Pocket Power: Dungeon Hunter: Alliance

Handheld gaming is more than a compromise of power and portability. Whether it’s the ability to play anywhere, multitask or hold an entire console in your hands, it’s a special experience consoles have never replicated. In a world where high resolutions and teraflops reign supreme, we take a look at a portable relic every month and reflect on what makes it memorable. Be warned, spoilers may occasionally populate these articles.

The PlayStation Vita was officially laid to rest in 2019 after lingering on life support for several years. Like the PlayStation Portable before it, the Vita was never able to breakthrough Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld market. The library of their dual-screened handhelds with established franchises were too much for Sony, and the Switch was the final nail in Sony’s handheld endeavors. Despite losing the handheld war, there are many great games available for the Vita that made the handheld platform worth owning. There are also many titles that are not worth remembering, however, destined to collect dust in a bargain bin clearance casket. Dungeon Hunter: Alliance belongs to latter category.

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is a fantasy hack and slash dungeon crawler. It was a launch title for the Vita back in February of 2012, and it’s a port of a 2011 PlayStation 3 game which was a remake of a 2009 iOS game. Being available at the launch of a new platform was the strongest argument to acquire this title at launch. I never heard of it until 2014 when I discovered it at a GameStop for $8 marked down from $40. I thought it looked like a generic Diablo clone, but being a fan of Diablo and the fact that the price was right made it seem like a low-risk gamble. Had I known the history of the game’s evolution and the original prices of the PS3 and iOS games at the time, eight bucks might not have seen like the bargain it appeared to be.

The player steps into the shoes of a dead king, resurrected to protect the kingdom from its impending demise. Playing as the risen dead to fulfill some sort of prophetic heroic deed seems like it has potential for an interesting story, but like everything else in Dungeon Hunter: Alliance, the paper thin story feels derivative and generic. The game at least seems self aware enough to know that this is not an epic RPG where the story development is paramount to the experience and thusly doesn’t waste too much of the player’s time with cutscenes and exposition.

The player can choose one of three heroes, drawing inspiration from all the fantasy games that came before it and gives us the choice warrior, rogue and mage, making sure the three main heroic archetypes are addressed in the safest and laziest way possible. The game centers around the town for the main hub, where the story is advanced and the player ventures out into the surrounding areas that include dungeons, forests and snow-covered mountains. The game mechanics are exactly what one could expect from a Diablo clone. You button mash your basic attack to slay wave after never ending wave of monsters. Different skills that are acquired at level up can be assigned to the other buttons and unleashed on monsters while every so often a powerful attack from your fairy companion can be unleashed by using the touchscreen, paying homage to the game’s iOS roots. There were actually some decent attempts at incorporating touchscreen controls in this title. At the end of each area there is a boss fight, and for whatever reason the dialogue isn’t actually voiced. This is a shame as it would have added extra comedic value as the pre boss fight quotes make the dialogue from Dead or Alive 2 look like the work of William Faulkner.

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is one of the most uninspired and generic Diablo clones around that it’s almost insulting to other Diablo clones to include it in its ranks, but the truth is the game can be fun in small doses. The story barely exists and what does exist doesn’t inspire any reason to care about what’s on screen. The combat is simple button mashing and everything from the enemies, environments to playable characters are among the most generic options ever presented in a game. Launch titles never showcase what the hardware is capable of, but there are PSP games with better visual presentations than Dungeon Hunter: Alliance. But for simple button mashing combat to kill time, despite its numerous shortcomings Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is fun in a mindless killing sort of way even though it’s impossible to seriously recommend the game to anyone and doubt that I will ever play it again. There’s an online four player mode that can enhance the monotonous single player experience, and while it would be easy to joke about having three friends that own a Vita, it’s an even greater unlikelihood that someone would have three friends who have this and would they remain your friends after you convinced them to play it.

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is a game that failed because its ambition exceeded what it was. If you look at the game as it was originally intended as a 99 cent iPhone download this would be a lot of fun for some hack and slash action to kill some time. Even as a PlayStation 3 title it was always a digital download budget title, so at least expectations can be tempered. As a full price retail Vita game, this is nothing but disappointment. Hardcore dungeon crawler fans could possibly enjoy it on Vita as a mediocre at best generic fantasy title, but even then there are so many better options to choose from. Even though it can be acquired cheaply now and only takes eight hours or so to complete, the time and money could be invested in so many better games. The PlayStation Vita is still a great underappreciated handheld console, but games like Dungeon Hunter: Alliance do nothing to support that argument.

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