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Dungeons of Hinterberg is the breakout indie to watch this year

The main character of Dungeons of Hinterberg blows into a giant horn.
Curve Games

Last summer’s Xbox Games Showcase was filled with so many eye-catching titles that I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting half of them. One title that’s stayed with me since then, though, is Dungeons of Hinterberg. The unique action RPG stood out thanks to its use of the Alps as a backdrop and its bold style that made it look like a visual novel come to life. It looked like the kind of game I’d love, but I’d need to get hands-on to see if it felt the part, too.

Any skepticism I had there was washed away as soon as I played a slice of it at this year’s Game Developers Conference. The meaty demo would show off its silky smooth movement, fluid combat system, and intuitive puzzles that didn’t waste a moment of my time. With some striking visuals and a shockingly long run time to support those strengths, Dungeons of Hinterberg could end up being one of this year’s indie standouts.

While a previous snippet I saw last June showed me a green biome filled with mossy caves, my hands-on demo would drop me onto a snowy mountaintop. I can see why developer Microbird Games would choose that biome for this preview, too; it’s one that really shows off just how satisfying every aspect of the adventure is.

The player summons meteors in Dungeons of Hinterberg.
Curve Games

First, I’d get the hang of the basics when I bumped into some folklore-inspired enemies. Melee slashes and a magical ranged shot would be easy enough to grasp, while an arsenal of extra skills would bring diverse options to battles. One special power would allow me to burrow under enemies for a short time, causing damage from below, while another would freeze them in place for a moment. While it’s standard action RPG combat, every tool meshes together smoothly. It felt like I could chain together all my attacks with ease, almost dancing my way through enemies.

That fluidity is present in just about every aspect of the adventure, and that was especially the case for traversal. In the mountain biome (one of four in the game), pressing the Xbox controller’s left bumper calls up a hoverboard. I could glide down snowy slopes on that, occasionally latching onto a rail and grinding across a scenic backdrop. It feels fantastic, letting me freely weave around the mountains and soak in its vibrant purple crags.

After a bit of exploring (and trouncing enemies), I’d pop into one of the game’s titular dungeons. Here, I’d have to use my magical ray beam – a power on the right bumper exclusive to that area – in a number of creative ways. I’d use it to cut down giant stalactites, creating massive platforms I could hop across, and later hit three floating eyes to form a bridge. The most clever use of it came in a puzzle room where I’d need to pass through a laser grid by shooting far-off buttons that raised and lowered certain parts of the floor. I’d make it through the maze with some clever spatial reasoning, correctly positioning myself while the floor was lowered so I could pop up to the correct spot.

The player summons a tornado in Dungeons of Hinterberg.
Curve Games

All of that is easy to communicate. What’s harder to get across is just how natural it all felt. There was never a point during my demo where I scratched my head, unsure what to do next. When I saw those stalactites, I naturally deduced that I could cut them down without a second thought. Another puzzle would have me moving a rotating laser to raise and lower a climbable wall. The solution to that puzzle came to me like it was second nature. Whether in traversal, combat, or exploration, every moment I spent in Dungeons of Hinterberg melded together naturally.

There’s still so much to see in the final release. I’d only get a small taste of its social simulation system, heading out to a bar with an eccentric townie who tried to teach me how to smile. The world seems like it’s brimming with good-natured creative spirit, which it’ll need, considering that Microbird Games anticipates that this will take players 25 to 30 hours to beat. That’s a long time for an indie of this scale, but I don’t think that’ll be much of a problem. I felt like I could have slid around those mountains for hours – and I’m sure I will when Dungeons of Hinterberg launches on PC and Xbox this summer.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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