Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-07-01 PSP Action/RPG T (Teen) Gobal A Entertainment / Xseed Games

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"More hacking and slashing on the PSP? Bring it!" - That was my first thought when I heard a copy of Dungeon Maker was heading my way. This is definitely one of my favorite genres to play on Sony's handheld.

What I didn't know is that my gameplay sessions would be more about building and planning than the actual hacking and slashing.

Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground puts you in the shoes of the Architect, a hero who has just arrived in a town terrorized by all sorts of monsters and demons. The Architect decides to start building a dungeon just outside of town in order to attract the root of this evil, the Wandering Demon.

You start out with a few pieces in your inventory that you use to expand the first floor of your dungeon. From there on, the game is a mix of careful planning, management, killing monsters and finding treasure.

The main purpose is to make each floor large and "accommodating" enough so that monsters come to live in your dungeon. To do this, you will have to place a series of corridors, intersections and all kinds of rooms. The bigger your dungeon floor becomes, the higher the chance of attracting more monsters and that particular floor's boss. Defeating the boss on a floor gives you access to a staircase to go down to the next, and promises of tougher challenges and better treasure await in the deeper levels of your dungeon.

I actually thought something with this much micro-management would have really hard to grasp controls, but the building interface is very simple. If there's a dead end where you can place something, press triangle and your parts inventory appears. Pick one, press X, and there you go!

You can't just place dungeon parts randomly in your area map though? There are rules to being an Architect, and everything has to be placed in certain ways to attract specific types of monsters. For example, you can't place rooms next to the entrance, or no monsters will come to live in them. Creatures also prefer to hang out in groups at intersections. Having altars next to other rooms will cause undead to appear in them. Dirt corridor monsters aren't the same that appear in marble corridor monsters. Treasure rooms can only be opened if you find the key to the door, which can drop from any monster in your dungeon. This adds a sort of puzzle component to the quests, since you need to experiment.

Your dungeon floors get a score according to the number of and type of rooms and corridors. I'm not sure what the formula is exactly, but a good idea is to balance the amount of corridors and rooms on each floor, and add different types of each.

You can only enter your dungeon once a day, so make it count. But when you build something inside, it will only be "active" the next day, meaning no monsters will appear in those areas until you have left and slept for the night.

Speaking of sleeping, Dungeon Maker has a different type of level-up system. Since you don't gain experience for killing things, the only ways to increase your stats are by upgrading your equipment and weapons, and by having a daily meal before going to sleep. There are different recipes that increase your stats, but you will only have access to stronger recipes after finding their ingredients and bringing them to the girl in the marketplace. Always eat something before sleeping, and your stats will increase and replenish for the next day.

There are also certain types of items that you can equip and customize by feeding it other items. The best example I can compare it to is a Mag in Phantasy Star Online. You equip a Claw, which already has some basic properties, and by feeding it other types of items you can customize Attack or elemental properties, creating your own super-weapon. These boosters will work with whatever weapon you choose to equip.

Our Architect can also use magic spells, which can be purchased at the Magic Shop, so combat is whatever you choose it to be. I prefer to slash everything in my way and save my magic for the boss fights or for those times where things like to surround you and stun you several times in a row.

Even though the town is small and there is little to visit, the villagers offer plenty of quests to keep you busy, and even the castle offers a reward for killing certain amounts of monsters. Quests will only appear at certain times though, usually unlockable by killing specific things, building your dungeon floors to a certain extent, sometimes even just by having the days go by.

What is also another interesting concept is how you can share your dungeon designs with other Dungeon Makers out there via the ad-hoc feature. On the town map, next to your dungeon's entrance, there are some ruins where you can share your creations or download something new to explore.

On the down side, Dungeon Maker really needed a better soundtrack, since the fairly annoying electric guitar tune contrasts with the great sound effects that you hear throughout the dungeon floors.

Better fighting mechanics would have made this game so much better too. I found the melee combat a bit sluggish, and trying to chain attacks was more of a chore than anything else.

A dungeon-crawler that makes you create a dungeon before adventuring inside, Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground sure is different. It does become a little repetitive, going into the same dungeon all the time, building and coming back out, but it has a long-lasting appeal especially for the perfectionist who is never happy with how things are (I'm like that in any building game).

A few quirks aside, I am enjoying my creative sprees in maze building and dungeon-exploring. I think you will too.

Special thanks to Jimmy Soga and Xseed for providign a copy of this title.