Grotesque Tactics 2: Dungeons and Donuts – Review

Title   Grotesque Tactics 2: Dungeons and Donuts
Developer  Silent Dreams
Publisher  Lace Mamba Global
Platform  PC
Genre  RPG, Parody
Release Date  2nd March, 2012

Comedy is a very difficult thing to get right. A joke that you find hilarious could fall on deaf ears, or something you deem perfectly acceptable to be told at the dinner table may lead to accusations of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, or all three if it’s a really good joke. My point is that if you’re going to be funny, you have to, you know, be funny.  Being funny in a game is even more difficult, but then to try and tackle parody in a videogame is an idea that makes most people wince in pain.

To my mind, there has been only one recent release that has tackled the parody of videogames to such a fundamental level that it has repetitive enemies and levels specifically to make fun of them, and that was Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. It was a game so hideously mediocre that you forgot you were playing a parody of games and instead focused on the fact that, really, you were just playing a bad game.

So, enter Grotesque Tactics 2: Dungeons and Donuts, a game which, like its prequel, pokes fun at RPGs through not only jokes at their expense, but also parodying some of the more ridiculous elements of the genre, such as the abundance of scantily-clad, buxom women. It’s a neat little idea, and the screenshots released by developer Silent Dream looked darn tasty, but is it actually a good game?

Grotesque Tactics 2 starts off directly after the first game, and it’s here that we encounter the first problem: there’s almost no explanation of the previous title. Grotesque Tactics 2 assumes you have prior knowledge of the first game which, as a newbie to the series, I did not have, and so spent most of my time bumbling around meeting old faces that were completely new to me.  It’s not a major issue, however, as your main character, Drake, doesn’t remember them either. After a short introduction that sees you picking your difficulty by tackling one of three quests, each of which is a very literal representation of the difficulty (so Hard difficulty is represented by a battle against a giant rock golem, while Easy is chosen by picking flowers and killing peace loving skeletons), Drake gets attacked by a group of untrustworthy looking characters and passes out.

Upon waking, he discovers he’s suffered “hero’s amnesia”, a humorous jab at the poor attempts to justify why your character loses all their abilities at the start of a sequel in most games. The intro is actually one of the best (and funnier) parts of the game, although, as you might have gathered, it’s all downhill from there.  You start off following a fairly linear path, picking up party members as you go and completing quests as they come at you, but once you get out of your first dungeon and are free to wander, you realise just how annoying the questing is.

You’re free to grab quests in any order you like, but you’d better pay attention when you’re getting them, otherwise you’ll have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing. The quest log is totally useless, giving only so much as a hint as to what you’re supposed to do, and half the time you can’t even go back to the quest giver and get them to repeat the details to you.

Possibly the biggest annoyance is the lack of a map, something which they try to pass off as a joke, but is almost a heinous crime in the RPG world. The environments aren’t huge, and the paths are fairly linear, but you can often get pretty overwhelmed when you first set foot in a new area. And that’s if you can find the new area. Not having any waypoints to show you where you need to go for a quest is extremely frustrating and, more often than not, you’ll wander between entrance points praying that you’ll find the right one and be able to progress to the next quest. It’s not fun, and it seriously hinders the experience.

Of course, you’ll have to be allowed into the area first. One of the main plot points in Grotesque Tactics 2 is that Drake is starting a guild, namely the Guild of Glory (the kingdom he resides in), so that he can go and fight the demonic fog that is keeping everyone trapped underground. Because of this, you’ll spend your first few hours restricted to the same two or three maps, sheerly because you have to run around finding cooking ingredients and fighting monsters just to impress the princess and have your guild made official.  Even when you’re in the guild, Drake will only ever enter an area if he has a quest there. There’s no room to explore the world unless you’re supposed to be there already, which makes the game feel even more claustrophobic than it already is, given the underground setting.

