We like RPGs, especially ones that remind us of anything Link used to do; we enjoy ridding the world of evil by slaying Orcs and Goblins and all other manner of evil lifeforms. Dungeon & Hero is a classic overhead action RPG in that tradition. Alas, though certain parts of the game look fantastic, Link himself would run screaming from its frustrating controls and exceedingly painful leveling process.
D&H makes a great first impression. All the loading and menus screens are adorned with beautiful anime illustrations, the game boots up quickly, and the fit and finish is top notch. You have your choice of three characters, each of whom are geared towards a specific play style. To that end, you’re also allotted a few points to customize your character’s stats, so giving your avatar a few extra tics in the right category (Strength, Stamina, etc.) can make the difference between a completed mission and abject failure.
Unfortunately for us all, D&H starts to drop off a cliff almost immediately. The lovely still images on the menu screens give way to a blocky, ugly game screen with graphics that wouldn’t have impressed us in 1994, let alone 2009. It’s this type of disconnect that frustrates us: if the interface is attractive and well laid out, why does the game itself look so bad? We almost wish the developer had made it consistent by knocking the UI down to the level of the in-game graphics. On the other hand, the sound effects and music are straight out of the 16-bit era, and that is more of a compliment than an insult, although the music plays in very short loops.
Playing D&H is a bit like eating a jelly doughnut right after someone stole the jelly–the table is set for an appetizing experience, but the first bite is an unpleasant wake-up call. For instance, the game allows you to explore the levels freely, but it doesn’t give you the tools you need to enjoy it. The game’s fake D-pad doesn’t work well at all–we would have much preferred a touch system for movement.
Combat is no better. You can hit the action button to use your weapon when enemies are nearby, but there’s no way to protect yourself from taking damage, and evasive action is very difficult to pull off. Further, your character is dramatically underpowered, even against the enemies at the start of the game. We eventually starting running like cowards from anything remotely sinister-looking, because even if you sneak up and attack a wolf from behind, chances are that you will die very quickly–within a second or two, in most cases. When that happens, you better hope you have saved recently, because the game doesn’t do it for you. If the right enemy hucks a spear at you, you’ll keel over faster than you can blink.
In short, D&H gets the “action” part of “action RPG” horribly wrong. The game has plenty of content, but it’s no fun at all, so its $4.99 price is not money wisely spent. We think that the iPhone has the potential to be a great platform for this style of game, but we’re going to have to keep looking for now.