Tower of Doom comes out with a boom!
Ever since video games crawled from the primordial stew of single-pixel organisms that birthed them, one definitive truth has always been certain: beating sprites until they flicker into nothingness is damn satisfying. No developer in the early 1990’s understood this creed better than the folks at Capcom. After they released Final Fight to the unsuspecting masses in 1989, Capcom unleashed a torrent of back-alley brawlers and licensed beat ’em ups that swept over arcades worldwide. While most of their coin-operated fisticuffs took place on the mean streets of urban arenas, Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom took the action out of the alleys and into the realm of High Fantasy.
At First Glance
Tower of Doom puts players in the boots of one of four distinct character classes all lifted from the Dungeon Master’s handbook. Beginners are best suited choosing the Fighter, who is a great all-around brawler who brandishes a sword and can use all sub-weapons. Players looking to smash their way through with brute force will be happy playing as the Dwarf who packs a solid punch and has great combo speed, but his limited range makes him challenging to use. The two other, more advanced classes are the nimble Elf, who, while not as powerful as the fighter, has access to 7 powerful arcane spells, and the Cleric, who carries a mace, has an excellent defense and can heal the party.
After picking your character you begin your adventure through the Republic of Darokin, where you’ll pummel more gnolls, kobolds, and ogres than you can shake a 20 sided die at. Up to four players can play at once allowing you to go in solo or act as a fully-equipped party, ready to put the hurtin’ to an entire bestiary of fantasy creatures.
The action unfolds much like Capcom’s other beat ’em up games. Players venture through varying fantasy landscapes pummeling any hapless monsters who get in their way until you reach the boss at the end of each stage. Capcom has, however, thrown in a multitude of features sure to please fans of D&D and role-playing games. Levels are filled with hidden rooms. These rooms are often discovered through interacting with objects in the environment, like switches which reveal secret passages and stones that can be moved to uncover hidden caverns. These optional rooms are usually loaded with treasure and sub-weapons which will make your adventure much easier. Your hard-earned treasure can be spent at the shop at the end of every stage allowing you to stock up on health potions, arrows, oil, and other monster slaying necessities. And you’ll want to slay them, because those kills grant you experience allowing you to level up your character and become even stronger.
While these are all fun features that make Dungeons and Dragons: Tower of Doom an exciting brawler for fans of both beat ’em ups and its source material, the biggest draw of the game comes from the amount of choice you have over how your campaign unfolds. Most stages end with multiple choices for where to advance to next on your quest to save the land from the vile arch-lich Deimos. One such example is after finding a wounded guard you’ll get to choose whether to chase down the monsters who killed him and destroy their base of operations, or to head to town to warn the villagers of the impending monster invasion. Other choices have you protecting merchants from a raging manticore or an optional fight against a massive quarter-devouring Red Dragon. These varying paths take this already beefy beat ’em up and add a ton of replay value to the package.
As we’ve already said, the amount of choice alone makes D&D: ToD well worth the coins of any adventure-loving fan of beat ’em ups. And speaking of treasure, Capcom really struck gold with the visual style. This CPS-2 powered game features the large, detailed sprites you’d expect from the hardware that hosted Capcom’s biggest games of the ’90s. And while the game looks good, what’s more surprising is just how well it plays. Even when four players and a horde of enemies are occupying the screen slowdown is almost nonexistent.
As good as the visuals are, Tower of Doom is no slouch in the audio department either. The music always fits the environments like a glove, ranging from epic (the stage 3 theme will be stuck in your head for days) to dark and moody, like the haunting chords that play as you plod through a swamp full of undead. While its tunes might not be as memorable as some of Capcom’s other games from the era, they’re all well composed and never sound out of place.
On top of the above average visuals and music, it’s hard to deny the appeal of running in with a full four person party and laying waste to hordes of fantasy creatures. While The game is loads of fun alone or with a friend, Tower of Doom shines when played with a full cast of heroes playing their roles well. Besides, if you wish to fight the Red Dragon alone, you’re going to need a King’s bounty in quarters to take him down.
While Tower of Doom gets most things right, there are a few dents in the games well-worn armor. While basic controls like attacking, dashing, and using your inventory work very well, more advanced functions like crouching and defending require you to hold a button while pressing the joystick back or down, which feels awkward in the heat of a frantic fight. Also, while the sprites look great and are well-animated, the use of colors in Tower of Doom is pretty limited, and some stages look a bit washed out. Expect to see lots of earth tones on your quest to save the republic of Darokin.
Another gripe, though it’s to be expected in any arcade beat em’ up, is that some of the bosses feel like they are designed with quarter-feeding in mind. While this doesn’t apply to every boss, the final boss, and both dragon encounters suffer from this problem and can make the game feel a bit cheap at times.
The Sum Up
Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom is an excellent brawler that manages to meld two drastically different genres into one complete package, and it succeeds in most every regard. Fans of beat em ups will enjoy the large bosses and frantic melees. Those who love RPGs will surely be pleased by the lengthy quest, wealth of choices, and numerous nods to the source material that make Tower of Doom an adventure well worth embarking on. I give the game a well deserved four sticks out of five.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Arcade ; Developer: Capcom ; Publisher: Capcom ; Players: 1-4 ; Released: 1993