Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dungeon Explorer

Hudson Soft / Atlus / NEC

While Neutopia was content with dressing itself up in nice, cartoony graphics and performing a fairly uninspired Zelda-imitator shtick, Dungeon Explorer found a way to murder the classic from which it borrowed its fundamental play mechanics. Ironically, DE's massacre of Gauntlet had little to do with the adventure elements it added to the mix (as it really doesn't feature much of a narrative); rather, it established its superiority by refining the action aspects it mimicked. As in Gauntlet, players view the proceedings from an overhead perspective and launch swords-and-sorcery-themed projectile attacks as they dash about labyrinthine environments. But there is no barreling through enemy lines here; one can't apply the tried-and-true Gauntlet stratagem of lowering one's head and plowing through armies of grunts and ghosts (in what designers laughably dubbed "melee combat"). Hit-point totals in DE are never stratospheric, and progress is best made methodically. Yet, combat is heavy, and the opposition, relentless, making the game one hell of a success as an action-based TurboChip.

But excellent gameplay is not what DE is most commonly lauded for. This title is renowned for the remarkable quality of its audio and always mentioned early on in conversations about the greatest HuCard soundtracks. It boasts a dynamic collection of compositions and shows remarkable range on the part of the composer by shooting from the amazingly catchy (and strangely Earth, Wind, & Fire-ish) second-maze tune to the enchanting melody that haunts those who venture into Alexis' tower.

Gauntlet, too, has interesting music. It also (in its NES incarnation) requires players to participate in absurd scavenger hunts for "clues" that enable them to access the lair of a dopey end-dragon. No such nonsense plagues the DE experience, but you'll frequently come across and do battle with cool boss creatures, some of whom utilize innumerable projectiles to attack from a distance...

...others of whom prefer to bully you around.

I've slain those bosses many times, but as long as I can still wield a TurboPad, no time will be the last. Even amidst my epic Turbo exploits, I find myself returning to this title quite often, initially planning to take a slow revisitation tour but inevitably playing through the entire adventure in a flash. It's a difficult quest to leave unfinished, even for just a time--especially if friends take part in the conquest.

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