It’s nice to be at a point in technological history where learning how to make games, along with the software needed to make them, has become far more accessible. There’s no shortage of development tools available on the market for anyone with the drive or an interest in learning how video games are made, and most aren’t limited to high-end PCs. Consoles have, for quite some time, been empowering budding designers as well, albeit with stripped-back tools in the form of dedicated games.
But hey, they’re tools and options nevertheless. Whether it’s the likes of RPG Maker VX, Dreams, Game Builder Garage, or Super Mario Maker – just to name a few – the tools are there; the only roadblock is your own dedication to the craft.
Super Dungeon Maker, from developers FIRECHICK, has joined the fray with a hybrid game/game creation software that does much as its name suggests. Heavily inspired by the isometric dungeons from the GBA, NES, and SNES era, with a healthy dose of Legend of Zelda atmosphere, Super Dungeon Maker aims to give you the ability to create your own dungeons and to let your creativity blossom in the process.
Now while Super Dungeon Maker is listed as a full release, the game is still very much a work in progress that will expand over time. It’s important to note this as it will temper your expectations for what is a mostly solid entry in the console space.
The Adventure of Fink
“Gameplay” in Super Dungeon Maker is broken down into two components. There’s a basic overworld that functions both as a limited game, tutorial area, and hub section; and then there’s the dungeon-building toolkit.
The first part puts you in control of a chicken named Fink whose goal is to make it to the end of a dungeon and grab a Golden Egg. This first dungeon, and the three others that are found around the area, are proof-of-concept dungeons designed to showcase what the toolset can do and inspire you at the same time.
The little town hub that you can wander about is populated by other chicks who are the laymen that build the dungeons themselves. The hub contains a little sandbox area that will show you the basics of building a dungeon by completing tasks, a building to let you browse all the dungeons created by the rest of the games community and, finally, the building in which you can build your own dungeons.
It’s a cute opening that makes Super Dungeon Maker feel more friendly and “gamey” than menus would have done. It’s also wonderful to see the development tools in action, letting you play around with the various gadgets and get a good understanding of just how much complexity you can put into your own creations.
Once you’ve gone through the concept dungeons, you’ll be left with the meat of Super Dungeon Maker, which comes in two flavours: building your own potential death-traps or playing someone else’s.
Super Dungeons Maker’s community has clearly been busy creating extra levels for you to tackle. Of course, the quality on display can vary greatly and you’ll find everything from incredibly creative levels – some even designed to be played in sequence – to “why is this even here?” levels, and even some designed to troll you with instant death. Honestly, you could get your money’s worth here alone, if you’re not of the creative type.
That said, you’ve just got to bear in mind that while there are gameplay elements in this game-making software, it’s not a fully-featured one. Don’t expect thrilling stories or character progression as each dungeon level, including the developer-designed ones, will have you starting the run from scratch in terms of equipment.
Of course, if you’ve picked this up then chances are that you’ve done so to get your building on in the game’s main course. Thankfully, the Super Dungeon Maker dungeon-maker toolset is easy to use.
Once you’ve started up your own building session, you can drop between “building mode” and “playing” mode at the drop of a button. Building mode gives you access to large spaces and multiple levels to build across. To keep things manageable, there’s an element of auto-generation in play that makes dropping in different tiles and changing walls and layouts a breeze. The focus is clearly ease-of-use and, beyond those advanced effects, the toolset is simple to use. It’s a drag-and-drop affair, whether you’re throwing down different tiles for floors, walls, water, items, and enemies.
Want a chest to hold different items? Simply drag the item onto the chest. Want some water in your level? Just select the tile and paint it in. Changing the lighting in a level or its visual theme are a few icons away. You can create multi-level dungeons with floors that drop you to lower levels, and create switch- and block-pushing puzzles, to just name a few. Where level design is concerned, this kind of procedural, organic building is fantastic to use and it’s only your own creativity that will limit what you can do with the tools.
That said, it’s not as feature-rich as it could have been and while I enjoyed the task-orientated tutorial that let me get up to basic building speed quickly, it doesn’t give you a solid rundown of the complex things you can put together. More advanced tool usage and concepts, such as timers or linking enemies and objects together to, say, spawn and despawn items. aren’t even remotely touched upon. You’re left to your own devices and a healthy dose of trial-and-error to figure these things out or, as anyone who’s taken the dip into content creation will be used to, Googling for answers or tutorials.
Other limitations include item sprites that are drawn in only one direction and the general feeling there isn’t enough enemy, item, or tile set variety. There could also be more design tools and more refinement for the complex variants. Despite the hub world featuring them, you can’t throw in NPCs or create dialogue for your dungeons either.
One big omission for me is the lack of touchscreen controls on the Switch. It would have been a perfect system feature so that we could use a stylus or even our fingers to select and paint in tiles, and all the other nitty-gritty of level design. The Switch’s analogs do an admirable job but there’s a lack of fine control that made me wish I was either using a stylus or a mouse.
If you build it, will they come?
Ultimately, Super Dungeon Maker is the sort of title that I’ll keep checking back in on to see what the developers have done with it down the line. Though it may be in need of more level design features, it offers up some great 2D art and a fun toolset that is easy to use and it does exactly what it says on the box.
At present, it may not be as feature-rich or comprehensive as some of the other game creation software out there, but the stripped-back toolset will still teach you valuable lessons in creative problem-solving and the importance of good level design.
A review code for Super Dungeon Maker was provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC.
Super Dungeon Maker (Nintendo Switch) ReviewSuper Dungeon Maker (Nintendo Switch) Review
- Easy to use, drag-and-drop toolset
- Nice 2D artwork
- A lot of community created content
- You can upload your own levels as well
- No touch screen controls
- Complex techniques not clearly explained
- Needs more creation content