Most people hear the phrase “dungeon crawler” and they run screaming from the room. XSEED Games’ Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground deserves better treatment, being more than just your average dungeon crawler. Brought to you by the gang that recently put out Valhalla Knights, this combination simulation and role-playing game is two parts SimCity, one part Diablo, and good fun for every gamer (even those with dungeon crawler phobias).
The setup is simple: an ambitious novice dungeon maker - that's you - arrives at a town plagued by monsters. After buying a vast plot of land outside the town walls, you begin to design a dungeon, buying building materials and items to spruce up the décor from the townsfolk. The overall goal is to have a ten-level dungeon with a high floor-rating on each level. Higher floor ratings will attract the toughest monsters carrying the best loot - and maybe even the legendary Wandering Demon down on level 10.
Once you've built the dungeon and attracted its denizens, it's time to go stab them all until they stop breathing. Gameplay functions like a hack-n-slash RPG. Your primary weapon is usually a sharp object (sword, spear, etc.) and you can acquire a bow for a ranged weapon. Magic spell books are your best bet however, with the ability to handle entire mobs at once. Switching between these three seems a bit hectic - the primary weapon is mapped to the O Button instead of the X Button - but because combat isn’t turn-based, flailing around might pay off more than strategy.
Dungeon Maker manages to break a few modern RPG conventions. For starters, you can only level up by preparing a “daily meal” before going to sleep at night to replenish your HP/MP (silver wolf pie, yum!). The game is also scant on plot, unlike other RPGs of the day, despite being heavy on character design (we saw everything from sexy twins to effeminate museum curators in the tiny town). Finally, Dungeon Maker bucks the trend of most dungeon crawlers by granting you a warp spell right from the get-go that can be used during boss battles.
Overall, Dungeon Maker is a well-rounded game. Accessibility, a challenge level that's easy without being boring, and the ability to erase entire floors of your dungeon to start from scratch all line up to make for a promising pick for the PSP. And thanks to the ad hoc feature, you can inflict your dungeon upon your friends once it gets at least three floors deep. But the best thing we can say about Dungeon Maker is that after days and days of building multi-level dungeons with a 70+ rating per floor, we’re still not sick of this game.