| Dungeon Maker
Picture the PC classic Dungeon Keeper (but with cute animé graphics) crossed with the film Groundhog Day and you're halfway to understanding what Dungeon Maker is like to play.
Only halfway though, because Dungeon Maker is curiously difficult to describe. It's got both the critter-collecting of a Pokemon title (but none of the adventuring) and the sedate pace of Harvest Moon (but without the cabbages).
Unusually for a game in this genre, Dungeon Maker feels ageless. Not like Nicole Kidman, but more in the way that any age group could play it. It's got cute visuals, but it's got pin-sharp humour too. It's easy to play - those fans of a more hardcore dungeon trawler might say too easy - but despite the lightweight menus, it's still an epic slog to the end.
This slog begins with your 12-year-old character discovering a talking shovel, swiftly followed by the town's mayor offering to swap cash in exchange for help ridding the town of a plague of Snake Apples.
The way, it seems, to get rid of these pesky monsters is by heading down into some caves and digging a dank dungeon pad these creatures will find irresistible. Leave it overnight and in the morning the caves are - hopefully - full of monsters that you can subsequently kill. Then (vegetarians cover your eyes) cook up into a nutritious, point levelling-up meal.
It's not exactly a match for SimCity, this dungeon designing. Instead, your tools only entrench the most basic of grid-based designs into the soil. It's a very restricted process, too, thanks to the magic shovel's limited magic power, which initially only lets you dig out about ten squares of earth before you have to go home to bed, and also the meagre selection of dungeon rooms available at the furniture shop.
It's worth mentioning that Dungeon Maker curiously doesn't make use of the DS stylus at all - a strange omission for a DS game based around designing things. Its absence highlights the fact the design options are so simple it doesn't actually need it. It's very to easy to wander around your dungeon repeatedly pressing 'A' in order to bulldoze corridors, and 'B' in a blank space to place a room.
Things luckily take a turn for the challenging at around the point your first boss turns up. Not only does it offer a decent fight compared to the easy early turn-based fights against boring bats and goblins, but it also heralds the beginning of a new level to your cave and more rooms for sale - goblin -attracting bars, altars for getting ghosts and fireplaces for the fire monsters.
It emerges the order you place these rooms in inside your dungeon determines the items you get. It's a bit convoluted but basically placing three rooms around one square means three monsters spawn for you to fight at once, the last of which drops an item (if you only fight one or two monsters at a time, they often don't drop anything). The mayor starts to offer incentives too and other characters lurking in the town square screen ask for items in return for new magic and other items.
Your party size increases with two new characters - one that levels up by mimicking other monsters, offering a new reason to attract new ones, and another more magic-focussed one. All the while, your ever-increasingly deep dungeon is attracting new monsters which, in turn, can be turned into tasty food at the end of a hard day's dungeon slogging and converted into stats like speed, strength, and health.
Still, things never really take off. The problem is that, gratifying as it is to clear out your dungeon every morning then sell the items you've collected for cash in the shops, it's also massively repetitive.
It's addictive, in a similar way to something like The Sims. Where the game's biggest problems lie are with the dungeon designing itself and the fact that creating a massive monster-capturing empire isn't much fun when its creation just means you need to fight twenty monsters before you can reach your newest floor and complete your current objective. The best way to avoid them being to delete bits of it again so you're not bothered by the easy monsters.
The game's presentation is on the ropey side - for instance, your character doesn't change in appearance no matter what armour your dress him up in. The turn-based battles fare better, even if the monsters you fight do look like they've been lifted from some book of generic animé RPG sprites. You at least kit up with interesting items that dish out random instant kills and a range of magic potions.
These shortcomings are easy to forgive if you're after an easy-to-play dungeon trawler, because Dungeon Maker has just enough charm and accessibility to make up for them. But those of us hoping for a little more from a game with an appealing concept will be disappointed. After all that digging, you never quite strike gold.