Side-scrolling beat ’em ups were once a popular choice for gamers during the late eighties and early nineties. These games provided a quick release from any pent-up frustrations and instant satisfaction, with mindless button mashing and awesome moves to get the endorphins flowing, making you feel like a total badass. My personal love affair with the genre started way back with the classic Double Dragon on the arcade. I was like a magnet to any machine that I came across, and if I couldn’t play, I would watch the demo until I was pulled away kicking and screaming.
Brawlers continued to exist with their leap over to the console generation, but the popularity of the traditional two-dimensional side-scroller slowly faded away over time, or evolved into the three-dimensional hack and slash genre. Upon entering the new millennium, only a few titles have been strong enough to really make headlines, post golden age of the genre. Dungeon Punks, from developer Hyper Awesome Entertainment, is a throwback to these classic side-scrolling beat ’em ups, with some additional modernised features.
The story is set in a medieval land, where a group of misfit couriers must deal with first world fantasy problems, such as being sued by the King for breaking his precious ceramic pots. Along your journey, things go from bad to worse, as you try to unravel the mystery of the secretive resurrection insurance agency, RezCorp, deal with assassins and mercenaries looking for a quick payday, and make the delivery of a mysterious relic to the highest bidder, or to whoever lets you live the longest.
This is a couch co-op game for up to three players, with six heroes to choose from. There is the familiar Tempest Knight or Dwarf, or you can pick from other original classes like a Werewolf or Hierophant. A key innovation to this brawler is the tag team system. Each player can control up to two heroes, tagging them in and out at any time. This is a vital component to the gameplay, and will keep you alive much longer. The resting period between each character will allow them to recharge their Mana, so it is recommended that you take advantage of switching them in and out. Eventually, you will have the entire crew of six combatants at your disposal. Ridable mounts also make a return, providing additional attacks and an extra defensive boost to your characters.
Role playing elements are also included in the experience. You can micromanage each companion with a plethora of rare and powerful weapons, shields, and magic skills. Some weapons also have their own magic abilities as a bonus. Fortunately, there is no need to remember a multitude of complex or frustrating moves, these are achieved within a few simultaneous button presses, and are prompted onscreen without being obtrusive to the gameplay.
Traditionally, brawlers had one linear path, either horizontally, or vertically, eliminating waves of enemies until you reached the end of the stage. To break this cycle, another way the developer has rejuvenated the action is to include branching paths, which helps to subdue the sometimes tedious gameplay that this genre has been known for. Each stage has its own objectives, and other jobs can be accepted by speaking to some of the NPC’s found exploring the alternative paths.
If you don’t have friends to join you, don’t despair, the other characters will be controlled by the game’s AI. However, this isn’t recommended due to the fact that they will waste the unique items found on the stages in the midst of a pointless battle. There is another frustrating feature still included, the fact that you can damage your companions if they are too close to your vicinity. This mimics the games of the past and was most likely a decision to keep the experience as authentic as possible. But, I would have expected this to be updated with the times. Perhaps a setting between arcade mode and normal mode could fix the problem.
Dying repeatedly on the same stage can get frustrating, but gradually you’ll become more powerful and achieve victory soon enough. And with RezCorp keeping you from permanent death, you will be destined to fight forever. But, if you’ve had enough of belting Orcs and Goblins in the story campaign, then you can switch to the battle arenas and challenge your friends for ultimate bragging rights.
All the artwork on the various stages is gorgeous. My personal favourite is the Abandoned Crystal Mines. The character sprites are hugely detailed, and each of the unique spells uses their own special animations which are fluent and look great. Some enemy sprites are reused, rendered different colours or sizes which is common in most games. The music is an inspiring mix of medieval themes and relaxing harmonies, combined with the clashing of blades on bones. It’s a perfect fit for this fantasy adventure.
It is clear that the developers are big fans of brawlers and role playing games. While Dungeon Punks isn’t the first to combine the two ideas, those who have played Dragon’s Crown have an idea of what to expect. It is a satisfactory and polished throwback to the classic arcade style, updated with modern game mechanics and concepts. Let’s hope that RezCorp can do its job, and bring this genre back to life.
Dungeon Punks is available now on Playstation 4 and Xbox One. It also releases on PS Vita and Steam in August. What are your thoughts on Dungeon Punks? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
Tim Pearce is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2. Go say hi over on MeatBaitMedia!