Published by EastAsiaSoft, Diorama Dungeon – Master of the Living Castle reuses the same visual style, UI, sound effects, and overall gameplay from previously released retro-inspired titles such as Escape from Terror City, Thunder Kid, and Thunder Kid II. Unfortunately, it also carries the same flaws and annoyances.
Instead of using a ranged attack like in the Thunder Kid titles, Diorama Dungeon is melee-based. The problem is, the attack range is short, your hit box is huge, there is no temporary reprieve when damage is taken, and there is no incentive for fighting. The goal is to reach the end of the stage and take down its boss. Along the way are hazards and numerous enemies that vary from annoying to frustrating. Since there is no leveling system or super meter that builds over time, it is much easier and faster to just avoid each enemy encounter, speeding to the boss. Platforming is also tricky because of the poor camera angle that is not moveable; it is nearly impossible to determine depth which will result in many deaths not due to the player’s fault or skill.
Granted, some enemies will need to be removed just because they are cheaply placed in front of that pit or tediously snipe at you from a distance. Most enemies take numerous hits to defeat too. I think this is because the player can hold the attack button for a couple seconds to unleash a more powerful attack, killing them in fewer hits. However, this warmed up attack locks the player in place so the enemies will need to stupidly walk into it, which rarely happens and will never happen during a boss fight. Point being, combat is a mess, compounded by the stupidly short range of attack.
Boss battles are also acts of attrition, just like in the Thunder Kid games. While the attack pattern is usually easy to identify quickly, each fight is much more tedious than it should be due to the ridiculous hit boxes, short range of the attack, and unnecessarily high health meter. Stages also feature checkpoints, but they can be spaced too far; they are not even placed right before each boss. There are also bugs that only lower the level of polish too, like how you continue to take damage even after you die, a boss managed to kill me after I killed him which forced a restart, and the controller continues to rumble with an awkward battery-draining glitch.
I like the idea of these new, sort-of PSOne style retro experiences but they lack any sort of polish to fully recommend. However, Achievement hunters might want to take note because each one carries a big Gamerscore point value and doesn’t take too long to unlock… that is, if you can tolerate the flawed and inconsistent gameplay.
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By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com