Dungeon Explorer is likely a game even the most Sega CD faithful have never heard of, let alone played. It was one of the last half-dozen or so titles released on the platform. What makes it a bit more of an oddity is that it’s technically a port of a Hudson Soft game released on the PC-Engine, though it has very little in common with its namesake, and it was never actually released in Japan, coming out only in North America and Europe.
That’s not a unique situation on the Sega CD, though.
Dungeon Explorer on the PCE was an action RPG that borrowed iberally from the arcade classic, Gauntlet. Dungeon Explorer on the Sega CD, however, is pretty much Gauntlet to the letter. The game tasks one to four players with taking on a series of dungeons (‘natch) in order to gain levels, find loot, buy better gear, and eventually earn the ability to take out a final boss. I’m sure there’s a lot of story involved as well, but I never really experienced any of it during my brief play sessions leading up to this entry.
See, because Dungeon Explorer apes Gauntlet in almost every way, it feels like exactly what it is – an arcade-style loot hunt. As arcade games are built to eat quarters, they’re generally balanced way in favour of the AI enemies rather than the player. And that’s the same with Dungeon Explorer. It’s so common to get completely overrun by enemies that the game quickly becomes frustrating. Oh, and you only have one life to give to the cause.
I’m sure the game is much better with four players. Not only because there’s strength in numbers, but because the various character classes likely complement each other very well on the battlefield. Unfortunately, since the game features no option for AI teammates, I don’t really know how it feels to play with multiple people at once.
Dungeon Explorer on the Sega CD does some things well, though. Gone are passwords in favour of save files. And unlike the PCE version, the Sega CD game allows you to gain levels simply by fighting the basic enemies in the game – so grinding is a valid option if you feel strongly enough about seeing the game’s ending.
When you consider the developer is Westone, it’s not surprising that this is actually a clone of another game altogether. This company had a bit of a reputation for such things.
Old-school gamers will likely remember an old Sega arcade game called Wonder Boy. They more likely remember a remarkably similar game called Adventure Island, which was released by Hudson for the Famicom.
Westone developed the original Wonder Boy for Sega, and had a licensing arrangement where they owned the rights to everything in the game but the characters and their names. Thus, when they set out to create a conversion of Wonder Boy for the Famiom, all publisher Hudson really had to do was change the look (very slightly) and name of the main character, and voila! A totally new game!
Westone did very much the same thing with another Sega game called Riot City. Again, they retained the rights to everything but the characters, and so set about porting the game to the PC Engine CD for Hudson Soft. Hudson simpy changed the look and names of the main characters – from Paul and Bobby to Hawk and Tony, renamed the game Riot Zone, and suddenly a whole new game appears!
What does any of this really have to do with Dungeon Explorer? Well…nothing. Sorry.