hired to crawl through a dungeon and kill the monster boss that lives at the end of the journey.
The game makes no attempt at hiding its use of typical RPG, fantasy, and video game tropes and openly confesses at attempting to parody these clichés. To me, it ends up looking like the narrative is taking the easy way out by writing an extremely generic fantasy story, while covering its tracks by telling the world they're mocking the genre. Failures in the writing don’t stop there - the developer maintains that the story was written by "comedians" but I'm not sure who these comedians are. They're certainly no Harold Ramis or Dan Arkroyd. More often than not, the comedy made me cringe with its references to Ghostbusters and outdated video game memes like the old Mario "Your princess is in another castle" line. The only humor I ever got was looking at the ugly character models during cutscenes, which amount to little more than text overlays on a background of frozen characters.
Boring Gameplay Thinly Disguised as Accessibility
Alongside its comedy, Dungeon Crawlers HD prides itself on being a simple and accessible turn-based tactics game. I won't argue with simple. Combat is very basic and becomes boring quickly. Each character has one turn to move and attack, then the typical fantasy enemies take their turn. The enemy design is supposed be reminiscent of Ghostbusters, with Slimes and Banshees as a common enemy, it loses its shine quickly when coupled with the ordinary Goblins and Skeletons. After dying, enemies grant experience points and occasionally drop gold. The experience points level up your team of dungeon crawlers, unlocking a total of 6 new moves over the course of ten levels.
Item and equipment management are virtually non-existent. Occasionally, a menu pops up and asks you if you'd like to go to the store. You'll likely say yes because the only other place you'll find weapons and items is at the end of a level. Any new weapons you buy or come across are usually better than the last; there's never any matter of preference between stats on a weapon - one weapon is always objectively better than the other. This minimalist approach to weapons and gear might be called 'streamlining', but for me it just meant a lack of depth that made it harder to feel engaged by the game.
An Unimaginative World
Dungeon Crawlers HD has serviceable mechanics and if you're interested in what a turn-based RPG would look like at its most basic level, then this is where you would find your answer. I imagine that this is how a 'starter-kit' for this genre would look and there is certainly very little to separate the game from such a kit. The game does not redeem itself in other departments either. The artwork looks dull and bland and its character models look particularly uninspiring.
The audio follows the pattern with more unoriginality. The background track is about a minute of music before it loops a dozen times, with a few tracks that range anywhere from satisfactory to downright annoying. I ran into an interesting bug where the music just faded out, sometimes for 5 minutes, other times the rest of the level. After it was gone I realized just how much it was needed - all that was left were the same stock grunts and sword slash sound clips over and over again, while my team was attacked by their enemies in uncomfortable silence.
Given how unimpressive and dull everything else was, I would have thought the game would be very polished and devoid of bugs. To my chagrin, I was wrong. In the early stages of the game, I encountered a bug where things just stopped working altogether. I finished my turn and hit the 'end turn' button, then the game just stopped dead in its tracks. I walked away from my computer for a couple minutes and came back to find it still waiting. I hit the 'restart encounter' button, did my turn and again it failed to progress to the next turn. The only way I was able to salvage it was by going into the menu, quitting the game, and then reloading the last save. This went on through the entire level and each time the game skipped the enemy turn completely. I never took any damage.
Uninteresting to the Very End
Summarizing, the game lacks any uniqueness and slams itself straight into the boring category in almost every aspect. I cannot help but feel that the "Ghostbusters" parts were slapped on as a marketing trick to draw people in. The use of "satire" feels like a blatant attempt to sidestep criticism on some very poor writing. I could be misjudging the game's intent but parody and satire are no alibi for poor writing and game design. Dungeon Crawlers HD is riddled with bugs, cursed with a lame narrative, and let down by lackluster combat. If you play long enough to get past the boredom, you'll only find frustration.