"The title describes the game and probably is better than Repetitive Monster Slaying Game."
Due to things like the holidays and my workload, I got a little bit behind in my review-writing, with it taking a few weeks to find the time to write about a couple games after beating them. Obviously, this can lead to problems, as I found myself struggling to remember pertinent details and having to look things up online in order to verify that my thoughts are based in something vaguely resembling reality.
With the Turbografx-16's Dungeon Explorer, this issue manifested itself in a whole new way — I had to spend a bit of time on Google simply to remember the damn thing's name! Maybe that's because the game has about as generic a name as humanly possible. Maybe it's because there's nothing about the experience that's really worth remembering. Most likely, it's both.
Dungeon Explorer is an action-RPG of sorts that's best described as an alternate version of Gauntlet. You pick a character from a number of classes, get a mission from the king to collect a bunch of stuff to prevent a demon king from coming to power and go through an assortment of dungeons. Various monsters will regularly pop out of portals and you'll have to shoot them and those portals in order to remove the opposition. Dungeons end with boss fights and beating those foes will allow your hero to gain a level and pick up a gem that rotates between four colors that signify their stats. Whatever color the gem happens to be when you snag it determines which of those stats will increase.
Those stats also can be raised by collecting items found in the dungeons and occasionally dropped by monsters. Accidentally shoot those a few times, though, and they'll be destroyed and your limited amount of self esteem will vanish. Assuming you have enough to spare, which is a question that should be raised if you're playing this game. I know…
While throwing your character's weapon is the main way you'll dispose of foes and portals, each class also possesses a pair of spells. Picking one of the stronger characters, my two spells allowed my to temporarily boost either my attack or defense. Both of those were pretty handy against bosses, with the defensive boost being something I spent much of my time with Dungeon Explorer wishing was a permanent thing instead of something I could use for a little while here and there.
Why? Because this game spends its entire running time coming up with new and increasingly annoying ways to separate your chosen hero from his or her health. Portals are often placed in locations that are a bit awkward to reach until you've gotten proficient at shooting diagonally through tiny gaps in walls, yet they and the monsters spewing forth from them often are the least of your problems. Sure, you might take a few hits because the enemies throw projectiles or collide with you before you can exterminate them, but they typically can be easily handled. For example, if you find the screen is getting too cluttered, you can just run away and come back to see that being scrolled off the screen apparently means that all those enemies vanished from existence. Dungeon Explorer takes the concept of "out of sight, out of mind" literally and for that, I was often thankful.
If those portals and their monsters were the only adversaries confronting you, this game would probably have been a boring and bland — but serviceable — bit of disposable entertainment. That's not the case. Let's look at some of the other, far more deadly, stuff that can be found in the many dungeons you'll explore in Dungeon Explorer!
• Rarely, a portal will emit a small blue flame instead of a monster. This flame will slowly home in your character. If you can shoot it a few times and destroy it, cool, no harm done. If it hits you, you will take an obscene amount of damage. I'm talking about enough to flat out kill you for a good chunk of the game, regardless of your health.
• There are a lot of invisible conveyer belts in this game. You'll be walking through a dungeon and you'll either find yourself automatically moving or struggling to gain any ground while walking in a particular direction. On it's own, that's not a huge problem. Much like the statues that regularly emit streams of fire aren't much more than an annoying nuisance that can make culling monsters and reaching portals a bit trickier. Combine the two and start getting whisked into fire to the detriment of your life bar? Now, that's a problem!
• One early-game location requires you to enter a pair of side chambers to destroy statues in order to break a seal on its door. Those chambers don't have portals in them, but do have a handful of monsters, as well as infinitely-spawning insects that fly quickly and erratically. Getting in and out of those places and destroying the statues without being utterly decimated felt like it was more based on luck than anything else. If I were to say anything positive about that little ordeal, it would be that it was good foreshadowing for a couple dungeons where indestructible orbs would regularly spawn and bounce around their room to make things a good bit more painful.
The Dungeon Explorer experience was most painful because of its unexceptional nature, though. A few weeks after playing it, I can barely remember anything about the game other than a few basics and those annoying additions to the Gauntlet formula. The one dungeon I remember for reasons other than, "Oh, yeah, that one REALLY sucked because…" was a late-game one that took the form of a labyrinth where I had to explore thoroughly in order to find the correct path to reach the boss. In a game mostly containing fairly linear locations, that one was at least engaging.
This just isn't a very motivating game. When you realize that monsters and portals don't give experience and your level-gaining simply comes from beating bosses, you'll simply want to rush through things, only attacking stuff that's in between you and the next room. I guess, since this game is derived from Gauntlet, I can praise it for not swiping the "gradually-diminishing health" thing and forcing a player to compulsively hunt down food while trying to navigate dungeons. At least that's one annoyance I didn't have to deal with!
Other than that, there's not much to say. Dungeon Explorer is a competently-made game, but there's nothing particularly interesting or noteworthy about it. It's a Gauntlet clone that doesn't bring much to the table other than simplistic play and annoying obstacles in a not-so-lengthy quest that feels much longer than it really is because of the game's lack of depth. It might be worth recommending to huge Gauntlet fans, but nobody else.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (January 28, 2022)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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