A 2D, action role-playing game you say? It actually plays a lot like Streets of Rage and Golden Axe’s love child with added RPG elements. The creators even said themselves, “Dungeon Punks combines some of our favorite ideas from brawlers, RPGs, and fighting games into one awesome hunk of greasy goodness.” Which in itself is fun. The ne’er do wells that act as heroes here do bring you on an enjoyable journey for the most part. Luckily, where the game struggles is made up by the subverting of expectations and wacky, plot scenarios.
Dungeon Punks focuses on a mercenary or pirate group (or just a group that does whatever they want for money) that get tied up in one sticky situation after another. Literally the game starts with you botching a delivery to a king and queen whose pet is then stolen. Naturally you have to go rescue it or you’ll be in trouble with the kingdom. The situation for our characters proceeds to spiral downhill until all the ridiculousness is tied up like a bow. The ride however was an eccentric and zany one. It uses typical fantasy tropes but tacks on its own sense of abnormal meta. The story never takes itself too seriously and the humor excels because of this.
The dialogue further compliments the story. For example, it’s not often that a powerful, rag-tag group runs away to a mysterious forest trying to hide from credit collectors. The uniqueness was not lost on the storyboard creators. Everything is taken with a sense of absurdity but in a good way. Trust me you’ll understand when the plot twists start rolling around. Even the character’s reaction to pleas for help in the form of side missions were met with lackadaisical interest until payment came up. You’ll enjoy seeing things play out in a way you never expected.
Now what about the characters themselves. There are six different classes to choose from and you can control one at a time on the battlefield. Tempest Knight is your warrior with strength but weak magic and speed. Knight weirdly enough can cast storm abilities however. Drakken lacks strength but has incredible speed and magic abilities. He wields lighting and poison as apart of his arsenal. Dwarf is the opposite. Very high strength but low everywhere else. He controls chemicals and fire. My favorite is Djinn. Weak strength but good speed and magic potential. Arguably the most powerful one if his magic attacks are used effectively. Were-Witch is a werewolf with moderate strength and can summon ghosts and demons. Lastly, Hierophant is designed very Egyptian-like and is the complete opposite of Knight stat wise. This one uses spells of distortion and confusion.
You aren’t able to control the captain of your merry crew as she’ll appear mostly in cutscenes which will get into later. There are also others on the ship who act as vendors. You never really get to know them and I felt like they were just faceless shopkeepers in a sense. One of them helps you upgrade everyone’s abilities, another allows you to buy and sell equipment, and the remaining two are just there. Don’t even know why. All I know is this is the ship I come back to when I die or need to do RPG stuff.
If you’ve ever played Streets of Rage or Golden Axe then you already have a feeling for the gameplay. Enemies appear, items are dropped, animals can be ridden, and special attacks are earned. There are physical strikes that inflict damage and build up mana which are used for magic attacks. The max amount of mana you can have at any given time is three bars with each bar being one magic ability. Each hero only has a few spells though and I found myself using one almost exclusively for everyone. There are also pickups that power your rage bar. The fuller it is the more powerful the special, screen reaching ability. Powerful rays of light could shine down from the heavens hitting everything or your character could jump high up, smash down, and damage whatever is around you.
This continues on for twelve distinct and unique levels in tandem with enemies to match. Each map has around ten to twenty rooms to explore and each room must be cleared out before you can move on. The paths don’t all lead to the boss however. There are off-beaten areas to explore whether for loot, side missions, or experience points. Just don’t expect huge and vast levels. The maps and enemies themselves are beautifully designed. There are a lot of different enemy types in places like a valley, deserts, swamps, enchanted forests, etc. The art design all around has a nice, quaint feel to it. Even the still, 2D cutscenes jump with life.
Dungeon Punks lasts around ten to fifteen hours depending on your play style which doesn’t include the new game plus mode. A decent chunk of this is replaying the levels. Each one is appropriately harder than the last and will take you a handful of tries to clear it. The first attempts are usually getting a feel for the enemy, exploring, acquiring side missions, and dying or running away. When you’ve done all that you still may not be strong enough to fight your way to and defeat the level’s boss. It can grow tedious at times traversing through a place. I know Dungeon Punks has role playing elements but in a title that plays like a 2D arcade fighter, grinding can be annoying.
The game does have local, co-op multiplayer and I’m sure playing with friends would have been a blast. Sadly, it doesn’t have online capabilities and it’s such a missed opportunity. Whether with random people or those on my friend’s list would have made this experience truly shine. The A.I. teammates weren’t the worst I’ve seen but when they’re walking into fire or other hazardous traps you’ll wish you had actual people behind you.