‘Dungeon Keeper’ review: money raid (iOS/Android)

February 6, 2014
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The original Dungeon Keeper was one of the more memorable simulations on PC back in 1997, and it happened to be Peter Molyneux's final game for Bullfrog Productions. It stood out for its dark humor and charm at a time when such things where much less commonplace. And due to its relatively simplistic design, it didn't seem unreasonable that EA would revive Dungeon Keeper on smartphones and tablets, especially given the recent trend of similar PC ports.

But even if EA wants to call this Dungeon Keeper, it's not meant for the PC game's original audience, even if the new game's attempt at humor tries to convince you otherwise. This can only appeal to two very specific types of audiences: really rich people who won't mind paying a lot of money to play a free-to-play mobile game without interruption or those who won't mind playing a dungeon simulator in very small bursts only a couple times a day.

If you're lucky enough to be part of either group, then you can look forward to a mildly challenging but ultimately boring mix of dungeon defending and raid missions. Strategy lies in effectively using troops on defense while also placing traps to defend your dungeon's heart, which also spawns your minions. Of course, you have to stay proactive and send out troops to attack the enemy heart as well. You're also incentivized to expand your dungeon by send imps to dig through walls and create new rooms. With more rooms comes the opportunity for more resources, but don't expect to have territories as large as the ones back in 1997. The maps this time around are notably smaller, and unfortunately they're also devoid of secrets.

The game's scant attempts at recapturing the feel of the original game are disappointing. Normally, having minions sounds exciting and can instill a harmless sense of power, but since you cannot manually control your troops, you end up feeling more like a Tower Defense novice than an actual ruler of the underworld. And worst of all, the once-important gold and stones that were valued in the previous game have now been rendered secondary to the new game's true currency: gems.

These gems are at the center of Dungeon Keeper's unfortunate pricing model. Gems offer opportunities to advance in nearly every aspect of the game. That includes speedier digging, added boosts, and more resources. But it's most useful when it comes to advancing time. In a way, under the cartoony facade is a simulator that feels like it's functioning in real time. If imps were real, I certainly could imagine such a creature taking 24 hours to dig out a room. But that doesn't exactly translate into a fun game. And if your minions fail at a raid, expect to wait even longer before you can try again.

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There's nothing in Dungeon Keeper that you can't access provided that you have ample money and/or time. If you choose the latter, expect to hit a wall early in the game, because time-based limitations appear shortly after the tutorial ends. But there are enough things in real life that put us at the mercy of time; having such restrictions in a game that's not very good anyway feels beyond unnecessary.

Even if you're the thrifty type who'll be happy to wait to complete an excavation without paying a dime, you might find that Dungeon Keeper's methods of notification are downright obnoxious. The game will yell at you when tasks have been completed when your device is locked, which can be annoying if you're in public or in bed. Imagine riding in a crowded elevator while the iPad in your messenger bag exclaims, "Your minions are seeking attention!" or "Your building is complete!"

Whatever this game is, it's greatly disappointing that the name of such a well-regarded PC game is being dragged along behind it. Considering how much EA was playing up the nostalgia angle in the months leading up to Dungeon Keeper's release, it's insulting that PC enthusiasts would buy into this pricing model, especially when you can get the gold edition of the original game for $6 on gog.com. As such, it's a mild blessing that this poor excuse for a reboot is free. You're welcome to see how far you can get before EA starts asking for your money, because it won't take long.

  • Dungeon Keeper
  • Developer: EA Mythic
  • Publisher: EA Mobile
  • Platform: iOS (played), Android
  • Price: Free
  • In-app Purchases? Yes (in the worst possible way)
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

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