Super Dungeon Maker makes no effort to hide what it is and what it was influenced by. The name evokes the level building of Super Mario Maker, while the visuals and mechanics are clearly inspired by The Legend of Zelda, specifically A Link to the Past. It even stars a character named Fink. And given that we never got an official Zelda level maker (unless you count the very basic one in the Link’s Awakening remake), I can’t blame developer FIRECHICK (that’s how it’s written on Steam) for throwing their rooster comb in the ring. But can this indie game scratch the itch the same way as its inspiration?
Right off the bat, Super Dungeon Maker drops you into a starting dungeon to help players understand the sort of mechanics they’ll be dealing with. This is where it becomes clear that the developers had A Link to the Past on the mind, as the starting dungeon alone contains rising and falling bollards, holes that bring the rooster hero Fink to lower levels of the dungeon, pots to lift (not break with your sword), and so on. But there’s also an item that lets Fink dodge, both avoiding enemies and getting over holes in the ground; I don’t want to suggest that there’s nothing new here. But most importantly when it comes to playing through dungeons, the controls are smooth and responsive. You can use a controller for more traditional play, or a mouse and keyboard to have Fink attack in the direction of the pointer. As an experienced Zelda player, there’s nothing too jarring here, and everything feels natural.
The visuals are worth praising, too. While Super Dungeon Maker does use pixelated graphics, they aren’t the generic 8-bit visuals that often feel lazy, nor are they an exact replica of the classic Zelda games (though there are obvious similarities.) Instead, the sprites have their own style, for which the only adjective I can think of is “bubbly.” Characters are cute, there’s almost a three-dimensional feel, and everything is animated. NPCs bounce up and down in the overworld, grass sways back and forth, and tree branches rustle in the wind. It’s a good reminder that pixelated graphics don’t have to be saddled with the limitations of their origin.
All of that is well and good, but obviously if you’re interested in this game, it’s to make dungeons of your own. The dungeon-building interface can be a little overwhelming and confusing at first, because there is no tutorial, at least not that I found. Instead, you have to experiment for yourself. There are tooltips that explain individual items when you hover the mouse cursor over them, but they didn’t always seem to work for me. Still, putting together a basic dungeon is as easy as pointing and clicking. There is a pretty good variety of decorations, obstacles, and enemies to choose from, including a few boss enemies based on those from the early Zelda games, and multiple visual themes for dungeons. You won’t find as much variety as Super Mario Maker, but that’s to be expected.
My only real complaint is that some of the more complex things you can put in your dungeon would really benefit from a tutorial of some kind. There are spawners you can use to add some basic logic to the dungeons, causing things to appear based on set criteria. But setting them up properly is more confusing than it needs to be. For example, spawning something when all monsters in the room are dead doesn’t work the same way as spawning something when the one boss monster in the room is dead.
Despite the confusion, though, Super Dungeon Maker does a great job of providing what it says in the name. It’s a Zelda dungeon builder in all but name, and if that’s an idea that interests you, you can’t go wrong here. That it manages to have its own style despite its obvious inspiration is worth celebrating, but Zelda fans will still know exactly what they’re getting here. If you’re like me and don’t see yourself as a dungeon architect, there’s still some fun to be had with the built-in dungeons and the ability to play other people’s dungeons online. With a $20 price tag, if your mind is swimming with ideas to challenge heroes, or you want a Zelda dungeon experience that’s a little more old-school than what you can find in Tears of the Kingdom, I highly recommend Super Dungeon Maker.
As a bonus, Super Dungeon Maker will be on sale for $13.99 on the Nintendo Switch eShop until October 5th.
FIRECHICK does what Nintendon't
- Gameplay - 8/10
- Visuals - 9/10
+ Lots of options
+ Good gameplay
+ Unique, creative visuals
– Editor can be confusing