App Reviewed on: iPad 3
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“Retro” can sometimes be a tough concept for games to pin down. There’s the kind of retro that taps into a player’s nostalgia but keeps things fairly fresh and contemporary for the most part, then there’s the kind of retro that adheres somewhat strictly to the original inspiration. That second one can be really tricky as there are some games out there that just haven’t aged well. Guess which category Dungeon Masters falls into?
Resurrecting a bunch of champions (i.e. creating a custom team made up of several different kinds of classes) and traipsing through a dungeon is the non-literal name of the game. Players wander through the first floor of the dungeon, specifically the Hall of Champions, and pick their team by resurrecting a given hero from their portrait. Then some proper exploration can begin. A series of arrows in the corner of the screen are used to move and turn the group, while most everything else is handled via touch such as tapping and dragging to pick something up off the ground or pulling on a lever.
The original Dungeon Master has something of a cult following, and I’m almost positive this iOS homage will please them a great deal. It’s a pretty faithful recreation, right down to the real time combat and creating spell words with runes to cast magic. Sadly it’s a little too mired in the past for a more modern or less nostalgic crowd.
A number of Dungeon Masters’ mechanics are simply not user friendly when compared to what most iOS gamers are used to. There’s absolutely no in-game tutorial or guide of any kind, meaning that unless the player already knows many of the original title’s particulars they’re going to be completely lost. The interface is incredibly clunky and unintuitive, too. For example, in order to exchange items between characters players have to open the first character’s inventory, place the item in their hand (if it’s empty), then exit, drag the item to the other character’s hand (also assuming it’s empty), then open that character’s inventory and place the item in their bag. The combat doesn’t manage much better. Players are simply supposed to know that weapons must be in the right hand to be used, just like they already have to know that swapping between characters is done with a series of buttons that are so close together and all colored the same they don’t even look like buttons.
I understand Dungeon Masters is meant to be a throwback and I’ll admit that once I started to figure out how to play it I actually started to enjoy it a little. But simply getting to that point requires a Herculean amount of patience. It’s bound to please fans of the original despite some interface irritations but all newcomers should know that this is anything but a user-friendly game.