I played Adventure Quest back when it came out in—2002? God, that can't be right. Give me a second, I need to lean on something and take some deep breaths.
Okay—in case you missed that particular boat, I need to explain to you how much of a phenomenon Adventure Quest actually was. While it never quite reached RuneScape's popularity, it occupied the same niche of being a persistent RPG you could play on basically any computer that had an internet connection.
This meant that, yes—you could play Adventure Quest on school PCs, which was basically the only requirement for a game to become a fad back then. It was also charming in a ramshackle, cobbled-together-with-tape-and-glue sort of way. Its developer Artix Entertainment has still been making games for the past 21 years (deep breaths, Harvey), to mixed success: DragonFable, Adventure Quest 3D—and, apparently, a game for the NES.
Dungeons & Doomknights came out for the NES—the actual Nintendo Entertainment System—a year ago. As of 2024 it's now on Steam. This might be the first instance where a modern game has taken that particular route to publication, but who am I to judge?
You play as Artix von Krieger, face of Adventure Quest itself, as you journey through a Zelda-like landscape of 8-bit caves and graveyards to slay the Doom Knight. It's clunky in a charming sort of way, both in terms of its gameplay and its presentation.
Its controls feel stiff, but serviceable—and the gameplay loop is so straightforward I'm having trouble describing it. From what I've experienced, there's two types of gameplay: Zelda-style overworld zones, and 2D platformer areas. In both instances, you move up to skeletons and hit the axe button and try not to die. That's the whole combat system.
You unlock some metroidvania-style abilities as you play—for instance, I had an undead-seeking pomeranian I could send through small doors to attack inaccessible skeletons. You need to find keys, kill all the enemies on a screen, or flip switches to progress. Bog-standard retro imitation stuff. For a mercy, dying doesn't reset your world progress—so the 'save point' system is more about determining where you'll end up when you inevitably bite it.
The main star of the show is the game's unique sense of humour, which'll only land at all if the words Numa Numa and Leekspin make any sense to you. Within the first ten minutes there's a "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" joke. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, Dungeons & Doomknights isn't for you.
Otherwise the game is cute, and that's about it. Exploration is decently satisfying, and there are some neat puzzles which are fun enough to plink away at. I initially thought I was in for a hardcore challenge, but that's just because I jumped off a dragon in the wrong direction and accidentally stumbled my way into a secret boss fight with death.
It's nothing mind-bending. You're mostly fighting to decipher what's actually a cave entrance and what's just part of the scenery. More than once I'd get lost just because the area wasn't properly signposted, but for the retro style this game's going for that's arguably part of the charm.
The only real issue I have is the price point. $19.99 (£16.75) feels like a lot for a game that's one big running gag, and you're missing out on the novelty of the NES version's cartridge. Best I can tell, you're getting about 7 hours of game for your trouble. Whether this thing's worth your time will be entirely based on your nostalgia for an era of Moglins, Zards, and begging your parents for a Guardian Upgrade.