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Dungeon Defenders review for XBLA

Platform: XBLA
Also on: PSN, PC
Publisher: Reverb Publishing
Developer: Trendy Entertainment
Medium: Digital Download
Players: 1
Online: Yes
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Dungeon Defenders isn't the most memorable name for a game, so its strong personality and unique nature in an incredibly crowded tower defense and dungeon crawler genre is more than a bit ironic. A fantasy setting, orcs, goblins, towers, magic, equipment and castles are all involved. But assuming one has done all this before would be a mistake.

The dungeons in Dungeon Defenders can have several entrances, and each one is faced with streaming baddies that make their way into your personal space and disperse through different corriders all, in their own way, heading toward the middle so they can free a bigger bad guy and end life as we know it. Our job is to stop them. To do so, we take ownership of wizards, warriors, and others, each with different abilities.

We erect towers that can slow the bad guys in hallways and stairwells. We can fix those towers, upgrade them and build more. But if they aren’t enough, and they aren’t, we can fight back directly. This new wrinkle, direct combat, isn’t very deep so let’s not expect Ninja Gaiden with orcs. It’s a little clunky and getting familiar takes time. But the result is another layer of strategy (or manic maintenance) in an already complicated set of decisions. And if our characters are an integral part of the combat, then it wouldn’t be a fantasy dungeon game if it didn’t involve new equipment and skills to level up between periods of epic heroism.

On top of all that, Dungeon Defenders is clearly designed with co-operative play as its focus. It’s difficult, and some of the stages clearly demand we team up together to make it all work. As with any online cooperation, that’s not easy. There’s a lot to learn to play this game efficiently, and that can lead to more than a little intra-team tutoring. Each class offers different benefits, they don’t just kill things with different button presses. So cooperation is truly needed to make the game work.

Dungeon Defenders is frantic, colorful and deep in a class of games that’s usually just frantic and colorful. It’s hard to master in a delicious, “let’s try that again,” fashion. It brings together familiar themes and mechanics in an original package while adding new wrinkles, like heavily-leveraged co-operative play instead of just playing the same game in parallel to one’s friends. That’s quite a quest.

Grade: B+