Going Back – Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital 1 and 2

Ahhh, the dungeon management genre, how I love it so. Defeating those righteous do-gooders with the promise of treasure, and maybe even a fellow dungeon owner that doesn’t agree with my platform of Mine, Mine, Mine. Which makes Dungeon Manager ZV 1 and 2 somewhat interesting, as the two games take very different approaches to, effectively, the same subject.

One problem for a reviewer is that it can sometimes be hard to get timing down. For example, there *was* a King Slime, and a powerful one, in that middle square. There isn’t now. And soon, those red dots will reach my boss. Dammit.

Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital Edition (to use its full name) hit the Western world in October 2015 (It had originally been developed in 2004), and… Well, it’s a game where the options expand as you play, but you’d be forgiven, for playing the game for an hour or two, to think that there was little beyond building rooms, watching heroes come in, and then they go and do whatever the heck they want, occasionally dying, occasionally leaving, and always, always aiming for the final treasure in your dungeon and the death of your boss monsters. If the last treasure in the dungeon goes, whoops, you’ve lost.

Thing is, there’s actually a lot more that can be done than the first, near-surface level game implies, and here comes both the draw and the problem of DMZV in general: Because it isn’t terribly clear at times, you’ll make mistakes on your first run, mistakes you won’t always be able to correct, and won’t always be made clear as mistakes until hours later, when the Big Boys of herodom come and play. Although there are multiple saves, that’s a lot of either work or faffing around that’s going down the drain.

This is a very un-optimal first level. Although, to be fair, those two slimes are the only two to have survived past heroes achieving level 3 to date.

Equally, there is an optimal play considering you always have a 3×3 grid to play with on each floor, and any room connects with every other adjacent room: One long path filled with your heavier monsters, nastier traps, and the like… And one, very short path, filled only with monsters beneath the notice of the groups you encounter, leading straight to your final boss. And you have to make it clear the difference in difficulty from the first room, as groups only judge where to go by adjacent rooms. The more heroes you kill, the more you let some vital few escape to tell the tale (having been satisfied by murdering some of yours, or defeating your traps… All the better to lure bigger, better heroes in), the more you can do. At first, it’s only traps, capped at the dungeon level you’re in, and some simple monsters. But once those monsters level up, you can merge them, making new, nastier monsters. You can change the elements of floors, giving advantage to certain types. You find Dragon Eggs. And, of course, treasures can change things up too.

Unfortunately for DMZV1, there is somewhat of a flaw: Very quickly, certain monsters are outpaced, so it becomes tougher to level them up so you can get them to be able to meld with other monsters. Also, time will proceed unless you’re holding down the CTRL key or have set it to Freeze, so keeping track of everything, even on slow, can become a slog. As such, while DMZV1 is interesting, it’s also a deeply, deeply unfriendly game.

Ah, how right you are, random Dungeon Invader. [finishes another review, sits back with a smile]

DMZV2, on the other hand, changes the formula. It’s still, at its heart, a tower defense game, but now it has puzzle elements, sprites and tiles, and a friendlier interface. The general idea is still the same: Monsters, it seems, are getting a lot of stick, and the Lord of Dungeons is beseeched to create a dungeon so deadly, so alluring, that it will bring even the king of the land to it, to be murdered horrribly as vengeance for all those cute slimes being murdered. Dungeon features are unlocked in a main campaign mode consisting of, well, puzzles. How do we stop the adventurers from taking the objective in the time allotted to us? With fireballs, traps, and a succubus who is not terribly good at hand to hand, but can summon zombies (Remember, the ZV stands for Zombie Vital!), and shoot rather nasty magic, so long as the ghostly power of heroes who were satisfied until we killed them horribly lasts out (Obviously, we get that ghostly power by satisfying their needs, then murdering them horribly before they can leave. Priorities, folks, priorities!)

It is, so far, my favourite of the series, because, although the unlocking of features to use in the Create A Dungeon mode is through the campaign, that extension of DMZV1 and Resurrection’s “You get more things to play with the more you play”, it has selectable difficulty (indeed, Easy is mandatory the first time), the ability to go back, and the sound and visuals are less straining on a nice long game. It’s also, to my mind, the most characterful of the three, with at least some heroes introducing themselves, the sprites having their own character, and, sometimes, the black humour in levels. One of the early easy levels has you doing… Well, exactly nothing. The dungeon’s set up pretty much perfectly, and it harms your ability to murder folks to interfere with a trap setup that catapults heroes in laps round the dungeon until they die from impact damage.

