Power Hour Review: Dynasty Feud (PS4)
(Disclaimer: I received a review code for a free copy of Dynasty Feud, but that has not influenced my opinions of this title in any way).
Many of my friends know that fighting games are one of least favorite genres. Admittedly sometimes that is not the fault of the game but my highly competitive nature. Other times I cannot enjoy the experience because of the horrible story lines and commonly blatant sexism (Dead or Alive), or there is too much happening on the screen that I don’t understand (Super Smash Brothers), or because of the insane amount of button combinations that make learning one character daunting, frustrating, and ultimately sum up to an extreme button mash session (Injustice). Despite my general dislike towards the fighting genre, I highly enjoyed my first hour playing Dynasty Feud and look forward to playing it more with my friends over the holiday break.
Dynasty Feud was released earlier this year on Steam and on PS4 on December 12 and was developed by Kaia Studios. In this game you take control of a Dynasty made of 5 playable characters and a god-like character. Each dynasty and each character have their own specialties, weapons, and abilities – however the ideas behind the controls remain the same, press X for jump and circle to perform your super ability etc. For example the Cartwrongs are good for ranged attacks while the Fanciers’ Crew are good with melee combat and explosives.
The game is incredibly fast as each character dies in 1 (sometimes 2) hits. When your character dies you are given a couple seconds to choose which character you want to play next from your dynasty. While you are choosing you take control of your “god” character and can perform an ‘annoy’ attack which can be anything from blacking out the screen or creating a magnet like effect to drag other characters toward you. Dynasties also have one character that can perform a Super attack.
Each clan has incredibly expressive and colorful characters that draw inspiration from time periods or locations. The Cartwrongs as from the Wild West whereas Project x-22 is a clan from the future and the Nekoyama-Shi are Japanese cosplayers on the run from their government. Sometimes it can be hard to see your character or which character you are trying to choose. Both the character and the background are pixelated and it would have been nice to see the streamlined vector style seen in the promotional art used for the characters, especially for the more complex environments. I don’t think this would have created a stylistic imbalance as the contrast would have helped with visibility, helped with recognizing characters, and many 2D TV shows and games successfully create backgrounds that contrast the character and foreground art (Ori and the Blind Forest, The Legend of Korra).
Though this was annoying and could be frustrating in such a fast-paced experience, it did not destroy the overall flow of the game. I played the co-op portion of the game with my boyfriend and for each of us learning the strengths and weaknesses of the dynasties was difficult but entertaining. Even after I learned what each character could do it was still challenging to truly harness each characters abilities. It was so much fun and satisfying to play the archer and ninja classes where I had to learn to quickly aim and pluck my opponent’s avatar from the sky with a well-timed shot or cut him down with the speed and spin of my ninja. Even after learning the moves, the game still presented a challenge but, I imagine, like many fighting games my gameplay will improve with experience. The fact that the play style differs based on avatar abilities and not solely on reaction time or custom button combinations is a huge factor in this. A good one too.
That is not to say the game was perfect – as I already mentioned my issue with the sprites. While it makes sense that each person will start to favor their own dynasties as they become more accustomed to one that best fits their play style, there are still some balance issues. The god ‘annoy’ attack for King Arthur’s clan is extremely hard to land where the Nekoyama Clan god has a longer lasting AOE attack that, in most maps, can push the enemy off a ledge to their death. Furthermore, some Super attacks are extremely hard to dodge, like Thor’s lighting attack, and others are pretty easy. This could be attributed to play preference, but it also seems like some clans are overall more powerful or easier to control, especially when matched against particular dynasties. For example, no matter who played which, the Nekoyama-Shi clan won almost every time when pitted against the House of Arthur.
Despite this, the backgrounds and environments are one of the games strongest components. The maps are vibrant and are implemented in a way to create a more level playing field when these imbalances exist. The players can interact with the environment to use to their advantage regardless of which dynasty they belong to. There are trampolines in the lava cave map and there are switches to release hot oil onto other players in the castle map. The maps are also constantly moving and changing and the player needs to be just as aware of their environment as they do their opponent. If they do not want to end up impaled by falling rocks or drowned in the Viking seas each player needs to outsmart the challenges of the landscape, possibly to their advantage.
Furthermore, I took some issue with one of the artistic and gameplay choices. The goddess character for Uurg Aaarg Clan is extremely stereotyped and sexualized. She is the only Black god or goddess, has large breasts, wears gold hoop earrings and hot pink lipstick on enlarge lips, she is the only spiritual being not to show her face, and her “action” pose is extremely provocative.
The one aspect of gameplay I had trouble with needs to be taken in with some context, as I thought the actual mechanic was clever. When you play the Aztec dynasty, The People of the Sun, you can sacrifice your character by having them stab themselves. While this takes out one of your characters, the next character will be more powerful. I think the tradeoff of sacrificing a character to make another stronger is an interesting mechanic. However, when drawing from cultural inspiration, especially in a game that is meant to be frivolous, developers need to be careful. Implementing such a serious topic into a fun and funny game could be seen as, intentionally or unintentionally, poking fun at another culture. This is heightened by the fact that the Aztec clan are the only ones able to do this (however this would also be extremely problematic if the Japanese clan were able to do this, even if all the clans could do it). This just goes to show that context does matter. To rectify this all the clans should have been made up or the way in which characters sacrifice themselves should be different.
Dynasty Feud is a fun and creative game that, while easy to learn, still requires players to adapt and practice to skillfully beat their opponents. The game is a perfect hybrid between the fast-paced action of Brawl and the simplicity of Starwhal. This combination makes it an enjoyable affair that many different types of players can experience. Though slightly imbalanced, it is not so difficult and convoluted that players who didn’t grow up with Super Smash Bros will throw their controller into the couch (me) but also challenging enough that players won’t place their controllers on the table and leave out of boredom. It is perfect for game nights and parties but is also suitable for workers or students looking for a much needed coffee break.
I should also not that this game offers a variety of modes, but during this hour I only got to play the two 1 v. 1 modes in the game and did not play online. Part of that was because my internet was going haywire and the other part was that my boyfriend and I were having so much fun playing Dynasty Feud together that we just kept going from one stage to the next and we were trying desperately to unlock all the stages and clans before the end of the hour (we failed but we got close!). However, the clans and their powers do not change between modes so the play should remain the same. The largest difference is a mode where you can create your own clan from any of the other characters. We played this for a little and liked the experimentation but ultimately enjoyed playing with the original clans more.