Dunk Lords Preview: Hoop Jammers
Kalvin Martinez / Sep 6th, 2017 No Comments
Dunk Lords might be the best name for a video game ever. It is guttural and visceral. Saying it comes from somewhere deep inside you. It could have been “Lords of Dunk” or something else less immediate. “Dunk Lords” just sounds like something you’d yell at an opponent after you dunked and styled on them.
While Dunk Lords is a great name, it is more than that. It also is more than a basketball game preying on nostalgia for NBA Jam. Dunk Lords changes what you expect from a two-on-two basketball game.
OG Larry Johnson Ish
From the jump, Dunk Lords doesn’t feel like your typical basketball game. Its roster is a split between colorful human beings like Frank, a pot-bellied strong man with a bushy handlebar mustache, and creatures and robots like Chutney, a strawberry humanoid.
Each character has their own unique stats with strengths and weaknesses that make them better suited at certain things on the court. Pairing different characters together to help make a great all-around team may be a good strategy, but having two fast characters zip around the court may be more fun and is definitely more flashy.
The goal of the roster was to create an interesting dichotomy between what you’d expect in a basketball game and the kind of silly characters you’d get in Street Fighter or Tekken. Developer Andy Hull has a few more characters to add before the game is finished, and he hopes to include more female characters to balance out the roster.
Naturally after choosing your pair of players, you got to choose a court. Dunk Lords currently has six courts with a few more to come before the final release.
Courts aren’t just cosmetic backgrounds. They have interesting environmental ticks to them. A rusted out industrial court seesaws back and forth as players move back and forth toward opposing baskets. Like your player selection, choosing your court has a lot of strategic value.
Kick Out the Dunks
Player selection and choosing a court are nice and everything, but what about dunking? When do we get to the dunking? Don’t worry, there are dunks a-plenty.
The first quarter of Dunk Lords shakes out like a normal pick-up game. Players are more focused on showing off their skills than playing as a team to win the game. At the outset, the focus is on getting as many points as possible before time expires.
Players will need to time their shots and power gauges just right to get an outside shot or run past the key to execute a sick dunk.
There are also a few funky things you can do in the first quarter, such as uppercut an opponent or use special skills and charged attacks if your meter is full. However, the game is still basically basketball.
Oh, but there are also special pads near each hoop that give players some additional benefits, including a three-point pad, a special charge pad, a money pad and a mega pad (a pad that gives players who successfully use it the ability to become invulnerable and dunk from all over the court, but they can still have the ball stolen from them).
Hot Doggin’ and Ball Hoggin’
The real fun comes in the subsequent quarters. This is where the game stops being simply basketball and introduces strategy and hidden depth. To that point, most players who stopped by the Dunk Lords booth at PAX didn’t realize what exactly they could do because they were focused solely on the basketball layer of the game.
During each match, you earn money. Money is either earned incrementally by being dope and winning or thrown at you for stinking up the court. Between each quarter, you get a chance to spend that money on upgrades: new sneaks, cores and gloves. Any upgrade you buy will give you a new skill.
In some cases, upgrades come at a loss. For instance, you may sacrifice speed for toughness. More complicated upgrades include getting access to sneakers that litter the court with thorns, but both your opponents and your team can be hurt by the thorns as you dash around.
Regardless if you’re doing terribly or are killing it, the money your team earns is shared between both players. This brings a new layer of strategy into Dunk Lords. Teams need to communicate when spending money. A smart team will buy items that cover up one player’s weakness or make a strength God-tier.
The hope is by giving losing players more money, they can get back into the game in the next quarter with some new equipment. Every subsequent quarter gets crazier and crazier. By the fourth quarter, you’ll be watching a game unfold that is purely chaotic, but there is order in the madness.
Regardless of what you buy, Dunk Lords is still basketball, so the fundamentals will serve you well. No amount of upgrades will make you a better shooter unless you get the dunk from anywhere upgrade.
As something more akin to a fighting game, balancing will be important come final release. From the demo, the balance seemed just right. If both teams know how to utilize the non-basketball aspects of the game, it is fair with plenty of opportunity for dynamic gameplay.
The Beauty of Indie and a Singular Vision
Andy Hull, who previously was the lead programmer on Spelunky, is the sole force behind Dunk Lords. Until recently, he was the only person bringing Dunk Lords to completion. An extra artist was brought aboard to help finish up the game as it gears for a 2018 release.
Hull’s singular vision and desire to create a basketball game that was about more than realistic gameplay or a basic arcade sim. Dunk Lords takes inspiration from those types of games, but his vision resulted in a dynamic, strategic game that is more akin to Mario Kart and classic fighting games.
While Hull hopes Dunk Lords catches on with players and tournaments, he knows you can’t force that sort of thing. After witnessing firsthand the fun and mayhem of the game, it is clear that Dunk Lords has the potential to be a huge grass roots, organic local tourney games.
Even if it doesn’t, Chutney, Frank and the rest of the Dunk Lords may become a staple when you and your friends are chilling on the couch looking to talk s**t and jam.
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