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Sunday, June 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Game On: ‘Minecraft Dungeons’ is simple hack-and-slash fun

“Minecraft Dungeons” was released on Tuesday, and for better or worse, it has very little in common with the decade-old “Minecraft” we all know and love. While it shares the same setting, visuals and creatures, you won’t find any building, crafting or other creative mechanics in the straightforward dungeon crawler.

In fact, the game itself isn’t very creative. Aside from straying away from overused class mechanics, “Minecraft Dungeons” does very little to shake up the well-explored action RPG genre. That might keep veteran hack-and-slashers away from the title, but make no mistake, it’s a fun and very accessible game. That makes “Minecraft Dungeons” a great entry point for anyone who hasn’t dipped their toes in the action RPG genre.

Its gameplay is very similar to the likes of the “Diablo” and “Torchlight” series, which game director Måns Olsen cited as inspirations during the development of “Minecraft Dungeons.” It only simplifies game mechanics and strategies that already existed in the genre without adding anything revolutionary.

Thematically, “Minecraft Dungeons” blends fantasy with whimsy, which is an important strength. “Torchlight” is straightforward fantasy, and “Diablo” is likewise fantastical but incredibly morbid. The whimsical, playful nature of “Minecraft Dungeons” is bound to appeal to younger gamers, and even as a cynical 20-something, I have to admit the art style is pretty and pleasant. The environments are detailed and vibrant, with setpieces like villages and bridges looking colorful and alive.

Game developers Mojang Studios and Double Eleven should’ve put more focus on this strength. Instead, they opted to throw in elements of random map generation. Theoretically, this adds to the replay value of “Minecraft Dungeons,” but in practice, the changes between playthroughs are so slight it only leads to many areas looking too similar to one another.

The aforementioned setpieces are sparse, while bland corridors and dead ends fill all the space between. Pushing a button to open a door containing treasure, only to spring an ambush of enemies, ceases to be surprising when you’ve done it three times in 10 minutes in three identical rooms.

“Minecraft Dungeons” might be repetitive, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The campaign takes about five hours to clear, which is rather short. In this time, players will explore a multitude of biomes like deserts, swamps and grasslands, so you’re not stuck looking at drab dungeon walls for hours on end. Inventory management is a breeze, which is a clear victory over “Diablo.”

Character progression is very simple. Upon exploring and slaying enough monsters, players “level up” and gain an “enchantment point,” which is used to imbue your gear with powerups. My favorite is the “Coward” perk, which grants a player a damage boost whenever they’re at full health. Your character only gains abilities through equipment, of which you can equip just six at a time – the common theme is clearly simplification, which is another reason “Minecraft Dungeons” is a great choice for kids and hack-and-slash newbies.

Replay value is offered via difficulty settings and cooperative play. You can jump into online games or play couch co-op with up to four players, which makes for a more frenetic combat experience. There are various items and abilities tailored toward helping teammates, so playing with friends is clearly encouraged. Disappointingly, you can’t gift or trade any gear to other players.

“Minecraft Dungeons” is good fun but not inventive. It expands upon the charming setting of “Minecraft” with an action RPG backdrop. Post-release content is already in development, titled “Creeping Winter” and “Jungle Awakens,” promising more areas to explore with new challenges. “Minecraft Dungeons” is available for $20 on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. It’s currently free to play for Xbox Game Pass subscribers.

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