Dungeon Keeper Mobile Review: Doing Time

Platform: iOS/Android                Developer: Mythic Entertainment               Publisher: EA               Release Date: 01/21/14

The original Dungeon Keeper was one of those games for me. You know the type; the one you never played, but every one else you know seemed to, and so you’re constantly reminded of it if only by friends telling you it was good? Well, maybe that’s a bit specific. But when I heard a reboot was coming to mobile, I got quite excited; finally, a real excuse to play the game, shut some people up, and hopefully have a good time in the process. Except it’s not quite that simple. You see, Dungeon Keeper doesn’t want you to play it.

The game’s introduction is a blast. Its take on the First Time User Experience (F.T.U.E) is to literally pit you against a demon named ‘Phatooey’. You’re led through the basics of the game by Horned Demon (Horny to his friends, HR professionally), as he teaches you to build rooms, defences and minions to do your command. A band of imps is responsible for the building and placing rooms and traps, as well as the excavation of space to put them in. Resources in the form of gold and stone are collected automatically from mines throughout your dungeon, and can be used to purchase defences or upgrade rooms and the heart of your dungeon. Doing the latter of these leads to a range of benefits including troop upgrades, new spells, a larger unit capacity and faster production times. All of these allow you to build up a force in order to take over enemy dungeons and defend when they attack yours.

The presentation of the game is fantastic. From the very start, you’re greeted with the grimy, rocky metal that forms the background music. Whilst this is pleasing enough, it’s accompanied by little touches that attest to the quality of the game’s sound design. When unlocking awards, for example, a little triumphant jingle plays; but it changes depending on the backing track, becoming part of the music instead of competing with it. Visually the game has a colorful, goofy grotesque quality that, whilst hardly original, fits the tone of the game perfectly.Dungeon2

Equally as vital to the games presentation is its humour. Don’t get me wrong, now; it’s awful. It’s trite and it’s contrived and it’s downright silly. But it’s done so consistently, with such barefaced nerve, that it just becomes endearing. In order to “show love” to your imps, you slap them across the face, causing them to work faster. When you cast a certain poultry-based spell enough times, HR will tell you quite seriously: “I think we need to talk about your chicken obsession.” It’s cheap, admittedly; cheap, but enjoyable.

If only this description could be applied to the game as a whole. As soon as Phatooey has been defeated you find yourself in the game proper and, armed with the knowledge HR has given you, start to take steps toward developing your dungeon. Then you realise that ordering your imps to dig to that resource is going to take a day. In real time. And that you can’t build anything else whilst they’re digging. Of course, you can always use that handful of gems HR gave you to speed production. But they run out quickly, and once they’ve gone you find yourself in exactly the same position. But what’s this little plus sign next to your gem total? Well, okay. This is a mobile title published by EA. We all saw this coming.

The micro-transaction system is this game is simpler, but no less disembowelling than you might expect. Real money is used to buy gems which in turn are used to purchase time spent on actions in game. A small amount of gems can be bought for $4.99, but wont last long. If you really want to make some headway in saving time, why not buy the ‘Mountain of Gems’ for the low, low price of $100. I’m no mathematician, but I estimate this will save approximately 4 million years of waiting and doing nothing in-game. Alright, that was sarcasm. You don’t have to buy the gems and you can easily wait. But it does take a ridiculously long time to complete any task. Furthermore, idling in the game is only viable if you have unlimited internet access on your phone tariff; the game needs an internet connection in order to be active, and shuts down if none is detected. If you have a limited amount of data usage or rely on Wifi for your connection, then frankly you can let the phone idle whilst you have a connection, give up and pay for the privilege of playing your game now instead of tomorrow, or simply give up. And I’m inclined to suggest you do the latter, regardless of your connection.

It comes to something when you can load up a game from one of the biggest publishers on the planet and legitimately expect to be screwed. The fact that EA is unpopular is old news, but whilst it continues to do the sort of things it’s unpopular for this is a fact that bears repeating. I’ve liked EA in the past, both in terms of the games it has created and the integrity it used to posses, and I hope upon hope that they can regain some of quality I used to associate with the publisher. Rebooting an IP that’s popular among the right circles, such as Dungeon Keeper, is a step in the right direction. The lumbering, pilfering, vivisection of a game they released for iOS and Android is not. The most galling thing about all of this is I can see a genuinely decent game in there somewhere. I’d happily pay a fair amount for this game, minus all of the time-wasting schlock, and I have no doubt it would be enjoyable. But as it stands now, which is unfortunately how the game is, the game is a wreck. It is a perfectly realistic dungeon simulator; damp, cold and lifeless.

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