Coming from Underbite Games is a new entry into a market that isn’t swamped with games; that of the turn based strategy genre. Now, I’ve been a sucker for these games since I had a Game Boy Advance, playing Advance Wars and Fire Emblem late into the night, determined to just beat that one last level. Can Super Dungeon Tactics live up to the lofty ideals I’ve placed upon it, or will it be just an also-ran? With expectations running high, I dived straight in.
Straight away, first impressions were favourable, and I could feel myself warming to the game almost immediately.
Super Dungeon Tactics starts you off with two characters – a Dwarven fighter and a Human Mage – and in a nice touch you can choose the characters’ names for yourself, which helps with feeling a connection to the guys you’re in charge of. Of course, being a busy game reviewer, I don’t have time for thinking, particularly for thinking of names, and so I went with the defaults of Fighter and Mage. It does make the in-game dialogue a little more unintentionally hilarious, which was a bonus! Of course, a Fighter called Dave would also be quite amusing, but I digress.
Anyway, the first couple of levels are treated as tutorials and lead you through the basics of the game. The game world is divided into squares, and each character can move a set number of squares, and then either attack or interact with an item, such as a chest. Or they can attack and then move, whichever tactic fits your play style. As you go through the game, you will pick more and more characters, and they will each divide into one of two types: either melee or ranged fighters. Melee characters are usually the tankier of the classes, as opposed to the ranged fighters who tend to be altogether squishier. Melee fighters need to be adjacent to the enemies to attack, or at least within a couple of squares. Ranged characters can attack from a distance as the name suggests, utilising bows or magic to bring the pain from far away. To confuse things a tad, certain characters can use both classes of weapon, like the Rogue, who can either sneak about with daggers or use a bow, so in some ways the character’s load out can change the class they are.
Speaking of items and equipment, this is how the characters are powered up, as there are no levels in the game. As you progress through and kill enemies, they will drop items that can then be equipped for the next fight. The equipment has levels, in a manner of speaking, as they are of certain rarities that give better effects, much the same as the colours of items in Diablo 3, for instance. Each character has four categories of equipment they can use, these being weapon, armour, special items and adornments for want of a better word.
Making sure that the characters have the best gear before each mission soon becomes second nature, and it is always worth checking, as in an odd move, when a new character is recruited, they unequip all the gear they had. This led to me sending the Knight on a mission armed only with harsh language, and he was only able to punch the invading hordes of Kobolds; unsurprisingly he didn’t stay alive for very long. The same thing applies to the consumables that you can use in a mission, as you have to not only equip a backpack, you then have to assign items to the slots in the backpack, otherwise again you will not be able to heal yourself in the middle of a fight.
Gameplay wise, it plays out like the best of the turn based games. The map can be panned and rotated to make sure you have the best view of the action, which is required as enemies can sometimes be hidden in the lea of walls or in bushes, so a good scout around before the mission starts will always be beneficial. Once the round starts, you can choose where to position the heroes in a starting grid, and once that is done, a new modifier is introduced in the shape of dice that are rolled. The heroes can each be assigned a die, and powerful enemies also get a die, so choosing the correct die for the correct hero can make a big difference. The die can be an increase in power, a special attack, extra armour, healing or a skull – which is a debuff for the hero who gets it. Having your heroes debuffed and powerful enemies buffed can happen, and as you can imagine makes the whole game that little bit trickier!
Managing these dice can be one of the keys to success, and one of the others is Aggro management. Certain items can increase Aggro, as can killing enemies, and heroes with more Aggro will be targeted more by the enemies. With a bit of planning, it’s possible to have your tankiest character gain all the Aggro and be targeted, leaving the ranged characters free to roam around, killing with gay abandon. Couple this with some of the later weapons that not only cast fire magic, but set fire to 9 squares and debuff any enemies standing in it, and victory can be almost a formality. I say almost as nothing is ever certain, and all it takes is the wrong dice roll, or a key character to die (or to forget to equip weapons) and it can trigger a collapse leading to the game over screen.
Another feature that I hadn’t seen before is the splitting up of missions into various different stages, requiring you to manage your heroes for an extended period, as if someone is gravely injured or dies, this carries into the next stage, making your life that much harder. In another nice touch, you can choose which hero acts when, so if you want your tanks to build a wall in front of the ranged characters, you can prioritise their turn over that of the other characters when it’s a hero’s turn.
Graphically, the game is spot on, with the story being played out in a series of cutscenes, and each character being depicted in almost a super-deformed style, all big eyes and heaving bosoms. Each character has oodles of personality, expressing more with just a facial expression than a lot of games manage with an entire body, and the accents are quite amusing as well. I say accents, it’s more the way the dialogue is written as there are no voiceovers, but in my head the Fighter is Scottish, the mage is all sickly sweet and so on. It is a testament to the character design that I can almost imagine their voices, and they are all so different that I am very impressed with the creativity. Soundwise, there are the usual bows twanging and crunching impacts, and it counter points the action nicely.
All in all then, Super Dungeon Tactics is a fantastic game. The gameplay is challenging, tough even, but never unfair. It is charming, fun and surprisingly deep, with complex mechanics to master and planning very much a necessity. The graphics are cute, the heroes are full of personality and the story is engaging. What’s not to like?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Super Dungeon Tactics, and with multiple difficulty levels on each mission to try, the fun doesn’t look like ending any time soon.