Once you jump through all the hoops and you have some quests to tackle, it’s time to do some fighting.  Grotesque Tactics 2’s battle system appears to draw plenty of inspiration from Final Fantasy Tactics, employing a grid system for your party to travel along, while keeping the RPG staples of levelling up. Each turn you can move your current character a certain number of spaces, determined by their Movement attribute, and then attack enemies with either a basic attack or one of several special attacks that are unlocked by levelling up; you can also sneak round the back of enemies to deal extra damage. It’s all fairly simple, but it actually works pretty well. At least, once you get into the battle itself, that is.

While exploring, you will automatically enter into battle mode when you end up in the vicinity of enemies. This is a great little system, as it means you move seamlessly in and out of combat, which keeps things pacy, but when you enter battle mode, your party members will spread out every which way, and usually not the way you want them to. It’s quite often the case that you’ll end up with your heavy hitters, who can move around three squares a time, hanging about ten squares away from where the fight is happening, meaning that your incredibly weak characters are liable to get absolutely destroyed within the opening few turns.  Even worse is when you have to take on an escort mission. In these missions, you have to stick close to a character and make sure they don’t die, while they run on ahead and you follow them to their destination. You have no direct control over them, so you can’t heal them with potions from your inventory, and have to keep a healer character near them at all times.

The problem with this is that the bastard will inevitably run ahead and brush near an enemy, sending you straight into the grid and severely restricting your movement. Your escort will then proceed to face off against three enemies, all of whom are four levels higher than him or her, and subsequently die while you desperately try to get your healer over there in time. You’re then promptly thrown back to the start of the mission and, after enough re-dos, your monitor gets thrown out of the window in anger.  I had this happen to me three times in the space of ten minutes. At one point, having planned ahead for my companion’s inevitable descent into being a total retard, I ran on ahead to tackle the challenge that he would face once he had decided to bugger off. Instead, this time, my escort ran in the opposite direction… into another batch of enemies.

Thankfully, I was close enough to turn around and save him, as well as defeat room after room of enemies, before the ungrateful prick decided to turn heel and head towards his original destination, a move I missed completely, causing me to (yet again) reload the mission as he died at the hands of a goblin riding on the back of a pig. It’s this kind of shoddy AI that makes Grotesque Tactics 2 one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever played.

And it is a shame because it has some good stuff going for it. The auto-loot button, which allows you to stand in one place and hammer a button to quickly grab all the loot around you, is a pretty neat idea. It doesn’t work half the time, but it’s a nice idea. And the interactions between characters are well done, if a little one-dimensional.  The graphics, in particular, are very lovely indeed and, while you do have to suffer through very samey dungeons (something else they half-heartedly make a joke of), the character models are well presented and have some pretty decent designs going on.  Not only that, but the enemies all look great too – particularly the spiders, which frequently sent a chill down my spine whenever I looked at them. The animations aren’t wonderful, however, and tend to repeat themselves a lot or outstay their welcome, but overall the graphics are probably the high point of the whole game.

The voice acting is of a pretty good standard; every interaction is voiced, and each character has their own distinct voice, which helps to make them that little bit more interesting, even if they’re still quite cliché.  So Candy, the idiot bimbo archer, has a stupid, girly, high-pitched voice that will set your teeth on edge, while Deacon, the black ex-mercenary, has a pretty stereotypical ‘black guy voice’ that makes him all cool and such. The actual acting is great, with most lines being delivered with some passion, but there seems to be an issue where if a character decides to shout, the audio starts to echo and you can really hear the sound bounce off the recording booth walls, but this is only a minor issue in an otherwise well done area.

It’s a shame then, given the strength of the vocal work, that the music itself sucks. You mostly get a looping soundtrack of non-distinct strings throughout, which fits with the medieval theme, but gets very boring really quickly, and you’ll probably find yourself adding your own soundtrack to replace the drone of the orchestra.

Then we come to the main selling point of Grotesque Tactics 2: the humour. Put simply, it’s just not that funny. There are some nice little parodies in there, such as having to catch a Pokedude for Prof. Oke, and some of the jokes are quite good, like when people bash Drake for being an emo/goth/whatever, but mostly they just fall flat, or are just completely ignored.  Ultimately, you just can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they’d gone ahead and made a straight-up, serious RPG instead of bothering with attempts at humour. It was a nice idea, just poorly executed.

