Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts
Not the blockbuster you were expecting (were you?) But there's not much to hate here, either.
The retro gamer is an interesting character. Swiping furiously to keep your newfangled Wii60stations at a distance, he can be heard cursing your Z-axis and bump-mapping. He huddles over a computer screen, running emulators to play the games he grew up on, since "today's games are just missing something". The only thing that's missing, however, is the energy and youthful bliss of his elementary school days. Since he came into the adult world, all he's collected is a boring job, a few inches on his waist, and a hatred for all the forces that took from him the happy existence he once knew. He spits on your Assassin's Creed. Instead, he loses himself in the fine-tuned nuances and elegant beauty of Castelian.
How do I know all of this? Because I am that retro gamer. Actually, that's not true: I'm nowhere near as pathetic as that description (or so I hope). I love my Wii and plan on buying an Xbox 360 or PS3 someday. I follow the gaming scene on all fronts, particularly the handhelds. I'm very pleased with the technological prowess that Sony and Microsoft display, and the innovation to which Nintendo is committed. As I see it, both forces will greatly enhance the gaming world. I would never look down my nose at a game simply because it wasn't made before the Clinton administration. Also, my jeans from 9th grade still fit just fine, and I'm quite happy with my life (heck, I'm getting free games!).
Yet I would never deny that I have a huge spot in my heart for the games of the past. You can find me diving into a vintage game at least once a week. While I fully understand that part of it is simple nostalgia, there's no doubt that those games are the forefathers of all that we cramp our thumbs with today. Just as many music scholars and elitists consider classical compositions to be the best and purest form of all music, I don't see any issue with someone who holds the games of the 80's and 90's in that same regard (not the 70's, though... the Magnavox Odyssey is like cavemen banging rocks together).
Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts clings to the past with much vigor. Though the scenery is modeled with polygons, the gameplay is purely two dimensional. Using an isometric view, your movement is strictly confined to the X and Y axes. Gameplay like this would have felt right at home on the NES. Whether or not that sounds exciting to you will probably indicate if this is a game for you. At its core, the mechanics are quite simple: walk, fight, buy, talk. These are all attributes of a standard action RPG, and old school gamers should feel quite at home in this world.
Though we hold a soft spot for our pixelated forefathers, we expect some progressive changes over the years. Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts shows mild evolution. Like in the original, there are several different classes to choose from. These are your standard medieval classes with typical strengths and weaknesses. However, the growth of your character is fairly impressive. You have many opportunities to level up through purchased equipment as well as through learning the titular "arts". These are magic spells that let you attack enemies in varying styles. As expected, different arts work better for defeating different enemies, but if you're anything like me you'll likely find a particular art that you enjoy and stick with it. Also, the ever-increasing "quest" mechanic made popular by Grand Theft Auto appears, as you are given various detailed quests. These act more like a guide to progressing through the game, but there is some flexibility as to which quests you complete next. Also, you can tackle multiple quests at once, similar to World of Warcraft. Zelda-style minor side-quests are also present. Like the observant young chimp, Dungeon Explorer observed the world around him and picked up the desirable traits of leading alpha males so that he could grow and survive. That statement was unnecessarily deep.
It's hard to find much to complain about in this game. Unoriginality is one possible grievance, but it doesn't hurt the overall product. Indeed, many critically acclaimed blockbusters aren't terribly unique. God of War: Chains of Olympus, for example, doesn't radically alter the gaming world the way that Super Mario Bros or Doom did, but it's still an incredibly awesome game. My main gripe with Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts is actually not the fault of the developer. Being set in an isometric world, most doors and paths in Dungeon Explorer require that you move the character in a diagonal direction. On the DS Lite, I find that using diagonals on the d-pad is quite awkward. This didn't really come to my attention until I was trying to shoot at a 45 degree angle in Contra 4. Again, I can't place the blame completely on Hudson Soft, but I did find myself walking in straight horizontal or vertical lines whenever possible.
Others reviews that I've read about this game complain that the gameplay is repetitive. This is quite irksome to me. The fact that one doesn't enjoy the gameplay would of course mean that they'd find the gameplay repetitive. Here's something you may not know about me: I don't like being kicked in the groin. Also, I find being kicked in the groin 42 times in a row to be very repetitive. Repetition is present in all games, and, for that matter, all things! If a person enjoys a particular activity, he or she will probably enjoy doing it many times over. Take Tetris. Classic and groundbreaking title which revolutionized gaming? Yes. Repetitive? Obscenely. Let's not stretch our critiques any longer than they need to be. Speaking of which, excuse me while I make my way off of this soapbox.
While there is nothing particularly exceptional about Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts, there's also no major flaws. If you're a self-proclaimed old school gamer who isn't looking for something that will change your life, you will most likely enjoy this title. Hudson Soft sets out to deliver an updated version of the 1989 TurboGrafx-16 action RPG; that's exactly what they do.
What's Hot: Appealing gameplay; solid progression; old-school charm
What's Not: Nothing terribly new here; isometric controls can be annoying