The dungeon crawler genre has been around for quite a long time starting with the Atari ST classic Dungeon Master, though we don’t see many games from the genre nowadays. However, there is a new dungeon crawler title by developer Monkey Stories called Heroes of the Monkey Tavern which originally released for PC, but is now available for the Nintendo Switch. The adventure starts off allowing you to take control of a group of four heroes who, after a night of drinking at the Monkey Tavern, decide to go explore a new dungeon to uncover the riches within its halls.
Heroes of the Monkey Tavern, or HotMT for short, is an old-school, simplistic approach to a first-person perspective dungeon crawler that will remind you instantly of the classics for the genre. You start out by creating a four-character party and you can choose from a variety of classes, character portraits to represent your characters (though you never actually see the character because of the first-person perspective), and their stats; which include intelligence, dexterity, strength and so on and so forth.
There are three different difficulties that you can select from, and while veterans of the genre will likely want to select Normal or Hard, I would recommend Easy for novices due to the unforgiving nature of HotMT. I will say, it is still very difficult on Easy if you are unfamiliar with this style of game. Gameplay is set in the dungeon where you are working your way floor by floor dealing with traps, solving puzzles, and, of course, defeating enemies ranging from humans to snakes, re-animated skeletons, goblins, and various other monsters.
The controls are very interesting and take some getting use to if you are unfamiliar with traditional dungeon crawlers, as you don’t move with the left stick at all, and in fact everything is regulated with the D-pad. You can look around the room in your current direction using the right stick to at least look somewhat freely in front of you, and you use L and R respectively to turn your characters using the D-pad for your left, right, up, and down movements. If it sounds convoluted and confusing don’t feel alone.
The controls took me a few playthroughs to feel comfortable with, but luckily once you get the hang of the control scheme it works successfully for the most part. To further aid you on your journey, while traversing the dungeon, you can pull up a map with the minus button to see where you are and it automatically draws an outline of where you’ve been. This feature makes it easy to tell where you need to go to next and certain landmarks that you may need to come back to also are shown. Everything in the environment is locked onto a grid like the classic games of this genre and if you weren’t a fan of it back then, you certainly won’t be a fan of it now. I did appreciate the auto-save feature and how there was an option to save at any time unless in combat.
The combat in HotMT feels clunky and will take the most time to become somewhat comfortable with. You must select which character you want to use and then press the corresponding button to attack or cast a spell. You control all four characters at one time and you must use ZL and ZR to switch quickly between different characters to perform an action based on the classes of the characters you are using. Every time you perform an action with a character they will have to recharge for a couple seconds so you can switch to another character and then come back to the one you already used to perform an action again.
While this set up does end up working, and all of this is turn-based for you and your opponent, it still takes a while to get use to and I never felt completely comfortable performing. It also takes some time to get use to picking up and using items in HotMT. I always felt like there were too many button presses involved. I felt like many times a one button solution would have worked perfectly. As it is now, you must press Y and make sure you have the correct character highlighted that you want to give the item to, then select the X button to give the item to that specific character. Even rearranging items in the inventory such as equipment and weapons was slower and more convoluted than I would have cared for.
The combat overall is fine once you get the hang of the controls. It’s nothing spectacular as you only see little slash marks for attacking or spell effects with a little number indicating the amount of damage you cause to an enemy. Defeating enemies does gain experience and your characters will level up. Weapons or most equipment is not locked to a set character type so you can equip a warrior with a mage robe if you like, but if a certain character has an affinity for a type of equipment they will obviously gain more of an advantage and bonus for it.
Your goal, of course, is to make it through the dungeon and you do so by traveling through each floor to find keys to eventually unlock a stairwell to the next floor, repeating the process over and over again. The monotony will set in with bland color pallets and seeing the same stone corridors on each floor, but I did like some of the puzzle elements and there are plenty of hidden secrets and rooms to uncover which include improved items or equipment.
Overall, Heroes of the Monkey Tavern has that old-school feel which fans of the genre will gravitate towards, but anyone else will probably grow stale with rather quickly. There isn’t much that ends up standing out or is exciting to see and the complex control method never really syncs for the player. Fortunately, the RPG and dungeon crawling mechanics will make anyone well-versed in this genre feel right at home.