And it’s not about you adventurers either, that go round and around and arou-

Finally, to my knowledge, this is the only game in the series with an expansion, released earlier this year. A fairly cheap one, too, with extra puzzle dungeons, 10 extra items, and second sets of transformations of monsters into better, nastier forms for, around £3. In fact, both of the first games and the expansion comes to just over £13 for all three in a bundle. It’s pretty reasonable, although DMZV1 and the newly released (and separately reviewed) Resurrection both involve making mistakes that you may not notice for an hour or two. Try them out if you like to see interesting experiments with dungeon management games.

Dungeon Manager Zombie Vital 1 is available on Steam here, and DMZV2 here. Both pages have a link to the bundle.

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Dungeon Manager ZV Redux (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The Dungeon Manager series has had an odd place in both my mind and heart since I was first made aware of the first localised installment (Dungeon Manager: Zombie Vital Edition.) They are, undeniably, tower defence games in a sense, although, as you’ll see from the Going Back on DMZV and DMZV2, they’ve gone in a couple of different directions, and I kind of like them… But one thing I can’t deny is that I’m never sure if I’m playing it right. And that’s never a great feeling.

On the one hand, this is a fairly established dungeon. On the other, that’s a *big* group of adventurers.

In any case, the general idea is that you, the Dungeon Overlord, have become somewhat tired of those heroes killing monsterkind, again and again, so you’ve decided to make a dungeon. A dungeon that will grow, tempting greater and greater heroes inside to be given hopes, then slain, until finally, you destroy kings. So you dig out a dungeon (in this installment, by basically “painting” it with the mouse), place traps, enemies, and monsters (within set limits, and starting with only a limited toolset) , and then?

You wait. Heroes arrive periodically, and from there… Well, this is where the mileage begins to vary. See, the heroes and monsters alike move and attack in a fashion best described as “Bumblefucking.” They have some rough idea of the direction they’re heading, but seem to bump into walls, fumble their way around, and, in the case of monsters, suddenly shift priorities from someone they were sure to kill to someone who could (and does) easily murder them. And yet, despite all this, heroes will find their way to chests, they do find their way through the dungeon, and the monsters do manage to kill folks.

Killing them too early isn’t great, but it’s serviceable, as it still grants you bones with which to summon zombies and traps. Kill them after they’ve satisfied some of their needs (which, yes, includes killing your monsters), and you get Spirit, which can be used for slimes, building new kinds of traps, and other fun stuff along the way. Let them escape after satisfying their needs, and they talk up the dungeon, slowly increasing the fame of the dungeon, and the power of the heroes invading it. Playing through the tutorial once thankfully gives you the basic idea, and there are hints that give you further possiblities (Why not build an “easy” path to the boss monster(s) so low level characters can be easily fed to them, and a “hard” path so more experienced heroes get tempted away from that “easy” path?)

Clicking on an adventurer or monster’s icon can tell you more, and, in the case of the adventurers, there’s a world hinted at.

“But wait, doesn’t that mean eventually low level monsters eventually become useless?” Well, not quite. See, with Resurrection, the option now exists to invade the surface world, in a wave based monster on hero combat. At the price of temporarily and completely depopulating your dungeon afterwards, even level 1 zombies and slimes have at least a chance to level up and become the murderbeasts you need to progress. Oh, yeah, combining monsters of high level together gets you new monsters. Better monsters. Two zombies, for example, make a Half-Golem, while two of those become a Golem, a slime and a zombie becomes a Melty Zombie, and two of those becomes a Core Ghost, and two slimes becomes a Big Slime, and so on… There’s a fair few combinations, and due to the fact that monsters gain abilities in this game, they get a little nuance and character of their own.

Of course, all of this has been mechanical talk. How does it look? How does it sound? How does it feel? Well, this is where it gets a bit awkward. I don’t particularly feel invested in the dungeon building itself, the sound effects are okay (Although it’s easy to get tired of them), and there is a single music track in-game that is pumping, but like the sound effects, feels repetitive after a while. What I do feel invested in, on the other hand, is finding out what makes what. And, since this game appears harder to outright lose than the original Dungeon Manager, I can do that a little bit at a time. The game autosaves, with the options to clear the dungeon, but keep your monsters (Initialise Dungeon) or to just plain restart (Initialise Save… The localisation’s okay, but definitely not perfect.)

As with main dungeon mode, you have no control over the monsters’ actions. But it is fun to see adventurers getting overwhelmed!

