Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! review for PS Vita, PS4

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Medium: Digital/Vita Card/Disc
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes (PS4/PC)
ESRB: E10+

Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is one of those games that I appreciate more than I actually enjoy. Like, I’m glad that it exists. It’s a fast-paced, twitchy dungeon-crawler, the sort of thing that’s perfect for playing on the Vita…and yet, at the same time, it kind of bores me.

I don’t think these two sentiments are mutually exclusive, either. I genuinely believe that Cladun Returns has a great concept, and that it executes it exceedingly well. The game places a premium on getting in and out of dungeons as quickly as possible, to the point that the game gives you a timer and a reward for beating your previous best times. Everything about is fast-paced, from character movement, to attacks, to your options for moving around the hub world (more games should utilize fast travel as wel as this one does), and the dungeons are small enough that you can legitimately squeeze them in during even the shortest commutes. The game is somewhat reminiscent of The Binding of Isaac, only with the key difference that there’s no roguelike shenanigans going on here — the dungeons stay the same, because again, the focus here is speed. (It’s also worth nothing that Cladun Returns is far less scatological, which is something I — and my squeamish stomach — appreciate.)

Cladun Returns also manages to incorporate the past without being indebted to it. Unlike a lot of other retro-tinged games that use their pixels as an excuse to punish anyone foolhardy enough to play, Cladun Returns simply looks and sounds like an ’80s refugee. That’s not to say the game isn’t challenging — because it definitely can be — but, again, the emphasis here is on speed, not sadism.

So, why am I so reluctant to say that I enjoy it? In part, it’s actually because the levels are so short. Consider the math: you can beat a dungeon in a couple of minutes. The main game takes abou 25-30 hours to complete, and side quests can add on dozens more hours. In other words, even if you don’t spend a lot of time in any one, specific dungeon, you still have to do lots and lots of grinding.

The Cladun Returns’ other problem, in my eyes, is its controls. Given that you’re expected to quickly grind your way through dungeon after dungeon, you’d think the game would have an easy-to-use battle system. Instead, your hero’s stabs and slashes are incredible imprecise, and you sometimes need to get right up against a monster to ensure you’re swinging your sword in the right direction. I’ve definitely played worse, and it adds to the game’s retro-ness, but it’s clearly an area that could be improved.

Even if I’m not crazy about Cladun Returns, however, I’ll circle back to what I said up top: I may not love it, but I appreciate that it does what it aims to do pretty well. If you’re in the mood for a fast-paced, pick up & play dungeon-crawler, I’d be hard-pressed to name a game that does it better than this one.

Grade: B-