REVIEW: Dungeon Smash – Dark Isles

For a dungeon crawler, Dungeon Smash: Dark Isles (80 MSP) plays it rather blandly by the book; princesses have been kidnapped, and you’ll need to island-hop by descending dark floor after dark floor filled with orcs, imps, etc., etc. Even the ‘rescuing’ part falls to two non-descript warrior types, complimented by Jessica Alba (Xan) and a blonde Alyssa Milano (Shayleah). No, it’s not really them, but the resemblance is certainly there. Haiku Interactive must be a fan.

Dungeon Smash is split into two settings; the story-based ‘Princesses’ Tale’, or the survival-tinged ‘Dark Tower’, which throws 100+ floors your way, if you’re feeling peckish. Online leaderboards track your score in each, and a gallery of the game’s art is unlocked with completing challenges. All nice ideas.

Combat is a straightforward, no frills task. Bigger usually equals meaner. Just keep plugging away until your target becomes a blood splatter. Depending on your character and skill loadout, the game can play as either a twin-stick shooter or straight hack & slash, with gold amounting to skill points, spent between floors. These cover your typical boosts to speed, health, or magic, and assign you new powers and attacks.

One of the larger selling points of the game was to be its story, with multiple endings and seeing how each character’s motivations direct its telling. Sadly, that story never really takes off, leaving dialogue and developments to feel more like your own guesses than reactive exposition. Is the villain really evil, or just misunderstood? How can I know when I’m not given much evidence to support either theory?

The in-between gameplay feels off as well. There’s a cool ‘shadowing’ effect used to shroud a level’s floor plan, but other than that, Dungeon Smash’s randomized stages are among the most visually-bereft and haggard dungeons I’ve seen, with same-y corridors and repeated dressing. Also, do not adjust your sound system; the in-game volume is set strangely-low. None of those parts on their own do fatal harm, but when added up, it’s a little more detrimental.

Dungeon Smash - Screen

You can get by with a little help from your friends.

The game also continues a (troubling) recent trend of being balanced strictly for co-op in later levels, leaving solo players to fend for themselves against increasingly tougher and more numerous enemy waves. It seems no matter how you level up, focusing on character stats or adding a magic / weapon attack, you will always come up just short by playing alone. Carrying multiple mana / health potions will raise your chances at survival, but at the cost of tedium, funneling enemies into corridors to face them head on, two to three at a time. Even then, multiple rooms to clear means one false move can reset your progress.

Dungeon Smash looks and feels the part, but veers into difficult territory if you’re not spelunking with friends. Given the lackluster story and barren dungeons, there’s not much incentive to see it through either way, and the blandness will likely prohibit whomever is left on the fence. It might make for a manageable trek with two or more players, how it was intended to be played, but if you’ll be going at it alone, your best bet is to pass. Let Jessica and Alyssa tackle this one.

18 thoughts on “REVIEW: Dungeon Smash – Dark Isles”

  1. Developers take the reviews very seriously, I should write a review of this game…

    This game got a serious bug, it freezes your wallet and delete all its content, alas, I cant give it the giggity seal of approval.

    So my most awaited game have its problems, anyways, I will not buy any game until next month so by the time I unlock my wallet the problems might have been fixed. Next month I will get Trials Evolutions and all its DLC, expending like a millionaire!! I also need to give some love to my PC, if only I have Ron Jeremy mutant super powers to satisfy more than one at a time, how gamers with multiple consoles do it!!!!!

    1. Yeah, the game was kind of a let down for me, but I have to give credit to Haiku Interactive for listening to the players and adjusting things based on their feedback. If you’re holding off buying it for another month, it should have the difficulty issues sorted by then.

      Ron Jeremy powers can’t help you with the games, though. You wanna play them all, you’re going to have to cheat on one system with the other, so on and so forth. The good news is, they’re understanding. You can’t be tied down to one console. It’s not natural.

    2. So I should be a cheater… I see… man you should be a teenege counselor or something. With you on board 90 percent of the teenegers with lose their virginity before adulthood, and all their part-time money will go to child support, but… you will lead Team Shuriken to bankrupcy. And in september, is like a billionare… I will buy my 1st full price retail game since Metal Gear Solid 3. Although its predecessor sucked, I got faith in this one, and if you dont know what game it is, you should quit reviewing games and take that counselor job.

    3. Only in relation to videogames and their respective consoles. I’d never advocate cheating on significant others. Stay in school, kids. Make smart decisions… 🙂

      As for September games, is it Farming Simulator 2013? Of course, my second guess would be Grand Theft Auto 5….

    1. No problem. 🙂 I’m sorry I couldn’t find more to like about the game.

      Yeah, I would adjust the difficulty to be friendlier to solo players, either less enemy spawn points or weaker damage from them. I see the charm / fun in playing with friends, and it would certainly be better that way, but that’s not always possible locally.

      The story, I agree, is a bit harder to address. I suppose when I was watching the earlier trailers, I expected character decisions to carry more weight, but it was really just a guessing game, more of what I -wanted- to happen in the story, not based on any information or hints from the game. Some people will skip it regardless, true, but there was very little exposition, outside of the opening animation. That’s probably a missed opportunity you’ll just have to pass on.

      Thanks for taking the criticism though, and hopefully others can provide some feedback as well. Best of luck!

  2. Like to spend your time neck-deep in orcs and imps? Reply to this comment and you’ve earned yourself the game, courtesy of Haiku Interactive.

    1. Long time reader first time poster, if there’s a code still available I’d love one! I have fond memories of playing Gauntlet in the arcades as a kid, hopedully this game has a similar feel.

    2. Code is yours! Check your email shortly. It’s certainly got a bit of Gauntlet to it, and who knows, maybe you’ll appreciate the sheer challenge of it more than I did. Thanks for reading!

    3. Thanks so much for the code! I tend to enjoy more challenging/unforgiving games so I’m looking forward to trying out the game without a second player. I’ll let you know what my thoughts are on the game after I spend some time wth it. Thanks again and keep the xblig reviews coming!

    4. Congrats!! I think you will enjoy this game. I did but only wished I had some people to play it with. Local 4 player on this would be fun. Reminded me of Gauntlet with updates of course.

    5. Me and tim and strange and you should meet up and play this.
      I loved guantlet on my gba.
      Thank good for bing rewards and free ms points.

    6. Sorry, man. Only the one code this time. Playing in co-op would certainly make the game easier, though it’s local-only (and I will -not- foot the bill to fly you all out to my place). 🙂

    7. Ha. They’ll say ‘Sorry, sir, but we’re phasing out the use of fictional currency. You’ll have to pay with real money, which is probably what we should have been doing from the start.’ 🙂

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