There are some nice ideas swimming around the place in this game, but they’re just poorly implemented, or are bugged up. The combat could have been good fun, but the set-up for it is just plain awful. The auto-loot button is a cool idea, but it stops working for no reason. There are lots of tiny little grievances throughout that prevent Grotesque Tactics 2 from being anymore than just another mediocre parody game, and it’s a real shame, because it could’ve been something great.

  • Lovely graphics and character/enemy design
  • Fully voiced, and the voice acting is pretty good
  • Auto-loot is a cool idea
  • Poor introduction leaves new players confused as to what’s going on
  • No map to speak of, and a terrible quest log
  • Shifting between exploration and combat rarely works well
  • Escort missions are an absolute ball-ache
  • Boring and repetitive soundtrack
  • Is sometimes funny, but the humour is mostly just lame

Grotesque Tactics 2: Dungeons and Donuts is a heavily flawed game. It has some great graphics and good voice work, but it falls flat in almost every other aspect. The gameplay is uninspiring, dull, and often feels broken. The humour doesn’t shine through, as you’d hope, and without a map to speak of, you’re often left wandering around like a headless chicken, trying to work out what to do next. It could have been an enjoyable little RPG that poked fun at the genre, but it ended up as just a failed mess of a game.

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  1. Ste Ste says:

    So where there any donuts in it?
    I find that very few games can pull off funny. Only the Monkey Island games spring to my mind which managed to do it. Others might say Sam & Max also but ive not played any of them games so I wouldnt know.

    Anyway, good job on the review. Every game needs more buxom babes!

  2. Edward Edward says:

    Sad to see it wasn’t any good. I do love humour in my games, though I think this review has given me a good idea as to why it fails in games sometimes. Ric, you’re a genius! :D

  3. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Can’t believe this wasn’t awesome. I mean… maybe someone swapped the game for another and you didn’t notice? Say it ain’t so! Such a shame as I was really looking forward to this. Not writing it off entirely, as I adored Two Worlds and most folk hated the hell out of it, but I’ll shove it further down the “to play” pile for a while. Still handled it very objectively, which is a great thing.

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    When I first read the title I really wanted this game to be good. A great RPG parody would be a top game to get stuck into, after all, there is more than enough meat on that fat carcass to have fun with and I’m surprised that it is something that hasn’t been done far more often. Such a shame then that it didn’t meet its potential :( Comedy is much harder to pull off than anything else; it is a tough thing to get right and many games have tried and failed while venturing down that same path. Still, a real shame.

  5. Austyn says:

    I did play the original but it’d been a while so the amnesia angle sort of worked well for me. Roughly half the funny stuff was just redone from the first game. (Holy Avatar’s collection of Maidens, Drake’s Emo-nes, etc.) Also, I didn’t care as much for the voices. Drake didn’t seem emo/goth enough (kind of generic, actually) and I thought Holy Avatar’s voice should have been more over-the-top.

    The game was actually a big disappointment in terms of game mechanics. The original had pretty much the same fighting system. They also took out a very clever feature/annoyance. Since all the characters were somewhat slightly mentally unstable, they each had a meter that measured how much damage they took. When the meter got full, they would do something that could either hurt or help you. The only one I can remember for sure was that the maidens, all being jealous and possessive of Holy Avatar, would randomly fire an arrow at a character standing near him. Other characters could have stat changes, boons, etc. Learning to manipulate this was in interesting and unique feature of the original.

    I was also disappointed by how poorly programed the game was. In addition to the loot button not working all the time, I frequently had problems with the game going into a pseudo-lockup during battle. It would change to the next character’s turn but all the actions were greyed out, including “defend” and “wait”. Thus, you couldn’t do anything. I’d have to save and reload the game and hope it didn’t glitch again.

    Finally, the ending left a rather bad taste in my mouth as well. The original ended with a huge boss fight with a rather interesting (if hard) villain, followed by a pretty cool endgame scene.

    This game ends with a boss battle that couldn’t have been less exciting if they were fighting a loaf of bread. The end game was pretty much a cliff hanger of Drake stuck in a closet.

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