"Mother of dolphins!” An angry yelp cuts across Skype. The exclamation startles a laugh out of me even as I watch my companion's fat, yellowgarbed mage backpedal desperately to the side. A battalion of rotund dragons have taken an interest in him, an interest they communicate with little fireballs.
He reciprocates in kind. A passing lamb is turned into collateral roast dinner. I am just about to comment on his brilliant choice of profanities when things take a turn for the worse. Streams of midget wizards start flooding out of a corner, even as a missile drops from the sky. I dodge the projectile only to be slammed into a wall by armoured, bug-eyed imps. Almost immediately, my assassin folds like a poker player on a losing streak.
We wipe. One minute, 30 seconds. That was all it took. “Couldn't you at least have let us out of the bloody starting area?!”
Dungeonland is a sadomasochist's dream, a dumbed-down, arcadelike Diablo set in a spike-infested Disneyland. It makes no pretence at a plot, no nod towards depth. Yet, at the same time, this is exactly why it's such vicious amounts of fun. There are no illusions about what Critical Studios' hack and slash is: a keyboard-breaking co-operative trial by fire, or an opportunity to inspire new heights of loathing in your friends. If viewed through a limited lens, Dungeonland isn't just good, it's bloody brilliant. Bloody, of course, being the operative word.
The mechanics are simple enough. From the adventurer's perspective, Dungeonland handles somewhat like a standard isometric action-RPG except in character movement, which is WASD- rather than mousebased. Things are marginally more complex for the Dungeon Maestro, the person who starts the server and who is pitched against the adventurers that fill their lair.
Before every session, the Maestro will be asked to assemble a deck of cards, which represents the monsters and paraphernalia that will be at your command. After that, it's a question of managing your mana pool, deciding when and how to best capitalise on the hand you draw – cards are randomly doled out at intervals – and deciding if you want to spawn an elite monster or a stampede of little critters.
Don't even bother with the singleplayer mode; the AI is so abysmal it'll have you weeping within minutes. Dungeonland is at its best when you have a particularly tenacious group of people rounded up. Sure the game might bug out occasionally, lag may one-shot your team, and it could do with a better upgrade system – but in multiplayer, at least, it works.
In order to fully appreciate Dungeonland you may need to be the kind of person who plays roguelikes and eats kittens for breakfast, but who doesn't like filleting friends with axeriddled teacups?
Dungeonland is nowhere close to perfect, but in multiplayer it’s a brilliant bastard of a game. Just add friends – or enemies.