The popular dungeon crawler Dungeon Hunter: Alliance, previously seen on PlayStation 3, iOS, and Android platforms, slashes its way onto PS Vita with a few new features at a surprisingly inflated cost. The concept is simple: travel from map to map killing enemies in order to level up and snatch up loot to improve your character. There are three different classes to pick from, each with their own sets of skills and weapons. Each has a slightly different gameplay style, but expect to basically mash the X button for hours on end.
The story is dull and unmemorable, with a vague goal to slay your evil ex-wife and save the kingdom. Many of the quests along the way are just as simple; you basically run around and kill bosses for people, making it a rather linear game. You can travel back to any previously cleared map to fight more enemies, but each monster has a set level, making it often pointless to try and go backwards to level up.
Once you've completed the game, you can replay the game on a higher difficulty level where monsters are higher levels and drop better gear. A nice feature is that both difficulties share the same character data, making it possible to switch back and forth without losing gear or experience.
As one might imagine, being a direct port of a mobile/PSN game, the graphics aren't great. Given the power of Vita, it’s safe to say the graphics are downright poor: textures are bland, polygons are few and the hit detection is just as flawed as the previous versions. On top of that, expect some lengthy loading times.
Even though most of the story and gameplay is taken from the PlayStation 3 edition, there are a few nice additions to the Vita version. The entire menu system can be controlled with either buttons or touch; the in-game menu was even redesigned to allow better navigation with either buttons or touch screen.
The rear touch pad controls the character's fairy, moving it around the battlefield in order to find hidden treasures or relocate before performing the fairy attack. When close to a hidden treasure, the fairy will pulse and eventually uncover the location of the secret items. Included in each find are crystals, which can be saved up and used to purchase some higher level gear from the merchants. This treasure hunting adds a nice new twist to the monotonous hack and slash action.
This new feature doesn't come without significant drawbacks though. While you can control the fairy with the rear touch or the right analogue stick, it will often become stuck on objects. In the heat of battle it is also common to forget to move the fairy and leave her behind, making the fairy attacks practically useless unless you either meticulously move the fairy around or avoid touching the rear touch pad all together, as she'll follow you automatically if you don't interact with her.
Also new to this version are a few new classes of weapons, such as the crossbow, polearm and orbs, with each offering different attributes compared to the standard wide range of weapons. For example, the crossbow is far more powerful than the bow, but also has a much slower rate of fire. These small changes help make the game feel less recycled for the players who've already completed one of the other versions.
Multiplayer is obviously a huge factor in dungeon crawling games like this, and the good news is DH:A offers easy to use online or ad hoc with up to four players. Players can drop in or out of gameplay at any time, limit the level difference and easily search for rooms, and progress in multiplayer links directly with your single player game and vice versa. While there's no voice chat feature, you can select from a list of commands or use an on-screen keyboard to communicate with the other players.
The bad news is that with three or four players, the frame rate drops quite frequently. In a four player lobby it's almost constantly well below a reasonable number of frames per second — while it’s still playable, it's certainly below a comfortable level. Even if you look past the issue with frame rate, other problems arise, such as gates opening for some players and not others, halting the game's progress until the stuck character rejoins the game.
Another annoyance is that you can't locate hidden treasure with the fairy in multiplayer, but you still need to pay attention to where the fairy is: if you accidentally tap the rear touch panel or right joystick, the fairy will stop following you. It would have been helpful to offer the ability to turn off the rear touch panel for the game or just remove it entirely in multiplayer, as it’s relatively pointless here.
Pit of Trials is a new feature that pits gamers against waves of enemies. The only goal is to survive as long as possible and crawl your way to the top of the online leaderboards. It’s a fun new feature for those needing a break from the near non-existent story, but don’t expect to find yourself entertained in this mode for long.
Despite lengthy loading times, problematic multiplayer and a dull story, there's definitely some fun and a decent amount of gameplay hidden deep inside the depths of Dungeon Hunter: Alliance for serious fans of the dungeon crawler genre. For the rest, it would be wise to sheath that sword and wait for a discount or significant patch, because even with the additional elements added to the game, the lack of overall improvement just doesn’t justify the nearly quadrupled cost from the previous versions, and new functions feel added on for the sake of adding rather than improvement.