Evil on the Go
High: Addictive and satisfying.
Low: Replay doesnít always show what actually happened.
WTF: Chicken-guided anti-air missile.
I had never heard of Dungeon Keeper until I started hearing people on the Internet complaining about the new mobile version. It got so bad that it made the news. Anything that provokes that kind of hate deserves a look. Many folks that knew the original 1997 game may not be able to get past the changes to accommodate a new microtransaction scheme, but this game has got me hooked.
Your dungeon is a large grid of rock and dirt with a beating Dungeon Heart in the middle. You clear out the dirt and build defensive structures around the Heart to defend it against raiding parties: rooms which can spit out buzz saws, mortars, lightning bolts, and soul-draining beams. And special devices you can put in the passageways in between, such as floor spikes, doors, bombs, and chicken-guided anti-air missiles. For this, you need imps, which do the building and harvesting of resources.
For combat, your Dungeon Heart can summon minions of different types. Skeletons are not very powerful, but theyíre the least expensive and are effective in large numbers. Trolls are hardier and do more damage; warlocks are fragile but possess a missile attack that can go over walls. There are others, and they provide an interesting mix of abilities, but I want to make special mention of the vampire, which, for once, is not modeled after Bela Lugosiís Dracula but Nosferatu, the original movie vampire.
All these things cost stone and gold, which your imps gather from the mines at the outer edges of your dungeon. There is an interesting third resource, gems, which can buy you faster builds and upgrades. And anything else you might want, even more stone and gold. As youíre playing, you find out pretty quickly that gems are the only resource worth a damn--the one resource made available for real-money purchase. You can also earn gems in-game, but it is slow going.
Your dungeon can be raided by another person playing Dungeon Keeper when youíre not online. If you built your dungeon well enough, it will successfully beat back the raid with minimal damage. If not, youíll lose some stone and gold and a little pride, but your destroyed rooms will be restored automatically and to their current upgrade level at no extra cost. Your summoned minions can now be used to raid the other guyís dungeon in a revenge attack, provided heís offline by then.
Raiding other peopleís dungeons is the gameís main appeal. In your dungeon, there is the ability to move rooms and traps to other places on the grid, and to dig out or refill squares with dirt at no cost. All of this suggests a gameplay centered around rearranging rooms and traps to improve your dungeonís defenses with every defeat. You can replay the raid and see how they beat it, and you can make the necessary adjustments so it doesnít happen that way again. You can see where they blew a hole in the wall to bypass the traps; what minions they used that you didnít prepare for. Every raid exposes another weakness which brings you back to the game to do another tweak. You can see it was important not to make players start over with building and upgrading rooms that have been destroyed. That would have been fatal.
If youíre the one doing the raiding, there is fun in discovering the advantages that each type of minion can provide and learning to make use of them optimally. Itís not just about blitzing and brute force. Not to say those arenít satisfying.
It doesnít take too long to build and upgrade when youíre first starting out, but as you progress, an upgrade could take days to complete. I donít find this to be too disruptive for a mobile game. There were certainly games before this one that had actions that took days that you can speed up with a purchase. I carry my iPhone with me wherever I go, and Dungeon Keeper is something I can come back to several times throughout the day. If my imp is doing something that will take a while, I just close the game and do something else.
There is nothing you have to buy that is critical to making the game playable, but if you choose to buy, each gem comes out to no more than a penny each. Itís loose change. Still, I feel itís better spent being tossed into the water fountain at the mall.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the iPad 2. Approximately 50 hours were devoted to single player.
Parents: iTunes App Store rates this 9+ (ďmild mature, suggestive, or horror-themed content which may not be suitable for children under the age of 9Ē).
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Nothing essential that requires hearing.