Review | 2/20/2017 at 12:00 PM

Super Dungeon Bros Co-Op Review

Looks like the Bros might not get out of this one.

A horde of skeletons bears down on you and three of your Bros (or Broettes), cutting you off from a brisk escape.  Behind them, a mad necromancer cackles from beneath a rippling sphere of protective energy.  That is, until the light from a nearby fire disperses the shadows beneath your helmets, revealing four cocky smiles.  Your axes and hammers swing mightily, shattering bone and sending cartilage flying into the night as you brawl your way toward the now-cowering villain.  All the while, screeching guitars send word of your badassery into the heavens above.

Or that’s how it should feel, anyway.  Unfortunately for Super Dungeon Bros, the hordes of skeletons prove more annoying than challenging, weapons impact bone with the weight of a limp noodle, and the wailing guitars are more muzak than Metallica.

Like many gamers, I’ve spent much of my playtime over the last few years on titles in the “indie” scene.  Having experienced the full spectrum of quality over this period, it’s become more and more clear that the vast majority of projects already contain the components necessary to both provide a solid product and push the boundaries of their respective genre.  Of course, possessing those components and then recognizing and capitalizing on them are two entirely different prospects.  For Super Dungeon Bros, it’s fairly simple to identify these aspects in the “heavy metal” aesthetic, the roguelike qualities, and the Gauntlet-esque combat.  As you’re probably assuming at this point, none of them quite receive the necessary attention.

For a game so purportedly influenced by the likes of Iron Maiden and Metallica, SDB mellows from its initial tone astoundingly quickly.  While the title screen features the expected chugs and wails of an electric guitar, launching an initial excursion into the game’s dungeons removes the brütal veneer, replacing it with disappointingly generic battle music.  It turns out that if you’d like to, in fact, play the game while listening to anything resembling heavy metal, it’ll cost a little extra.  Normally, this type of gripe isn’t significant enough to hinge a review segment on, but when the playable male characters are named Axl, Ozzie, Lars, and Freddie, you tend to expect a little dedication to the cause.  More importantly, though, it’s indicative of the game’s attitude toward the rest of its potential selling points - a simple lack of follow-through.  In so many cases, merely sticking to its guns would’ve made the game, if not a groundbreaking experience, then at least a quality product.

The combat hews closely to dungeon crawling standards, complete with light and heavy attacks, ultimate powers, and dodge rolls.  Similarly, one can expect wave upon wave of baddies to descend upon the heroes at the standard clip.  It’s when these two aspects collide that the game feels frustratingly thin.  Both weapons and enemies interact with a quality verging on incorporeal, with only the slightest of indications that swings and shots have found purchase.  In many instances when the onscreen action grew chaotic, I realized that, were I not glancing at my health bar, I would’ve had absolutely no clue that I was, as a matter of fact, taking damage. The game’s puzzle and platforming elements are comparably lightweight and, in some cases, offer almost insultingly little complexity.  As an example, one of the game’s boss fights (itself a combative puzzle) revealed its mechanics in full within about thirty seconds and then repeated said mechanics ad nauseam over the course of a five to seven minute fight.  Once finished, the elation my partners and I felt at simply being done with that experience was almost palpable.

Super Dungeon Bros attempts to inject some longevity into its veins by incorporating a few roguelike mechanics - namely, randomized level creation, seeded community runs, and a meta-currency.  While it’s nearly impossible not to mention the terms roguelike and market saturation in the same breath, the inclusion of these aspects in and of itself certainly isn’t damning.  What is, though, is the decision to build in the most base forms of the genre and seemingly call it a day.  One of the core goals of the roguelike experience is to create a unique, but slightly familiar story each time the player embarks on a new adventure.  Unfortunately, the level design iterates so slightly from one session to the next that each run tends to blend together into one extended, mediocre experience.  Likewise, the concept of meta-currency is used as a way to incentivize repeated runs and provide tangible benefits for improvement over the course of play, but whether aesthetic or mechanical, Super Dungeon Bros’ rewards feel shallow and provide mild differences from the standard model.

It’s tough to write about Super Dungeon Bros, as much of the game seems to actively shy away from eliciting an opinion.  Outside of some connectivity issues, none of its technical aspects are objectively bad, nor are its mechanics broken.  Like many other games in the “indie” realm, though, it could’ve benefited from a serious desire to both deliver on its promises and attempt to differentiate itself from its hordes of compatriots.  As it stands, Super Dungeon Bros remains almost powerfully in the middle of the pack.  There are many worse ways to spend your time and money, but with so many other games in this space twisting formulas and driving their genres forward in unique, enjoyable ways, it’s tough to recommend the game for much more than a couple nights of a mildly inoffensive experience.