Dungeon Keeper iOS Review

… I should have seen it coming.

Those of you that have read a few articles of mine already will already note a certain cynical tone. But let it be said that I am not without my optimism. One such optimism was when EA announced that Dungeon Keeper was coming to iOS.

For those who don’t know, Dungeon Keeper was one of the best of the isometric God Sim-Strategy-Comedy romps that Peter Molyneux’s Bullfrog Productions gave us towards the end of the 90s. You take over a dungeon and build up a sinister enough army to destroy the realm, alone with guidance from the silky smooth voiceover of Richard Ridings. Whilst being as objective and unbiased as possible, it was one of my favourite PC games and will regularly feature in any top 10 list I produce.

Now my alarm bells should have been ringing when I downloaded the “free” app (to purchase this game from the App Store, you impart no money) because I suddenly realised that I had heard nothing about it since that announcement. Not a screenshot, not a video, not a release date, nothing. So I should have sensed disaster.

To be fair, it is visually very nice and colourful. With some brilliantly realised character animations, remembering that these creatures looked really cool back in the original game. However within three seconds it becomes very busy on your screen. What are these meters all over my eye line? Gold of course is needed, which in this version is mined from an actual mine, as opposed to your imps taking it from the wall. But there is suddenly a “Stone Mine” and the need to harvest gems from the wall. Which also allow the speeding up of tasks… If you can see where I’m heading, skip two paragraphs.

If you haven’t skipped, you start a tutorial by having your devilish imps appear. You remember those little cute things you could slap and chuck around who’d make loads of noise? They are your workforce for this game and do your bidding. They start getting to work by clearing out some wall space for rooms. Once they start, they then get this little green icon with a timer and a gem in it. These gems will allow you to speed up the time it takes for the task to be done. All of these gems are occasionally found but are mostly available as an in-app purchase. Digging out the outer wall to expand your dungeon and acquire these gems takes approximately 4 hours per tile, real time. All of the fun and humour of these creatures and indeed the game is now apparent by its complete absence.

Now all the rooms cost Gold and/or stone, each has its own minion much like the original game to help you conquer, and gives you a little extra bonus. However the time it would take to save the resources will force the less patient/casual gamer into buying the extras. Added are the various traps you can lay to stop people raiding your dungeon. The slight multiplayer aspect is that you can raid other dungeons and yours can be raided, essentially turning the game from the hilarity it was before into a tower defence game. Everything you do slowly levels your dungeon up from its heart and of course, costs more purchase-renewable resource.

If you have skipped, I’m sorry to report that they’ve bastardised the concept of Bullfrog’s excellent achievement and turned it in to a skin of Farmville. This is basically Dungeonville to coin a probably already used phrase. It is very hard to review a free casual game that by design takes four hours to bust a certain wall down. You may think I’m being unfair and not seeing it for what it is, a casual game, designed to be played on lunch breaks, that utilises the nostalgia of players of the original to create a cash-in… Oh. That’s what it is.

I’d like to think that as a reviewer of video games, we all want something good. We don’t want to trash something that we love, no matter how easy it is to do so. But I think the luxury of writing for TheGameJar and through non-official print medium allows me to be a bit more open and honest as to what a game can be, especially when it is so blatant and shameless in conforming to a gaming stereotype that started five years ago with Plants Vs Zombies and the aforementioned Farmville. Casual mobile gaming has always swayed massively to a lot easier and simpler pick-up-and-play formats like Candy Crush, Bejeweled and Angry Birds. To me, Dungeon Keeper iOS is in gaming terms purely a backward and outdated move, completely misjudging its audience and far and away wasting a prime opportunity that the iOS platform allows. Just look at how good a job has been made of Lego Star Wars/Lord of The Rings, Sonic, Grand Theft Auto 3/Vice City/San Andreas, Minecraft, Transport Tycoon, Baldur’s Gate, Monkey Island, et al.

This is not the isometric game of nostalgia’s past and I was wrong to even hope that it might be. But given the obvious comparisons that other publishers have created, EA are severely lacking in the mobile department. It does make me worry because when you look at the plethora of isometric strategy games they could release, it makes you shiver to ponder that they could ruin them: Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Black & White, Theme Hospital. Then I remember what they did to Theme Park a few years ago… I should have seen it coming.

Summary

Dungeon Keeper in name, voiceover and licence alone. Free to play, but in the same way that condoms are free in sexual health clinics for birth control, the latter being a concept that should have been exercised here.

Good Points

– Casual gaming at its most familiar, so an easy learning curve.
– Visually very nice, new slightly less adult animations and designs
– Runs very smoothly, as smooth as Richard Ridings voice.

Bad Points

– Surgically removed all fun and humour.
– Completely different concept to its original namesake
– Even by casual games standards, very limited appeal and quick to lose interest in.

Why a 3?

Because there are enough games like this around, and the opportunity to do something great and resurrect a brilliant game, era and style of gaming has been completely missed. But somewhere a team of people has spent time designing and making cool looking little evil minions and they should be credited for their efforts.

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