There’s little more exciting than receiving a new gadget or piece of technology, as many of you will no doubt attest following the annual exchange of gifts.
When that gadget replaces an older version, the first thing we tend to do is compare. The improvements stand out as revelatory, while the areas in which it fails to improve, or where the product appears to regress, hurt all the more.
While Dungeon Defenders: First Wave is an impressively ambitious game with visuals situated on the bleeding edge of Android technology, some of the mistakes it makes hark back to the early days of smartphone gaming.
Getting all defensive
At the game’s heart is an innovative combination of action-RPG and tower defence mechanics. Alternating between building and combat phases, your chosen hero takes on the joint-responsibility of general and foot soldier.
At the beginning of each stage - invariably set in a cavernous dungeon arena - you set about building your defences, which are unique to each of the four hero types (a sword-wielding squire, a mage, an archer, and a warrior monk). These range across a variety of physical blockades, magical long-range turrets and a number of variations in between.
Once you’ve spent all your mana (obtained from chests and defeated enemies) it’s onto the combat phase, where you can wade into the fight like in any number of action RPGs (think Dungeon Hunter). Hammering a virtual 'attack' button causes you to lay into the nearest enemy, while special abilities can also be brought into play.
As with any other RPG worth its salt, defeating enemies yields both experience points and loot, both of which contribute to the endless cycle of character progression that drives you through the game.
Form over function
Dungeon Defenders is a showcase game, no doubt about it. Alongside Reckless Racing, there’s no better game for stretching the legs of your new Android phone.
The trouble is, this ambition goes unchecked, and some familiar mistakes are made as a result. In setting out to make a console-standard game for mobile, Trendy Entertainment has failed to hone the experience for mobile play.
The controls are an unruly mess, with numerous large virtual buttons cluttering up the screen (even on the sizeable four-inch display of my Galaxy S). Placing units with your finger can be frustratingly imprecise, with your finger covering your view, and camera control is also hit and miss.
Similarly, the numerous menu systems are all over the place – one even forcing you to twist to a portrait view.
Meanwhile, the bright, detailed visuals become a liability when you jump into the fray for a skirmish, and everything becomes an indistinguishable mess of clashing steel and armour. Again, it would work just fine on a 32-inch screen – not so much on one an eighth of the size.
Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
The length of the levels, too, is more at home on console than it is on mobile. Each level just takes too long to complete for a mobile game. Starting up a level in Campaign mode is only advisable on extended journeys or in the comfort of your own home.
Another disappointment is Dungeon Defenders’s technical shortcomings. Even played on a Galaxy S running version 2.2 of Android, I experienced considerable slowdown whenever things got a little hectic.
Given that Samsung’s device is listed as 'high-end' on the developer’s own spec sheet, it’s disappointing that it doesn’t run better.
As it is, if you wish to play Dungeon Defenders as the developer originally intended, you’ll probably have to wait for the dual-core devices to hit the market (or, hopefully, a software update).
Best laid plans
These failings are a real shame, as Dungeon Defenders contains elements of a truly absorbing, triple-A action-strategy title. The inclusion of online co-operative play (competitive should follow in an update) in particular extends the game’s appeal considerably, although it can be hard to coordinate effectively unless you’re playing locally.
There’s a group of players who will no doubt love Dungeon Defenders despite its evident flaws, who will overlook its many shortcomings and revel in its bloody-minded console-game ambitions.
Those who’ve played their fair share of smartphone games, however, will wonder if the developer has played any at all over the past three years.
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