Ever since Nintendo gave players the tools to develop their own levels with Super Mario Maker, there’s been talk about the Big N expanding the concept to other franchises, especially Zelda. This was allegedly discussed at greater length behind the scenes and eventually led to the addition of the Chamber Dungeons concept in the Link’s Awakening Switch remake, but there seemingly wasn’t enough will or interest to see it through to a fuller product, as we haven’t seen anything come to fruition yet. Spotting an opportunity to capitalize on the potential of this idea, an indie team called Firechick launched and successfully funded a Kickstarter late last year for a legally distinct top-down Zelda-style dungeon builder called Super Dungeon Maker. Now that it’s come to Switch, we can report that it’s a decent foundation, though it feels unfinished at launch and there’s clear room for improvement here.
First, a brief overview. This is a game that apes the gameplay of the Game Boy and SNES Zelda games as closely as possible, right down to that annoying worm boss that spins in circles in a cramped room. Instead of playing as Link, you play as a chicken named Fink who has the same basic sword and shield alongside a small arsenal of tools like a hookshot or bombs. Using these, you navigate dungeons, solve puzzles, and kill baddies, all in the quest to find the golden egg at the end of each dungeon.
Aside from a few brief introductory dungeons to give you an idea of what’s possible with the mechanics, there isn’t any sort of story-driven, single-player adventure to sink your teeth into here. The vast majority of your time will be spent either playing and scoring levels uploaded by other users to the global community, or picking up the tools yourself and building dungeons to then share with everyone else. While it feels like a missed opportunity that Firechick mostly passed on giving us some kind of little campaign to anchor the experience more, it’s hard to complain about a lack of content given that there are far more levels than you’ll ever have time to play. How many of those levels will be worth playing is entirely something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
The bulk of your time with Super Dungeon Maker will likely be spent sampling the seemingly endless community-crafted dungeons, which offer quite a fascinating range of experiences. Some levels play it straight and try their best to match Zelda’s legendary dungeon design, to the point that we tried out one dungeon that was a lovingly adapted version of Tail Cave from Link’s Awakening. Others try something different, such as a dungeon we played where you ‘golf’ on a nine-hole course by pushing an ice block or another that had us ‘race’ a series of blocks triggered by automatic switches. Then there are the dungeons that just exist to troll you; we played quite a few that were little more than being constantly ganked by enemies and lasers every time we set foot in a new room.
It goes without saying that your mileage may vary here, as there’s no real way of determining the quality of a level aside from the number of likes it’s gotten so far. And while you’re sure to find plenty of levels that have actually had some thought and effort put into them, it can sometimes feel like you have to sift through a lot of trash before you find the gems. There are some ways to mitigate this, of course, such as being able to search by specific users known for their quality or by filtering using tags such as “Linear” and “Pacifistic”, but you ultimately have no idea what you’re getting into until you’ve already given a level a shot. To be fair, it can be quite thrilling to be pleasantly surprised by a level you decided to give a chance, but it can be equally disappointing when a promising one turns out to be a dud.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from being the change you want to see in the world, and that’s where the builder tools come in. The interface is a little hokey to navigate using the sticks and D-pad on a controller, but it overall feels intuitive and simple enough to get to grips with. Brief tooltips on each dungeon element, such as a special door or a patch of quicksand, help explain what each item does and you can jump between the ‘play’ and ‘create’ modes with a simple tap of a button to test things out.
The tools themselves feel sufficiently robust without being overly complicated or unapproachable. Our only complaint here is that there’s no support for touchscreen controls, which feels like a pretty glaring omission given how perfectly the interface feels tailored for touch. The sticks are fine, but we’re hopeful that an patch will be able to add that functionality.
And we’re certain that there will be patches, because Super Dungeon Maker simply doesn’t feel complete yet. Literally the first thing you see every time you boot it up is a disclaimer message that warns you that the game is still in development and is considered a “preview” while encouraging you to share feedback and bug reports with the team. Where this ‘early access’ designation is felt most strongly is probably in the design elements themselves, or rather the lack of them. For example, there are technically only five items—four if we’re not counting the shield as an item—and this severely limits how varied the dungeons can be on a mechanical level. Even with some of the great off-the-wall ideas you see on display in many community levels, there’s only so much one can do with, say, a hookshot before you start seeing repetition of ideas.