It’s not a game that feels all that deep, although there are hidden complexities under the hood, and it’s certainly not going to be impressing anybody graphically (Although I was interested by the developer, Studio GIW, going back to letters, but in pseudo-3d, rather than the tile or sprite based monsters of the previous game.) My main recommendations, here, would be to fantasy game strategy fans who want to see something somewhat different, with no short-term pressure, and who are okay with the fact they’re going to be doing a fair amount of micromanagement even without having direct control of their dungeon denizens.

The Mad Welshman is, of course, a Dungeon Lord of some standing. Why, he’s run more than six dungeons, in six worlds, and none of his minions have ever filed a complaint!

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Maia 0.50 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.98
Where To Get It: Steam

Everything is broken. My atmosphere generators have caught fire, I have people trapped in the living quarters due to a planning mistake, and one of my astronauts is waiting in the airlock for a wingman who will probably starve a little while after Airlock Boy runs out of oxygen. Some of these problems are intended. Some are not. But most of them are hilarious either way.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

MAIA, a science fiction survival and base management game by Simon Roth and the MAIA team, has had a patch history almost as interesting as Dwarf Fortress. Chickens once flocked to magma vents as soon as a game began. IMPs would, in proper Asimovian fashion, try to do impossible jobs. Cats and dogs would walk on the surface of the incredibly hostile world (Called, funnily enough, Maia), with nary a care in the world that they weren’t breathing oxygen, but an incredibly volatile mix of horrific toxins. But for all that, the core idea has come across quite well, and 0.50 continues the trend.

The game’s AI, for example, has gone through some fixing. This is a good thing… And a bad thing for those of us who have been playing somewhat differently beforehand. Before, turrets were a curiosity. Now, they’re a necessity if you want your home to stay powered, as the local megafauna think that your outside buildings are either really good scratching posts, or things they trip over and get annoyed at. But let’s talk about what can be done in the game for a bit.

Essentially, right now, you control a small group of plucky (doomed) british colonists, who have somehow managed to survive long enough to build a small base in a rocky outcropping on the world known as Maia. Or, more accurately, you plan rooms, buildings, and mining operations, vaguely hoping that they’ll do what you want. That’s harder than it sounds. But it’s also more fun and challenging than it sounds.

A little cluttered, but I don't want MegaFauna using my towers as itch-relief.

A little cluttered, but I don’t want MegaFauna using my towers as itch-relief.

For example, you need to leave room for your IMP robots (Yes, the Dungeon Keeper reference is intentional) to be able to expand the base. You have to make sure you don’t open the whole thing to the toxic atmosphere. You have to start from simple needs (Power and Air), working your way up the hierarchy (Air, Food, Sleep, Stimulation), and initiate research into the world that surrounds you. Right now, that process is mostly automated… But already, the first signs of having to ask your colonists to do more work than just putting things up are showing, with Necroscopy. All that is right now is being able to cut apart and study one of the Megafauna of the world, and, once your research level is high enough, build a reactor chamber and dope your water to help stop the colonists going stir crazy (Which… May have side effects), but research also already allows for better energy storage, better food production, bigger oxygen tanks… And a little something that helps save your colonists from endlessly having to repair things.

An intelligent servo-bot, currently equipped with a repair module. These little fellers will happily maintain your atmosphere generators… Right up until they develop a phobia of repairing things!

"I can't take all this BUILDING! BUILDING BUILDING BUILDING, GRAAAGH!" ...Okay, maybe not yet. But it's apparently in the game plan.

“I can’t take all this BUILDING! BUILDING BUILDING BUILDING, GRAAAGH!”
…Okay, maybe not yet. But it’s apparently in the game plan.

You can perhaps already tell, just maybe, that Maia is not going to be a game where things are safe once everything is built. From the beginning, team MAIA has talked of intelligent doors that refuse to co-operate, IMPs with a fear of the dark, things breaking down, things going wrong… And all the while, your colonists communicate with HQ in short messages and procedurally generated haiku. Pretty good ones, actually. It’s a black comedy of a game, which is why I’ve stayed interested throughout the Early Access process so far. The visuals and music pay homage, in their way, to 60s and 70s science fiction, with bulky space suits, tape-reel computers, and alien creatures that look goofy, but are threatening. The UI is quite minimalist (Although it does need a better way to examine completed research, and more clarity on which is LOAD, and which is SAVE), which is good, and the function of things is usually pretty clear, even when it’s currently “NOT YET DEFINED.”

So if you like the thought of a dystopian, understated, science fiction simulator with a fair dose of black comedy, MAIA is definitely one to keep an eye on. But be warned, as is often the case with Early Access games, there are bugs. There are problems. But they are definitely being ironed out, on a fairly regular schedule, and I’m pretty confident, by the time it’s done, that it will be a thing to behold.

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