There’s an old adage that any game automatically becomes better when you have people to play it with. There are also many people – myself included – who believe that the addition of a good local multiplayer and/or co-op mode can turn a mediocre game into a good one.
I’m struggling to think of any other game released in 2016 that illustrates that point better than React Games’ Super Dungeon Bros.
Making its debut smack dab in the middle of the insanity that is the autumn/winter release schedule (that takes some balls, if nothing else), Super Dungeon Bros is a 1-to-4-player arcade dungeon crawler in the isometric vein of Bastion and the Lara Croft series. Placing you into the boots (greaves? Look, I don’t know much about medieval fashion, alright?) of one of four knights with a penchant for hair metal, the game sees you navigate dungeons full of obstacles and traps, whilst pitting you against all manner of enemies that you’ll need to deal with using a mixture of close and ranged combat.
The aesthetic of the game is clear from the get-go – this isn’t a game that deals in subtlety, with loud wailing guitar rock and swathes of bright colour very much the order of the day (although, in a nice touch, you can actually buy alternative soundtracks – I quickly bought the dubstep one, because I love me a bit of wub-wub), and there’s a surprising amount of charm to the whole thing that would likely have felt far more obnoxious in the hands of another studio.
Unfortunately, the game does look a little rough around the edges and, even though it features procedurally generated dungeons, the environments lack the kind of variety that other games in the genre possess, meaning that once you’ve seen three or four dungeons, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Likewise, those soundtracks can quickly grate, if you play the game for long stretches at a time.
More damningly, those rough edges also translate over to the gameplay itself. I know it’s unfair to do so, but it’s almost impossible not to compare them to its competitors in the field, and Super Dungeon Bros just doesn’t stack up. Everything about Bastion feels deliberate, where every blow, shot or evasion feels pixel-perfect. On the opposite end of the scale, the Lara Croft series specialises in pace – there’s a looseness to the movement that feels natural. In Super Dungeon Bros, everything just feels…slow. Combat is generally fine, and the ability to unlock new abilities and weapons means that you can mess around with different play-styles, but movement always feels just a little too sluggish and jumping gaps is often an exercise in frustration that will see you repeatedly cursing that slight delay in latency.
Sadly, it all adds up to an unsatisfying, frustrating experience that won’t hold the attention for long. And, yet, just as that old adage suggests, it becomes substantially easier to forgive its many flaws with the addition of another player or three to the mix, especially in local co-op. With four players all pottering about a dungeon, an altogether more enjoyable brand of chaos ensues, where you don’t need the precision and sophistication that would be required to make it a good single-player game. It’s surprisingly fun to all jump in and batter a group of enemies.
Even then, it still feels like a missed opportunity – the best examples of co-op gaming do something a little different to set it apart from their single-player offering. To come back to the Lara Croft series, co-op introduces new traversal options. Super Dungeon Bros sticks rigidly to its single-player mechanics and relies purely on the increased number of players to provide the fun.
All in all, Super Dungeon Bros feels like a great concept that could have used another couple of months to sand off the rough edges and sharpen up its pacing. As it is, it’s a game that you’ll glean some enjoyment from, if you have a few mates to buddy up with. However, if you’re playing alone, then there are better examples of the genre, and you should really consider those first.