Dungeons of Hinterberg PAX West 2023: the Austrian Alps, magical dungeons, and the ice cream lady
Dungeons of Hinterberg immediately caught my eye when it was announced a few months ago. Its vivid cel-shaded art style complemented the stunning, relaxed environments of the Austrian Alps splendidly. I was eager to learn more about this action RPG, so I met up with a representative from Curve Games, the title’s publisher, to see and play it for myself.
First off, I was curious to hear more about Dungeons of Hinterberg’s developer, Microbird Games. It fascinated me that this would be the studio’s debut title. Microbird Games was founded in 2020 and currently consists of 10 people; they’re based out of Vienna, Austria which is why Dungeons of Hinterberg is set in the Austrian Alps.
To set the stage, the premise of Dungeons of Hinterberg revolves around 25 magical dungeons that appeared one day around the town of Hinterberg. Their presence became a point of interest to adventurers from all over the world. Players take control of Luisa, an adventurer who has decided to take a vacation in Hinterberg and check out these magical dungeons for herself.
The game’s structure focuses on how players spend their in-game days. At the start of the day, they can choose to either explore one of four maps to find one of these dungeons, or simply hang out with a NPC in town to advance Luisa’s bond level with them - which does provide gameplay enhancements.
My hands-on demo with Dungeons of Hinterberg showcased a different area than what was previously shown at the Xbox Gamescom 2023 showcase several days ago. Each of the four explorable maps have two unique abilities that Luisa can utilize, though those are strictly tied to each of them individually.
For instance, the Xbox Gamescom 2023 footage allowed Luisa to conjure a small tornado that she could ride to cross areas with thorny vines safely. Meanwhile, Luisa could form a large wrecking ball that she could detonate to blow open cracked walls in the build that I played. She also had another spell that allowed her to fling a ball on a chain at a target and retract it.
Since the game leaves it up to players to decide on what explorable map they want to spend their day at, I asked the Curve Games representative if players had different entry points based on their progress on a map, or would they have to retread some ground to get back to where they were previously. They assured me that even though Luisa would always have the same entry point into the four explorable maps, there would be fast travel checkpoints to quickly resume her adventure in them.
As I made my way to the magical dungeon in the demo, I did some light environmental puzzle solving on my way there. Sometimes there would be physics-based interactions in which I had to place my detonating ball onto a platform, raise it with some other mechanism triggered by the ball-and-chain ability, and trigger the explosion of the detonating ball right at the apex of the platform’s ascension which reaches a cracked wall up above. It’s nothing too complicated and the unique zone-unique spells allow for more varied puzzle types in each region.
Initiating enemy encounters in Dungeons of Hinterberg reminded me a tiny bit of Okami, since it spawns a circular boundary immediately as soon as Luisa makes contact with a foe on the field. She’s equipped with a sword that can do light and heavy attack chains; players possess a dodge roll as well, though Luisa can only do it a certain amount of times consecutively before her dodge stamina gauge has to refill itself. A well-timed dodge at an incoming attack briefly slows down time.
There were several combat skills at my disposal in this build of the game, including a forward leap that causes a shockwave upon landing and being able to spin around with the sword like a top for a few seconds. Craftier players can weave in their zone-unique spells into the fight. Battles were simplistic, yet responsive; they may not offer much in terms of visual spectacle and flashiness, but I appreciated how punchy each impact felt.
I noticed that the creatures I was fighting wore peculiar masks and inquired about it. The enemies that Luisa fights are inspired by Austrian mythology. There’s a tradition every December in Austria that has people dress up as frightening creatures; then, they roam around town with their masks and costumes - it’s not too far off from Halloween.
After a while, I finally reached the magical dungeon. I was told that not all of the dungeons would be as easy or straightforward to find in the full game. Some dungeons may be trickier to find and they may need players to accomplish some sort of challenge before people can enter them.
Stepping into the dungeon portal landed me into a cave environment; it looked like an abandoned mine of some sort. Once again, traversing through the dungeon mostly consisted of puzzles. The initial room you start in contains three switches that need to remain pressed simultaneously. An empty minecart in front of Luisa shows players that it could be pushed onto a button and the tricky part of this puzzle was simply looking up to find another empty minecart that was stuck to the ceiling that Luisa could free with her abilities.
Some other dungeon mechanics in this dungeon were using levers, buttons, and other interactable assets to reroute minecart tracks, in order to find the correct route through certain segments in the cave. There were other sections when Luisa could ride a minecart and players would have to lean left or right to get onto the right track to proceed forward while avoiding obstacles.
At the end of the dungeon, I was greeted with a boss encounter. It was slightly bigger than the enemies I fought thus far and its headpiece had a distinct design different from the others I’ve seen. The boss was capable of summoning a handful of mini tornados and causing debris to fall at marked points throughout the combat arena. A few minor enemies would spawn in throughout the showdown too.
Before finishing my time with Dungeons of Hinterberg, I was warped back to town after finishing the dungeon. Like I mentioned earlier, Luisa can choose to either spend her day finding a dungeon to finish, or spend time relaxing on her own or with a NPC. Hinterberg felt lively as it had NPCs constantly walking around with people going about their cozy day.
I decided that Luisa should spend time with the nearby ice cream lady, Marisa. There were a bunch of ice cream flavors posted behind her with flavors in another language; I asked the Curve Games representative if those were real flavors and they didn’t know either. As I spent time chatting with Marisa, there were a few selectable dialogue options. I don’t believe there was a “correct” response in any of their character interactions, so I don’t think players will have to worry if they have to act a certain way to maximize gameplay benefits.
At the end of my pleasant conversation with Marisa, a bond level up occurred to indicate that I was now closer to Marisa and that rewarded me with a permanent additional dodge stamina bar. There was an odd NPC that passed by us as we were chatting; he wore a black coat with a wicked looking sword on his back. Marisa noted that he was this shady character was staying at a nearby hotel, so perhaps this character will be someone that Luisa can meet in the full game.
The Curve Games representative informed me that new abilites and upgrades to my current abilities could be obtained by leveling up Luisa's bond with certain NPCs. Some NPCs may give her requests too, in which she has to find a certain item in a dungeon. Players may be rewarded with a new sword for Luisa by exploring these relationships and the quests that come along with them as you learn more and more about the NPCs you decide to spend time with.
After spending the day hanging out with Marisa, Luisa returned to her room and slept - thus ending my time with Dungeons of Hinterberg for now. Apparently, there is a “25 dungeons in 25 days” challenge murmured throughout the narrative that players can undertake if they want to, and there might be a shift in the narrative if they’re successful in doing it.
Dungeons of Hinterberg seems like a pleasant and promising action RPG wiith social sim elements and I’m still very impressed that this is how Microbird Games’s first game is shaping up. It looks beautiful and it plays great. The title is slated to release some time in 2024. I can’t wait to see how the final game shapes up!