In many ways, then, it can feel like the creator interface is akin to a state-of-the-art kitchen stocked with equipment, but the cabinets are barren and there are only four or five ingredients with which to cook. If you’re creative and skilled, you can still toss together some pretty impressive stuff, but there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re not being given a ton of material to work with. Those of you who lean more towards the creator side of these player-made-content games may thus want to hold off on purchasing for a while and wait for the team to implement more design elements in the toolbox.
There’s a certain hollowness that comes with playing what is effectively a Zelda game with no overworld, story, or overarching adventure. The dungeons are often seen as the highest points of many a Zelda game, but Super Dungeon Maker made us reflect deeper on how necessary everything else is to make the dungeons stand so tall. If a traditional Zelda game is a cupcake, then Super Dungeon Maker is just the frosting; it may be the sweetest part of the experience, but it loses a lot of its appeal when it’s all you have.
Not having an overworld to fool around in with your new toys or a narrative-based reason to get to the shiny thing at the end of the dungeon feels like it kind of robs Super Dungeon Maker of its meaning, as conquering a dungeon doesn’t represent any material progress for your character or a plot. Once you beat a dungeon, you just simply exit and then go play another one that starts you at the beginning with no equipment once more. And while this loop can be satisfying for a little bit, it also relies on the simple gameplay mechanics to do all the heavy lifting of providing that ‘fun factor’. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite up to the task, at least for the time being.
As for its presentation, Super Dungeon Maker does a great job with a cutesy hi-bit art style that feels like it manages to be its own thing while still being clearly inspired by 2D Zelda. The main issue here is that performance is pretty inconsistent, noticeably dipping into sub-30 FPS realms all the time. Though there’s probably more going on under the hood than you might think, it still feels quite jarring to see a game that looks like this being so choppy and it does notably drag down the overall gameplay experience.
Super Dungeon Maker has a lot of potential and perhaps with time it’ll become something great. For now, it feels like an egg that still needs significantly more time to incubate before it can hatch. Intuitive creator controls, an endless well of community-crafted content, and charming visuals are all big positives here, but the lack of any overarching progression, no touchscreen controls, and it feeling generally unfinished really hold this one back from being anything exceptional. If you have faith that the developers will eventually realize the full scope of their vision, then we’d certainly encourage you to crack this one open, but those who are more wary of early-access titles will want to wait and see. Super Dungeon Maker is just an average experience for now — here’s hoping that it eventually delivers on its promise.
I'm not exactly surprised this game wasn't perfect, as maker games are just difficult things to get right. However, I think the community aspect is the most important. Even if they never add to the game or fix anything, if enough people make levels, there will be some amazing gems to find mixed in. Since there aren't any great alternatives to dungeon maker type games, I'll probably grab this just for the experience and to hopefully find some creators doing creative things.
As for the lack of overworld, I think that has always been why a zelda-maker hasn't and likely never will be made. A dungeon maker is never going to be a zelda-maker. It would have been nice if they had added a simple story mode as in Super Mario Maker 2, but fundamentally dungeons are going to be isolated levels. The more maker tools are added the more creative levels can be, so I do hope this game is supported or it may die quickly.
Literally the first thing you see every time you boot it up is a disclaimer message that warns you that the game is still in development and is considered a “preview” while encouraging you to share feedback and bug reports with the team.
I hate how common it is for games to launch in an unfinished state now. I understand modern games are complex and not everything is necessarily able to be caught prior to launch, but releasing it on a commercial store and charging people $20 to act as beta testers for your product is just gross.
@Ralizah The thing that bothers me about this is that there's no indication on the eShop page that this is still in early access. You're told this after you've given them your money. I'm not against the idea of early access games on switch, Risk of Rain 2 is a good example of a success there, but I think developers should go to every length they can to ensure people know what they're getting into. Not everyone who looks at this game on the eShop will have the sense to dig deeper into its history, especially when all the screenshots and descriptions give the impression this is a finished game.
