Let's just get this out of the way so it doesn't permeate the whole review: the best real-time top-down dungeon crawler on current-gen consoles is Diablo III. But it's also the bloodiest, and kids out there with stricter parents shouldn't be starved of an alternative that also lets you slash through crowds of brutes. With this in mind, Super Dungeon Bros is more important than it seems, just by virtue of being a passable experience. It's built around multiplayer at the significant expense of content, and this drags it down after just a couple of hours, leaving nothing but a charming disappointment if there ever was one.
The first thing you'll notice about this game are its visual aspects. Dungeon Bros' graphical fidelity is minimal and, with proper optimization, it could've run passably on last-gen consoles. Textures are predictably cartoonish and never 3D, creating an almost cel-shaded look. Backgrounds are even more minimalistic, using neon fog to hide the chasms below. With this in mind, there's no excusable reason for this game to run as poorly as it does. When you get a bunch of enemies on screen, it's not uncommon to experience enormous slowdown. These instances frequently result in your character careening into hazards as the engine suddenly recovers to normal speed. For my second and (I swear) final comparison to Diablo III: why can that game maintain a steady 60 fps while this one drops below 30?
But still, the art style picks up the slack in the area of visuals. While they come off as generic at first, the technicolor dungeons have a certain character to them that you'll remember for a good while. It's a shame that they're so repetitive, but that's more of a gameplay issue. The four heroes are particularly charming, with their stocky figures and wacky expressions. I'm particularly fond of their choice of visors for, um, visors. And the many booby traps dotting the halls have a bombastic quality to how they look and feel.
The sound is nice, too, but it could have been better. You're treated to a fun metal tune at the main menu, but the music during the gameplay is generic at best. The voice actors sound like they're genuinely having fun, but they have hardly anything to say. With its multiplayer focus and simplistic graphics, it's a nice surprise for the sound effects to be as immersive and satisfying as they are. But there's one sound that's particularly hard to forget. Of all the cracks, pops, and dings, the rapid click-click-click of your Bro's tiny feet is oddly the most endearing.
Super Dungeon Bros holds aloft its E10+ rating with pride. Its audio and visuals combine for an aesthetic that is not only kid-friendly, but kid-catering. Its whimsical charm comes off something like early Adventure Time, but with an added punch of playground machismo. Adults will be amused, too, if only by the audacity of its boyish attitude. The only frightening prospect is that kids today won't recognize the origins of the four Bros' names, but that's beyond anyone's control.
Of course, charm doesn't count for much if the game isn't fun to play, and this is where the it loses steam. Super Dungeon Bros gives you three procedurally-generated dungeons to play with, each with several floors to chop, bash, or shoot your way through. It's primarily meant to be an online experience, and couch co-op is thankfully included, but there just isn't enough content right now.
To be clear, the foundation stuff is mostly there. Movement feels intuitive and graceful as your Bro darts around the screen with perfect momentum. You can dispatch your enemies with light and heavy attacks, special moves, and environmental hazards. Actually, taking out hordes of enemies feels really nice as they cartoonishly pop into gaggles of bones and tattered armor. Picking up loot, which shows up onscreen as fat yellow coins, is also pretty satisfying. For the most part, Super Dungeon Bros feels good to play.
There is, however, a control issue, and it's one that needs to be called out. The light attack, which you'll invariably be using most often, is mapped to the right trigger. You can't hold the trigger down to keep attacking, and the ones on the PS4 controller were not designed to withstand constant mashing. After a week of playing, my R2 button was looser than before. And as of this version, there is no way to change the control layout.
Okay, fine, that's controller-specific. But here's the universal problem with this game: it's shallow. Upgrades are basic and minimal, and require grinding through repetitive corridors over and over. The game attempts to hide this repetition with procedural generation and distinct coats of paint for each dungeon, but they do very little for the gameplay department. The story, which centers around the Bros' quest to uncover the secrets of legendary rock stars, doesn't become anything more than a footnote. You're therefore left with nothing in single player to keep you playing.
Instead, the incentive is intended to come from the prospect of meeting and working with someone new every time you play. "Intended" is the key word here. I've lost count of how many times I've tried to enter a server, at various times of day and night, only to be granted three eternally-spinning loopty-swords. As indicated by the leaderboards, other people are playing, but the lobby can't get them together. So let's speculate: would proper online make this a genuinely good game? After spending some time on the couch playing co-op, I'd have to say no, not quite. Functional online multiplayer would definitely lessen the amount of in-game content it needs, but there still wouldn't be enough. No matter how you slice it, it lacks depth.
What we have in the end is a game that charms you with how it looks and feels, but then does nothing to keep your attention. It shows you that it doesn't want to be generic; that it genuinely wants to be an entertaining and memorable experience. However, it's shallow, repetitive, and tedious- things that were probably meant to be obscured by its broken online mode. With its likable premise and art style, this one really makes you wish it were better than it is. There seems to be a gore-free gem in every genre. Super Dungeon Bros is not one of them.