Dungeon Keeper: The Original
Developer: Bullfrog Productions
Price: Less than a packet of crisps and a bottle of coke at your local shop.
Lately, the recent introduction of a Dungeon Keeper game to mobile platforms has lured me into revisiting an old favourite on the computer; the original Dungeon Keeper games. Quite possibly one of the finest games ever released – in my humble opinion – the original dungeon keeper games including Dungeon Keeper Gold, the Deeper Dungeons and Dungeon Keeper 2 are overwhelmingly addictive, absolutely original and full of exciting challenges and charming intrigue. If you’ve never played before – what is wrong with you, go and buy this game, it’ll probably cost you a couple of pounds at most for hours of unbeatable fun. Basically, you lead a good old-fashioned home-grown brigade of demons and hellish horrors just like mom used to make, from giant spiders to fire-breathing dragons, in a campaign of violence and corruption against the would-be heroes of each world you visit. Starting with a reasonably stark chamber you, as a kind of Hell God (think the Sims with more screaming and battles), are required to command your devilish workforce into creating a dungeon fit for a quickly multiplying mass of monstrous minions. As various nefarious creatures begin to join your cause, you must plan your moves strategically, whilst encouraging them to:
and kill for you.
The realm of dungeon keeper is somewhat whimsical and bizarre, but it’s also engrossing, exciting and endlessly interesting. One of my favourite features about the game is that it starts you off with basically nothing – no hints or tips on how you should progress or move forwards, you’re left to figure things out for yourself and learn as you go. Of course, you know the basic information – you’re evil, you have a dungeon, and you’re going to take over the world, which requires getting rid of a few meddling heroes and rivals. From there, you begin to discover new rooms, traps, spells and minions, learning the quirks and tricks to making yourself ever more powerful as you destroy each adorably named town in a hail of hellfire and torture. The creatures themselves are fascinating – for example, one of the very first you’ll attract to your dungeon with the help of a library is the warlock. Warlocks will willingly devote their time to constantly researching new spells and rooms in your Library, and are often the best researchers you can get, but they hate being disturbed, and will end up shooting fireballs at anyone trying to interrupt their reading – this means you should probably keep your library out of the way of your treasure room. Furthermore, they can’t –stand- the sight of vampires, and the feeling of hatred is mutual, meaning that if these two creatures end up sharing a lair they’ll quickly be at each other’s’ throats in a duel to the death that really doesn’t serve your interests as an all-powerful deity attempting to achieve world domination.
Each aspect and creature within the game is created with the same level of attention to detail, and there’s really far too many tricks and considerations for any human reviewer to cover – but why would you want to read about it? When a game has this much depth, the best way to figure it all out is to go and play for yourself, find out what works for you and revel in the joy of seeing your creatures destroy everything in their path as you grow ever stronger on the road to victory. Released in 1997 and now almost 17 years old, the original Dungeon Keeper is still engaging enough to hold its own against newer, glitzier titles. The 2D sprites give each creature their own personality and depth, and you can even possess them, learning their names as you roam around a vast, albeit blocky, 3D realm, casting spells, doing battle, levelling up or simply destroying an enemy dungeon heart. Whilst the game appeals more heavily to the patient gamer, interspersing intense battles with relatively long periods of research and training creatures, this helps to make the overall experience more immersive, leaving you with that blissful feeling of accomplishment when those blessed words are announced: ‘You have conquered this realm.’
Dungeon Keeper: The Mobile Version
Platforms: iOS and Android
Price: Your childhood memories, Soul and Sense of developing wonder.
Now I have heard that EA are hell-bent on removing any review of the mobile dungeon keeper app that falls below a level of five-stars or so, meaning how long this post survives is currently balancing on a rather fragile foundation, but let’s go ahead and talk about it anyway. I’m not a game developer, so I suppose I can’t fully understand the reason why EA and Mythic have committed this terrible crime, but for me, it is difficult to see a reason why the original dungeon keeper couldn’t have worked on mobile devices more or less the way it already stood. Dungeon keeper as a concept was a relatively simple RTS relying largely on the autonomy of minions and their interactions with one another and various facilities, to make it engaging and fun. Combined with a pretty small-scale level of controls and little reliance on over-the-top graphics, it should have been an ideal candidate for evolution into a mobile game. However, for some reason, Mythic and EA decided to completely ignore the possibility of keeping things generally the same, opting instead to ‘successfully’ reboot the franchise by destroying everything that made it great. “Your minions are vandalizing your dungeon!”
Perhaps the biggest crime that this reboot has committed is making the beating, throbbing heart of your very own dungeon into a robotic husk of processes and functions, a conveyer belt of upgrades from one space to another with no attempt at a life or personality of its own. Nothing exists to create the world we once knew, and the thrill of building your own dungeon with your own creatures is replaced by a series of mechanical tracks you must follow in order to progress. Everything you get is there simply so you can unlock something else. The hatchery for example – remember the fun of slapping around your chickens and watching your minions hunt for food in their own various ways? In the mobile reboot, the hatchery doesn’t even feed your creatures, it just unlocks the ability for you to hire more of them. Training rooms don’t train your creatures, they just unlock the ability to have them gain levels. Trolls don’t build your traps and doors in workshops, there are no fights between vampires and warlocks, spiders and flies, everything is just hollow – devoid of any soul.
Sickeningly, this sneering imposter attempts to resemble the much-loved essence of dungeon keeper on its surface, occasionally asking you to slap your minions and providing the odd attempt at humour, but the silly remarks and vivid colours lack the dark, teasing edge that made the original game so very compelling. Maybe the only thing that Mythic got right here was the audio effects. For example, new rooms ‘thump’ into place satisfyingly, and the voice of the horned reaper is just about spot-on, much like the scraping pickaxes and scurrying feet of imps – but that’s it. That’s all you get to remind you of better times. Funnily enough, Mythic originally described their attempt at a dungeon keeper update for your mobile device as a ‘twisted take’ on the original series, and they were probably right with this description – just not in the way that they had hoped. The ‘evil is good’ atmosphere that we once loved has been perverted and morphed into something truly horrifying. That seductive, fun idea of ‘Evil’ that came with the original dungeon keeper, speaking in a deep, rolling voice and showing you how to look good in skin-tight leather, has been replaced by a vicious con-man, distracting you with skin-crawling smiles as he steals the cash straight out of your pocket. “Beware, the Lord of the Land approaches.”