The humor of the author is as far from stylish and elegant as is a lightsaber from the Star Trek Universe. The PC version released last year followed in the footsteps of The Bard’s Tale, being a collection of cheap shots gathered in a AA game, rather than a well-thought-out parody of the genre. Despite the renowned actors and a checklist of features that sound good in theory, the video game does not manage to surpass the level of high school humor. The new console version is set to inflict even deeper wounds in the heart of the fans.
It all starts with a party of adventurers, reduced to the most basic stereotypes: a bawdy ranger, an arcanely challenged magician, an always hungry ogre, a pretty but empty-headed elf archer, an always cranky dwarf, a cowardly thief, and a barbarian that looks more like Schwarzenegger than the actor himself.
After going through the painfully overstretched tutorial you can choose one more character to accompany you in the dungeons: the annoyingly narcissistic bard, the short-tempered paladin, or the salacious priest. When you get everyone together you will be challenged to explore the different levels of the Naheulbeuk tower.
The quest is simple: explore the tower of Naheulbeuk and track down a mysterious statue, tied to an ancient prophecy. Of course in the end the adventure will be anything but straightforward, the developers putting in place a lot of detours and parodical side quests. Just as in the writings of Lang, our heroes are never prepared to face what the game throws at them.
The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos is a tongue twister for sure but what else is it? An RPG? A turn-based tactics game? A bad parody? A collection of cheap shots aimed at the most iconic fantasy novels and best-known characters from other video games? Actually, the game is a bit of everything, but while it tries to be a jack of all trades it misses to achieve anything meaningful or truly memorable.
It is not easy to make a parody targeting the fantasy fans out there. It is really hard to walk the thin line of making fun of all the major books and games while maintaining a sense of humor that does not appear childish or second-hand. John Lang arguably managed to achieve this precarious balance with his audiobook series called The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk. After being adapted into novels, comic books and being translated to English, a video game adaptation was inevitable.
Instead of ancient challenges dreamt up by a dungeon master, they will have to navigate the bureaucratic maze of the procedures put in place by a co-op syndicate. The commonplaces of the fantasy universe are combined with quirks of the modern world, the result being an ironical, almost cynical view of games like Baldur’s Gate or books like Lord of the Rings.
Unfortunately just as the tower does not live up to the expectations of a grandiose quest, the humor is also rather boorish with uninspired jokes and parodies. In the first hour, you will be able to smile at them even if they reek of being cheesy, but later on, they just become tiresome and lame.
Thankfully the turn-based combat cuts into the childish dialogues and offers a challenge worthy of the genre. From positioning to choosing the most suitable passive and active abilities, using them correctly along with all the other actions at your disposal, and even taking into account luck, the system is complex but rewarding. It will take some time to get used to it and understand it completely, but once you do the tactical depth will guarantee some really fun moments. Especially that the game has the habit of showering you with reinforcements right after you just bested one or several though waves. Using the cover system, and the different traps and contraptions to your advantage will help you down giant rats, orcs, goblins, and any other type of enemy you would expect to see in a fantasy RPG. After the battle, you can heal your characters and gather the loot left behind by your opponents. You have to pay attention to injuries because health potions can replenish lost hit points, but your wounds will need to be dressed with bandages or first aid kits. And you will suffer plenty since the game is challenging even on normal difficulty. You cannot save during battles, the only option being to restart the entire confrontation if Lady Luck was not on your side. On higher difficulty levels a battle can last up to even 30-40 minutes, but the developers managed to find the right balance so they will feel engaging, but never overwhelming. If you prefer to focus on the tactical part of the game you can choose auto level-up for all your characters, but you will still have to spend time managing your inventory and equipment. The weight limit is generous and you will find plenty of merchants to unload your unnecessary loot. The biggest problem remains the cumbersome menus and the control scheme that is anything but intuitive. You will dread the moments you have to equip your characters or navigate any other in-game menu, just as you will get annoyed by the fact that you cannot invert camera controls.
Performance-wise, the console version is a complete mass. After the latest patch, it does not randomly crash every 5 minutes, but still, it is very far from a smooth ride. You will still experience game crashes, painfully low framerates, maddening loading times, and an overly complicated control scheme. The console version feels like a bad port, where the developers did not even try to understand and adapt their game for a controller. The visual style is not bad, but it is nowhere near the level that would justify the low frame rates in the tavern or other slightly busier areas.