Boyfriend Dungeon review: Beyond the stalking controversy, is it any good?
Beyond the stalking controversy, Boyfriend Dungeon is all about the rush of young queer love.
Dating in Boyfriend Dungeon is much like real life. There are good times of fun and flirting and emotional connection. And then there are low points.
It’s not long after the game’s release and already there is much discourse around the theme of stalking in the game. Yes, there is a character in the game who stalks the player and offers unwanted advances. He also misgenders a non-binary character at one point. He’s called Eric and he’s an arsehole.
Even with the content warning at the start of the game, this story beat still comes across as shocking when it happens. This could be triggering for some, hence that content warning. But it’s also an integral part of the plot. It quickly becomes clear that Eric is the villain of the game and – spoiler alert – he gets his comeuppance in the end.
There’s catharsis that comes with this in the game’s final moments, if you persevere. Dating is about opening yourself up and being vulnerable, learning to deal with the good and the bad that comes with that.
It’s also a specifically queer story. You begin the game as someone who’s never been on a date before. By the end, you’ve been on multiple dates – maybe even dabbled in polyamory – and grown in confidence in both yourself and in your queer identity.
The character creator allows for multiple pronoun options (in fact, it defaults to they/them) and you’ll date characters of all genders throughout the game (despite its title). It’s very clear the message of the game is that dating is for all, no matter who you are, as long as it’s loving and consensual.
So who exactly are you dating? Weapons.
No, really. Boyfriend Dungeon can best be surmised as Dream Daddy meets Hades. It’s a game of two halves where you crawl through dungeons to find weapons who then transform into people you can date.
It’s certainly a bizarre premise, but thanks to honest and open writing that’s full of tongue-in-cheek innuendo, it all works. One minute you’ve got a character offering you “sword pics”, the next you’re having a deep emotional conversation about a character’s past.
And those characters don’t rely on stereotypes either, but have well-written and interesting back stories. They’re seductive, or mysterious, or suave, or downbeat, but there’s always more behind these initial emotions. That’s what makes dating them so fun as you genuinely want to get to know them better, awaiting the next message and invite on your mobile phone.
If you want it to be, Boyfriend Dungeon is simply a game about getting laid in one hot summer of love. But it’s also about friendship, sexuality and polyamory. Going on dates and offering them gifts deepens the bond between you, which in turn levels up their abilities in combat.
You see, you use each partner as a weapon in “the dunj”, whether they transform into a sword, a dagger, a glaive or more. Each has a slightly different playstyle and abilities, though don’t expect Hades levels of depth. Dating each weapon further encourages you to experiment with them all to enhance both combat and your relationships.
It’s clear, though, that dating was the main emphasis of the game. Combat feels stiff and floaty and lacks strategy. Materials are used to craft clothing and zines: the former are mainly cosmetic though and the latter offer a disappointing mix of magical powers.
There are also only two dungeons to play through, each with repetitive enemy designs, the odd secret to uncover, and a lack of randomised roguelike elements (beyond procedurally generated levels) that have become a staple of the genre. They’re meant to reflect your insecurities, but this is underexplored.
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Short and shallow though the dungeon crawling is, it’s simply a means to an end. The dating side of the game is a joy to play through, for its story but also its presentation.
Character designs from Hato Moa are fun and sexy, ensuring they grab the eye. But it’s the electro pop soundtrack from Marskye that really ties the game together. It’s youthful and cool, reflecting the neon-lit rush of young love the game so convincingly portrays.
3 / 5
Boyfriend Dungeon is available now on PC and Switch.
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