Ahh this is so sad for those that were interested. I know people have been clamoring for a Zelda maker for years now, and this looks like it's not gonna cut it and to echo what @Ralizah said, that Is just an embarrassing and pathetic thing to do and it forgoes any forgiveness and patience for patches people would have had. It's on the Eshop, people expect a finished game, it doesn't tell you that in the Eshop before you buy it either, I just checked, and that's so scummy, not everyone frequents these sites daily like we do. Lucky I wasn't interested by this. I feel bad for the people that got burned and bought it before they came here.
Edit ahh @SwitchVogel you beat me to it!
Looks like they took the idea from the Link's Awakening remake and make a whole game out of it but they forgot that the reason Link's Awakening got away with it was cause it's an extra feature that came with the full game. This just feels like if they cut the extra feature from the full game and not give it any meat.
No touch controls is really bad.
With Advance Wars 1+2 as well. It's horrible that game doesn't have touch control. But, for Advance Wars 1 + 2 game, Nintendolife didn't consider that as a con. Why?
I'm pretty concerned that the current digital release of the game on the Switch eShop is apparently a "preview release".
More-so because a physical release of the game is due in the fall of this year, are they going to put a development build on the physical cartridge and ship that?
@Nanami_Ataraxia @SwitchVogel IMO this is a situation where I'd probably fight for a refund, just on principle. Early Access games aren't something I approve of, but they still tell you upfront what they are, at least.
@Rykdrew That's cause most people who wanted to play Advance Wars 1+2 play it mainly for the full games and not the creation feature. A tactical strategy game doesn't need touch controls. Like the Link's Awakening remake, having a level editor to play for fun on top of the full game is just the icing so that's why reviewer don't see that as a con as the level editor is not the reason most people buy the game for anyways.
Creation feature is a flimsy thing. There might be 0.1% super advanced megabrains among the users, that will work day and night to build ultra detailed masterpieces, but the remaining 99.9% of works will be pretty useless
Pity, it looked interesting. However, I'll go and check Youtube for what it has to say about this game (tool?), and if it improves in future, then the mighty YT algorithms, may their benevolent wisdom shine upon us, will recommend it to me again.
About "hit or miss" community content part of review - it's called Sturgeon's law, and in user generated content this law is always in full force.
I understand that they shouldn't sell the game without a warning of it still being an early access, but personally I do think that it has enough to be on the eshop already and that it's great that they are still working on it. I prefer to support these kind of projects that I can see needing funding without asking for free money.
As for performance deeping to 30 fps, most games run like that on Switch already. I do hope that they can improve that.
I don't think that "no progression" is a valid negative in a game that focuses around creating and playing other player's levels and doesn't promise any kind of campaign or story mode whatsoever.
Replay and re-review in a year’s time perhaps?
The "still in development" is just a courtesy. This is a twenty dollar game, not osme AAA title, the more. Money they get the more development they can put in, and they'll be updating and supporting this game for years. Everyone freaks out when someone's mean to their workers, but has no problem expecting too much themselves. These are people, this is their job.
@SwitchVogel It is no longer an early access game. It has been officially released from early access therefore as reviewed as such.
@Serpenterror i play on the bed, before sleeping, and it's more comfortable to rest the switch on the bed, and use the touchscreen. This is how I play Into the Breach, a strategy game like Advance Wars. This is how I play Steamworld Heist (strategy game), Dicey Dungeons (strategy game), Slay the Spire (card strategy game)...Clubhouse Games 51 (board and strategy games). I really miss the touchscreen in Advance Wars 1+2. I dont play non-touchscreen games on the bed. My neck hurts.
@HistoricKombat you just said some word salad which still equates to the game being released in an unbalanced state. Whether it passed some arbitrary human checks is hardly notable when you consider some of the abysmal content which makes its way onto the eShop. First line of defense is the developer itself which should stand accountable and not release content until they can stand behind it as their (near-final) work.
That's a shame that it feels unfinished, but I'll still be checking this out because it's the closest we've gotten to a Zelda Maker.
Edit: After reading the comments, I'll hold out until the full build is released.
Played the game on Steam and...it kinda bugged out on me, before then my Pro Controller wouldn't even work.
I supported the game on Kickstarter so I got both versions, I'll download the Switch one eventually but I'm occupied with Advance Wars right now. I hope they fix some stuff, they did say they'll be working on this game more and add more stuff.
