It was a dark and stormy night…
The ferocious southeaster was howling up a storm and pummelling the windows in their panes. Nevertheless, nestled under a warm duvet, and basking in the ambient glow from the PS Vita’s 13cm OLED screen, I continued my epic journey. I delved deeper into the dungeon and battled horde after horde of goblin, the undead and even a nation’s worth of savage bandits. Even though my fingers and hands ached, I vowed to continue my quest in Gameloft’s latest iOS port to the PS Vita, a colourful action role-playing game (hack & slash) called Dungeon Hunter: Alliance.
Lesser men would have thrown in the towel, but not I. I smote them all, and I did it while accompanied by three strangers. After we brought another vicious monster to its knees, they simply vanished. Perhaps, they were victims of the foulest of the dark arts, a sinister force called a “disconnection” or maybe they called it “quits”. Regardless. I merely smiled, for only the True King of Gothicus remained, and Big Daddy J had his eyes on all the shiny loot.
If there’s one thing that’s for certain. Dungeon Hunter: Alliance will not win any prizes for its story. In a nutshell, it involves a murdered King (the protagonist) who is brought back to life by a fairy. Our hero’s goal? To confront his murderer (who also turns out to be his wife, i.e. the current Queen Regent) and to stop her from bringing the Dark Fairy (kind of like Chuthulu) from the Great Beyond. It may sound like typical fantasy slop, but Dungeon Hunter: Alliance never attempts to be anything but a classic hack & slash game. There are no delusions of grandeur, or an attempt to appeal to story snobs. Nay… Dungeon Hunter knows what it is, and it knows what needs to be done. After all, in dungeon crawler circles, it’s all about the body count, copious amounts of enemies, frustrating boss characters and huge dungeons to crawl through. Where most role-playing games are story-orientated or even character-centric,hack & slash games are all about pillaging villages and mounting heads on pikes (or at least unleashing the fury while underground).
It’s in this aspect that Dungeon Hunter: Alliance absolutely shines. The dungeons are huge and varied, and more importantly they’re bursting with monsters and enemies. With such a large number of lambs to the slaughter, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that loot features strongly. Dungeon Hunter isn’t shy about handing out prized items either, and in fact, an upgrade to your sword, staff or armour could be hidden on your next… victim. There are plenty of eye candy in terms of armour sets and weaponry (with even more purchasable from NPC shopkeepers) to keep any would-be mage, rogue or warrior content. With loot flowing so freely, veteran dungeon crawlers may be concerned about storage space. Nevertheless, the game has included an ability to transmute unwanted goods into coin. This can even be done automatically by setting a filter and specifying an item level or if you really wanted to, manually as well.
The game features a levelling-up system that’s similar to many other role-playing games. Players gain experience points by killing their enemies, and once a new level is gained, points can be spent on either the strength, dexterity, endurance and energy (Mana) attributes. While armour and weapon sets may not have class-specific restrictions, what you wear and carry is governed by the aforementioned attributes. In essence, you could be a sword-wielding mage or even a rogue carrying a battle-axe, however it will mean moving points to an attribute that’s essentially worthless for your class. In addition, a separate skills section exists where points can be allocated to class-specific special attacks and passive abilities. These include defensive or offensive abilities for warriors or mind-blowing range attacks for mages and rogues, or even abilities that can be beneficial to a party of adventures.
Characters are also accompanied by a fairy. Initially, this tiny winged creature serves as a guide to the world of Gothicus. She introduces gamers to various aspects of the game world. However, as more fairies join your cause, they become intrinsic to the story and the game. It also helps that each fairy has a devastating special attack and an uncanny ability to find hidden treasure.
While the Dungeon Hunter franchise may have originated on Apple’s iOS platform, the conversion to PS Vita has been fantastic. It makes excellent use of the PS Vita’s auxiliary features. Your character’s fairy companion can be controlled either by using the Vita’s right stick, or alternatively through touch (by using the touchpad on the back of the Vita). The character profile and inventory screens are all accessible via touch, and the ability to zoom in and out are also present. Special attacks can be unleashed using the touch. While the use of touch may not be as ground-breaking for tablet users, the crux lies with how it’s been incorporated for the Vita’s version of the game, and the result is an “almost perfect” marriage between classical control schemes and touchscreen shenanigans. The game even makes use of the Vita’s built-in gyroscope, which forces you to shake your Vita to regain control of your character after he has been stunned by an attack.
Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is all about bloodied axes, arrows raining on enemies and hair-singeing magical spells. Since, the game is channelling other classic dungeon crawlers, there’s less emphasis on story, and more on piling the corpses high (Oh no… think of the children…). The gameplay is surprisingly good, with responsive controls. However the mages and rogues amongst us may take offence to the aiming. While magical staff attacks and arrows generally find their mark, the more weightier spells and range attacks tend to blast off into the netherspace. This is particularly problematic when you’re swarmed by a bunch of foul-smelling zombies or goblins.
Design and Presentation:9/10
The game makes ample use of the PS Vita’s “extra” features, and the ability to use touch is a welcomed addition. In case, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is accused of being merely a tech demo for the PS Vita, the game features a multitude of different areas to explore. These include oppressive and claustrophobic dungeons, bandit-filled forests, castles and even icy caverns filled with frost giants and dragons. Character designs are decent, and the game has a pleasant colourful feel to it.
The lengthy main campaign can be completed all on your lonesome or in a party with 4 other would-be adventurers (ad hoc or even via PSN). With well-over 40 quests, and a Vita-exclusive gladiator-type mode (Pit of Trials) thrown in for good measure, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is well worth a gander. It may not be Diablo III, but fans of the hack & slash genre will find a title that’s bursting with content.
Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is a stunning addition to the PS Vita’s library. While it may lack some of the more grandiose customisation features of other rpgs, it’s hard to fault Gameloft’s hack-and-slash game. The game covers all the necessary bases, and delivers a lengthy and enjoyable romp. The addition of multiplayer adds another dimension to the gameplay, however online cooperative play can be a temperamental beast. Fortunately, cooperative play is saved by the addition of ad hoc connectivity.