PS Vita Review – Dungeon Hunter: Alliance

Thanks to its dungeon-crawling and loot-packing emphasis, isometric camera, and somewhat detached story, Dungeon Hunter will bring about comparisons to the PC’s Diablo. Perhaps more appropriately, given how much better these games usually are in multiplayer modes than single player, it should be compared to a few PS2 games such as Champions of Norrath or to a lesser extent Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows. No one will be telling their kids about Alliance‘s tale of the great king resurrected by a fairy who came back to reclaim his crown, and in the months and years to come, you won’t see it popping up in “Best of…” features. Just the same, it does have its niche, and for those people, it could provide a good experience. For most people, however, this is a game with little to no appeal.

Not much has changed in the move from PS3 (via PSN) to PS Vita. PlayStation Move implementation has been replaced with touchscreen features. Most prominently, dragging one’s finger across the back panel can aim the player’s fairy helper. This isn’t the only way to do that, as the right analog stick does that same thing, if you’d prefer. It’s nice that it’s not mandatory, because it’s hard to make it work well, especially in the heat of battle. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same game. Still only three characters, and they’re still all dudes, same story, same…virtually everything.

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is a simple title in which the goal is generally to slice one’s way to the end of a dungeon, take down a powerful boss, and call it a day. As expected of a game like this, enemies will drop all sorts of items, some of which will prove useful, but most of which will end up being sold for a few coins back in the village. Upon leveling up, characters are given a few points which they can distribute as they please, adding a nice, addictive element to the progress scheme. There is a certain excitement to watching that level progress bar go up little by little, and grindaholics might find themselves addicted to the cycle of fighting and growing, fighting and growing, time out to buy and sell stuff, fighting and growing….

Enemies attack in great numbers in DH: Alliance, so there’s no shortage of challenge, especially in a single player run. They might not always have the strength to compete with your hero, but that’s more than made up for when there’s like 17 of them simultaneously charging one of you. There is a certain thrill to surviving a swarm like that, multiplied greatly for those lucky enough to have a friend or two playing alongside. Boss battles provide good thrills as well. They’ve got strong, diverse attacks and never go down easily. There’s no shame in getting beaten once in a while in DH:A, and in a group, I’d suppose it would serve as a lead in to those post-fight conversations that always begin with “Duuuuude.”

Dungeon Hunter is ugly. It’s not just visually unsatisfying in the way that some old games don’t seem to look as sharp as we remember them upon replay, and it’s not just a decent-looking game that falls short of the system’s most stunning graphic displays; no, quite simply, it looks bad. Inside the dungeons or out about in town, there is this constant blurriness, as if the screen has a giant smudge across it. Characters, whether friendly or hostile, will all have one thing in common: a blurry face. Indoor locations have a way of looking especially samey. You won’t get lost in the directional sense, but you won’t get lost in the immersion sense either. New games can look dated and still look good. Nippon Ichi’s ClaDun is a great example of this; its 8-bit look has charm, the player has no trouble telling what’s what, and the environments provide variety. But in Dungeon Hunter, the textures are weird, the most elaborate spell effects aren’t that great, and there’s nothing that stands out as looking even acceptable.

The PS3 version might have gotten away with this, since it was a PSN download-only title for a budget-friendly price of $15, but in Japan, this puppy is selling for 3,000 yen in shops and 2,400 yen in the PSN store (about $40 and $32, respectively). American retailers have the Vita version of this listed for $40 US. With the PS3 version being 15 bones, this version coming along almost a year later should have been no more than $12, and even that might be a tad high. When we’re talking about a re-rehash an iOS title, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance isn’t doing the Vita many favors by appearing in 2012 as a $40 game. In a world where handhelds such as the Vita and 3DS are struggling to convince a certain horde of millions of people that they are superior gaming machines than cellphones, what kind of message does that send?

PS Vita’s version of Dungeon Hunter seems even less relevant when considering that it’s virtually a direct port of the PSN version, which wasn’t too much better than the cellphone version. There are no big changes that would entice older fans of the game to drop money on it a second or third time. The people dedicated enough to want to form a multiplayer group have already done so on another platform, and spending hundreds more dollars to do it again just seems illogical and unlikely.

At the very least, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance does have a niche to satisfy, and it’s at least nice to have some option for a multiplayer RPG right at the Vita’s launch. It’s very disappointing that it had to be nearly a direct port of a game that’s been on PSN for almost a year, and the iPhone/iPod for much longer. If you and your friend or whoever are already planning on getting Vitas, getting this game, and diving head first into some dungeons, don’t let this review stop you; get in there and start the hack-and-slash marathon, because you’ll probably have some good fun with it. Should Gameloft decide to develop a Dungeon Hunter title for the Vita from the ground up, that could really be something to watch, as there’s obviously tons of untapped potential lurking behind Alliance.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Nice to have an option for a multiplayer RPG on Vita; this one in particular has big waves of enemies and challenging bosses.

+/- Virtually the same as the PS3 version…for double the price.

– Boring, shallow, ugly, generic, and not as well put together as other dungeon-crawlers out there.

4 out of 10