Hot off our recent report on the changing landscape for games that are heavily inspired by other titles comes a release that, at least superficially, takes a lot from one of the most well-received iOS titles of 2011. Yes, Dungeon Story [Free] looks very similar to Dungeon Raid [$1.99 / Free], and the underlying match-3 gameplay feels very familiar (if not as aptly executed). However, some significant differences in character progression, battles, and long-term playability make enough of a difference for Dungeon Story to stand on its own.
It's easy to describe Dungeon Story if you've played games like Dungeon Raid. If you're one of the few that haven't played such a title, Dungeon Story is a match-3 puzzler with RPG elements built into the matching. Littered across the field are swords, hearts, coins and elements. Match swords to deal physical damage, elements for magical damage, hearts to recover health, and coins to go into your bank. Meanwhile, you're constantly being pitted against various enemies that attack you in turn-based fashion. Each dispatched monster leads to a stronger one, and you go on until you inevitably succumb.
As you can tell from the above, Dungeon Story plays very similarly to Dungeon Raid. However, there are a lot of subtle differences. The 'magic' system is simplified and restricted to a simple defend/heal/damage mechanism. Defense is now a static attribute (with shields as a collectible nonexistent). Enemies aren't icons on the field, but rather exist as a perpetual antagonist. In addition, the inclusion of fire and ice elements and the concept of combo spells add a little bit of strategy to dealing damage.
The biggest change with Dungeon Story, however, is its persistency of levels and attributes with your characters. Rather than every match being a (mostly) self-contained adventure, experience and levels carry over in Dungeon Story. In addition, all the money you earn can be used to purchase permanent upgrades across variety of different ways (which typically go towards base stat increases).
I think this change shifts the dynamic in Dungeon Story significantly. A lot of the tension felt in fast-paced self-contained matches in titles like Dungeon Raid is replaced by a long-term 'grind-oriented' feel. On one hand, each match isn't as significant as other games might portray them to be. However, every match is still a significant part of the whole as the experience, money and levels earned in each match is carried on. It's an interesting change, and one that I think goes a long way towards differentiating Dungeon Story from other similar games.
This change also goes a long way towards the inclusion of multiplayer, which is can be played via bluetooth or Game Center and is directly affected by your current levels and stat line. For that matter, while the inclusion of multiplayer is a nice addition, I didn't find it particularly significant.
Unfortunately, there are a few aspects of Dungeon Story that I wish were emulated better from other games. The actual match-3 mechanic of tracing a line to match icons leaves a lot to be desired. Long-traces occasionally don't register if you don't end your match exactly on top of an icon. In addition, the game doesn't have any animations to show what you match and what new icons fall onto the field of play. In addition, you can't see how much your damage would be before finishing an attack (the same goes for recovering health). These may sound like minor offenses, but when the entirety of the game is focused on matching, every imperfection no matter how small gets magnified.
Dungeon Story is one of those strange games where a quick glance at how it looks would lead one to conclude that it's a straight clone on Dungeon Raid. Fortunately, that's far from the case, as I think Story adds a lot of features and changes that streamline the gameplay while expanding it for replaybility. While the implementation isn't perfect, and the visuals (partially due to the near copying) are lackluster, there's enough here to check out.
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