I did ask a while back if they'll ever give us "layers" to floors like some of the dungeons in ALttP, like Blind's Hideout (or whatever it was called, lol) and they said they already had that idea in mind.
I think they said something on an Overworld Creator, can't remember, but....maybe?
I completely agree that a dungeon maker can never be a Zelda maker. Zelda is all about adventure and exploration and story; the dungeons are just a meaty bonus. Of course the elephant in the room is the fact that BOTW doesn't even have dungeons at all. Mario is a different beast, it's pure gameplay; any story is just a distraction. To be honest with the 2D Zelda games I often feel the dungeons just get in the way of the real fun.
I stated the fact that Super Dungeon Maker is no longer in early access and as such, it should be reviewed as a full product but some users comment as if it is still in early access. I was not giving my opinion on the game. I will agree based on the fact
the developer are still pushing for content updates so it was not ready for a full release.
@OptometristLime Nope. What that user stated is that the game is not an early access game. This is a lie that has been spread throughout this comment section with.. basically no one until then taking the time to actually go and check that.
It's a game that is released and has a content map. Stardew Valley amongst a ton of other games that wouldn't get slandered followed that model. It's pretty straight forward and a flat out lie to claim that the game is on early access on ANY platform.
I’m a sucker for level makers, so if this improves, I may give this a shot down the line. But still, that’s a pretty scummy practice for a game to throw. If you, say, got a discount for early adopting or got some sort of reward for buying an unfinished game, that would be one thing, but the fact that you are not informed AT ALL before you buy the game feels very dirty.
I’ll wait for a real Zelda Maker from Nintendo.
It's worth keeping in mind that this game is made by a really small indie studio so this is actually the first version of the full release, but of course they plan to add much more down the line.
Should have they hold back the "full release"? Personally, I don't think so, better to get it out there relatively soon to let people start creating since the community aspect is fundamental in this kind of game as @FishyS mentioned.
By the way, I agree that this and the "Zelda Maker" in Link's Awakening would be much better if you could create also overworlds, but then they'd risk of becoming excessively complicated on the maker side just like Zelda Classic (which I can't recommend enough, but like I said it's a different beast).
BOK! BOK! BOK! Time to make something Startropics inspired.
Next time, think very hard before you say "X does what Nintendon't".
@Rykdrew I play on the bed too but I don't use the touch screen I use a wireless controller. If I sleep, my Switch sleep too and tomorrow I just continue from where I left off. This is how I manage to play and beat Triangle Strategy, Tactics Ogre, and Chrono Cross.
@Serpenterror i don´t like to play this way on the bed.
I prefer to lie on my side and have my arms free. Then I rest the switch on the bed and use the Touchscreen.
As many small publishers put the Touchscreen option in their strategy games, I find it outrageous that Nintendo does not put this option in a First Party FULL PRICE $60 game, the touchscreen being one of the advantages of Nintendo's own hardware.
This is just one of the reasons why I won't be buying Advance Wars 1+2.
I will only buy a Nintendo game when it has enough content for the price Nintendo charges.
I don't like every genre of game out there. So, until today, for Switch, from Nintendo I only bought warioware, mario kart 8 and super smash bros ultimate.
I bought Nintendo Switch Sports too, but I regretted it, as this game has very little content for the price charged.
I don't like adventure games, so I don't play Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Yoshi, Metroid, Pokemon, so I can't comment on those.
But I like strategy, but Advance Wars 1 + 2 is a disappointment for me.
We like this kind of game in our household so I had already gone ahead and downloaded it before the review. My youngest had a whale of a time on RPG Maker MV and Super Mario Maker series so that did influence my decision. It's flawed judging by the revw content but I honestly think we'll enjoy it just fine even if it's half decent as it's one of my household's main gaming genres. I myself enjoy the half decent, throwaway 2D fighters as that's one of my fav genres.
@Ralizah Yeah, that's why it's probably best to wait it out at this point with most new games. The last year I've been disappointed over and over with new game releases I bought day 1. Pokémon Violet springs to mind immediately. It's a sad trend that needs to be stopped and that's why I vowed to always read reviews before buying something, these days. And seeing text like this is a big red flag.
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