Do not try and use the left analog stick to move your character. I repeat: Do not try and use the left analog stick to move your character. You may spend a good five minutes trying, before deciding your controller is broken. Much like I did. But this is not the case. Your controller is not broken so do not try and take it apart. Dungeon Punks does not utilise either of the analog sticks by default. Changing this in the Settings screen makes the movement a lot easier, but spell execution can become more sporadic.
Controller safety warning out of the way, what is Dungeon Punks? It’s a 2D side-scroller beat ‘em up much in the same vein as Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, running for up to 3-players locally, and playing very similarly to those two classics. There are the occasional mounts that you can ride, and each character has a super ability called Rage that is built up by picking up runes, but most experienced side-scrollers will know simply to store this up for the inevitable final boss at the end of each stage. Sadly, what is missing is the ability to pick up weapons on the fly, something that added a bit of an edge to co-operative gameplay, as one person always tried to steal the pick-ups for themselves. You can still pick up weapons, but they can only be swapped out once you are back in the central hub area.
In between the story missions, the central ‘hub’ is on the deck of an airship where players can complete activities synonymous with traditional RPGs. There is a shop to visit, spells to be upgraded and you can easily see which other party members have been unlocked. It’s a bit disappointing therefore that the only skill tree is based on the spells you wield. Each level you rise through sees your stats automatically upgraded, and it’s a shame you don’t have any influence over what is increased. This lack of manual character stat increasing seems wrong to me in a game that advertises itself as an RPG.
If you cannot rustle up two extra friends, they are replaced by A.I. characters which suffer the same fate as almost every other A.I. companion known to man; they’re a bit useless. The characters are your usual fare, with some stronger at melee, while others favour more magic-based attacks. Speed is also an important factor in Dungeon Punks, especially when it affects your basic movement speed and onot just DPS. As for how they behave, they will steal every health drop going, yet still manage to consistently die before you do. Even with them going equipped with the best weapons and stronger spells it would make little difference. And when they do start to struggle, you cannot heal them because you are unable to pick up any health potions quickly enough. A perfect example of the vicious circle of A.I. companionship.
The vicious circle though should be seen as a challenge, as the game itself doesn’t present much of a challenge without it. Even with this lack of difficulty, Dungeon Punks is presented in a way that forces you to play through each level multiple times, and it does become quite a grind. Each level has five or six vaguely different screens, and every so often there will be an emergency exit that you can choose to use or not. Use it. It’s the games way of telling you to pause here, level up and then try again. Of course, when you do try again all the enemies have respawned so you will need to fight them all again. Then on your next visit you will be strong enough to ignore the first emergency exit and carry on through. Right until you see the next emergency exit, which you should now use before you rinse and repeat. It adds length to the game but at a cost that it stops becoming fun long before you will finish the story.
In terms of the story, Dungeon Punks is quite light-hearted and does try to inject humour into it. As you read what is happening – there are no spoken words – you are aware that humour is being attempted, but it does fall flat. The ‘Punks’ are presented as a bumbling set of hunters sent on an errand by the King and Queen, in order to pay back the damage you caused to their precious pots in the first mission. Complete that errand and something else goes wrong that you need to fix. And so on, and so on. In a way, it’s quite entertaining seeing just how the developers are able to flesh out the story whilst showcasing just how incompetent the ‘Punks’ are. What is missing from the characters you play as though is any kind of personality. They do not say very much, and anything they do say seems to be them just moaning about whatever they have to do next. A lady named Captain Firelle will do most of the talking for you throughout your quest, as well as regularly checking up on you to see how you progress. Alongside Firelle in the different levels, there are side missions given to you by NPCs, but these are just further padding where you complete the standard ‘kill X number of enemies’ that they cannot be bothered to do themselves. Literally, this is the reason most of them give for not doing it, but the brutal honesty from the NPCs is actually a breath of fresh air.
The controls don’t seem to fare much better. Every spell either requires a combination of two buttons, or the X button and a direction. Even your character’s special attack is performed by pressing B and A together. That’s not to say the back buttons aren’t used, but only the left and right trigger ones are of any use, blocking and dodging respectively. This information appears once during the very first battle and if you missed it, like I did first time round, you can play the game without ever using them. The bumper buttons could have quite easily been assigned spell slots alongside the X button to make spell selection and execution far easier. Normally you could just change them in the options but there does not even appear to be anyway to change the controls, nor even learn what each is for in the first place. The only way to learn how Dungeon Punks works is to view the prompts which appear on your character’s head and then memorise them. And when there are enemies all around you that just so happen to cover up the prompt for most of the duration you are fighting them, any form of controller scheme to remind you is crucially missing. When you aren’t deploying your spells, the only other skill you need is to spam the A button to produce the same 3-hit combo every time.
The presentation of Dungeon Punks is given with a slightly cartoony effect. The ‘Punks’ all appear to be male (despite including werewolves, dwarfs and a spin on an Egyptian God) and the female NPCs wouldn’t look out of place in an anime series with their big bright eyes, and even bigger *coughs*. So take away from that notion what you would like.
It’s always a nice touch when equipping a new weapon or shield in games to see how it looks in the hands of the characters, and Dungeon Punks is no exception to this. It’s a pleasant sight to see when the rest of the design could be consider a bit lacklustre. There are 12 levels included and while they are visibly different from each other, the maps within them all seem very similar with objects within simply moved around. Some enemies also bleed across multiple levels as well, so there isn’t much variation here either.
Achievements-wise there are 28 in total, with a minimum of two playthroughs required for most. There are 12 for completing each of the chapters, and various others associated from killing X amount of monsters, up to the strangely round number of 4800. The rest are all for levelling up characters and spells, partaking in the side quests, with one being held back for completing the game on New Game +. I noticed there wasn’t a single skill based achievement which to me summed up the whole game. If you keep an eye on your health and keep hitting that A button, you will not encounter any difficulties with this. It just becomes a grind so I would recommend at least taking full advantage of the local multiplayer, because it is always better with friends.
Dungeon Punks is certainly a 2D beat ‘em up. But that comes with all the pitfalls associated with that type of game and you will quickly realise this is nothing more than a shallow grind. And being such a grind means it’s very difficult for you to die simply because of how the mechanics work and that you can only get so far before the enemies become noticeably trickier. The real challenge comes from figuring out what the controls are, and then making sure you input the right button combo just to unleash a Level 1 spell. With friends it can be enjoyable, but on your own you will struggle to see this through to the conclusion.