Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground Hands-On

We assume the role of a monster-slaying architect in this unusual PSP role-playing game.

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If you're familiar with Bullfrog's classic Dungeon Keeper games, you'll know that designing monster-filled dungeons can be just as much fun as exploring them. Later this month, you'll never be forced to choose between the aforementioned pastimes again because Xseed Games' Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground for the PlayStation Portable will be shipping to stores. We recently had an opportunity to spend several hours with a near-finished version of the unusual role-playing game and found its premise of attracting monsters to a dungeon to slay them quite compelling.

In Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground, you assume the role of an architect who has recently moved to a small town and decided to endear himself to the neighbors by building a dungeon right outside the town walls. Actually, the town's inhabitants are a friendly bunch and don't really seem to find the idea of attracting monsters to the area objectionable. This is perhaps because the dungeon and your exploits therein are good for the local economy. There are a number of stores in the town waiting for your hard-earned currency, including an armorer, a magic shop, a building supplies store, and a food market. You'll be spending plenty of money at all of these stores as you progress through the game--money that you'll earn by selling items dropped by the monsters that you successfully lure into and kill in your dungeon.

Your time in Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground is divided up into days, and throughout the course of a single day, you're only permitted to visit your dungeon once. It's up to you to decide what you want to achieve while you're in your dungeon. For example, you might want to raise some cash by slaying any monsters that have moved in, you might want to complete a quest by retrieving an item for one of the townsfolk, or you might simply look to do some labyrinth improvements by dropping in additional corridors and rooms. You'll have only a handful of building blocks to choose from when you start creating your dungeon, but as you progress, you'll unlock lots more, as well as different "wallpapers" that you can apply to them.

All these goblins want is somewhere comfortable to call home.

You'll learn early on that monsters are a picky bunch when it comes to looking for a dungeon to call home; they like complicated layouts with plenty of twists, turns, forks, and rooms in which to hide. Furthermore, many monsters aren't partial to cold, stone walls and bare rooms. For example, we were told by one of the shopkeepers that goblins like a "comfortable, well-built" dungeon, which basically meant that we had to invest in some wooden floors and walls. Other monsters we've encountered to date wouldn't grace our dungeon with their presence until we'd hooked up drinking water, rooms suitable for storing treasure, and less obvious requirements that we happened to fulfill by chance. Our first boss battle against a griffon occurred a few days after we installed an especially large room designed to attract it. Although one of our rewards was an opportunity to expand our dungeon down to a second floor, we were encouraged to keep working on the first floor as much as possible.

Upgrading and adding to your dungeon could hardly be easier. Pressing the square button inside any room or corridor pulls up a menu of the customization options available for it, while hitting the triangle button at any dead end gives you an opportunity to use any of the building blocks in your inventory there. Remodeling your existing dungeon is also a painless process because with the push of a button you can return corridors and rooms to your inventory. Because these dungeon components are expensive to buy, you'll have no choice but to start out small. It's only after attracting some monsters that drop decent loot that you'll be able to stop pouring all of your money into dungeon expansion to invest in some gear and abilities for yourself.

You'll occasionally be able to upgrade your weapons and armor simply by equipping items dropped by monsters. But more often than not, you'll want to sell that stuff in town and put the proceeds toward the best gear available. To date, the scope for customizing our character has been very limited given that early on, most armor items are clearly superior or inferior to each other. Weapons offer more variety with their different attack speeds, strengths, and ranges. Although the arsenal available to us is still very small at this point, we have access to two-handed spears, swords, clubs, shields, and bows that have all served us well in different situations. We've also invested in a small number of magic attacks, giving us the ability to attack enemies with rocks, fireballs, ice columns, summoned allies, and the like.

The townsfolk are a friendly, money-grabbing bunch.

At the end of each day, you'll return to your house where, before going to sleep to advance time, you'll have the opportunity to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Most of the ingredients used for preparing food in Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground are monster parts that'll drop from enemies, and as you discover new ingredients, the townsfolk will be happy to share their recipes with you. Sleeping through the night is enough to replenish your health and magic points before the next day's adventuring and construction. But it's only by eating food that you can actually increase the size of your health and magic reserves. If you die while exploring your monster-filled creation, you'll be revived at the town's apothecary, where you can stock up on potions and other items that will help ensure it doesn't happen again. Other buildings worth visiting from time to time include the castle, where you'll receive magical rings as rewards for your monster-killing exploits. There's also the museum, which has information on all of the monsters, weapons, armor, and accessories that you've discovered to date. As you progress through the game, you'll also notice that some ruins appear outside of town. These ruins serve as the entrance to dungeons that have been designed by friends and shared with you using the PSP's ad hoc wireless functionality.

Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground is currently scheduled for release in North America on June 19. No European release for the game has been confirmed at this time, but we look forward to bringing you more information as soon as it becomes available.

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