You’ll find Dynasty Feud at the deserted intersection of complicated and quick

, | Game reviews

Unfortunately, this game shares half a name with Duck Dynasty and half a name with Family Feud. And screenshots can’t do much to highlight what’s special about it. You’d look at it and think it’s wacky couch multiplayer no different than something like Move or Die. Chase each other around, jumping, punching, jumping, punching, jumping, punching.

This is what people do when they don’t have a Super Smash Bros.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this. Move or Die is actually pretty good, and it’s far more accessible than Dynasty Feud because it’s simple. It’s the epitome of “pick-up-and-play”. But Dynasty Feud is a complex game. Sure, you’re all running around and trying to punch each other. Jumping, punching, jumping, punching, jumping, punching. Sometimes shooting. Matches are short because if you punch somebody once, he’s out. There are no hit points or punch percentage or stamina. One hit, one kill. But each player controls a team of characters, each with unique and sometimes complicated abilities. So it’s more like “one hit, one kill, four more to go.”

The characters aren’t balanced. Not at all. But the idea is that each team has its five characters, and whom you choose when and against which enemy will be an important decision. Burn one of your weak dudes? Or call in your big guns? Whomever you choose, the match is going to be over quickly and someone new and potentially unbalanced will jump in. Part of my fondness for Dynasty Feud is its similarity to one of my all-time unsung favorites, Unholy War. That Playstation 1 game from the creators of Star Control reveled in the calculus of uneven matches. Each player had a set of crazily asymmetric options. Whom you chose when and against which enemy was an important decision. This is a fundamental principle of Dynasty Feud.

The Vikings are the starter factions, the Japanese are nimble hand-to-hand fighters, the cowboys get guns, and the knights tend to be armored so they can survive one hit. It’s all pretty clever stuff. Intricate. Even funny. A sports team featuring a guy with a baseball and bat (he has to chase the baseball down after he hits it), another guy with a boomerang (careful not to get it stuck in a wall!), and even a football playing turtle who can throw his shell (leaving himself vulnerable, of course). I haven’t unlocked the pirates, robots, or Aztecs yet. They probably do cool stuff, too.

The brevity of the matches is both a necessary part of Dynasty Feud’s appeal and an obstacle to appreciating it. Because everyone has only one life and dies from a single hit, you’re probably not going to play any one character more than a few seconds at a time. Yet the characters all have unique quirks that aren’t immediately apparent. Figuring out these quirks is a fundamental part of playing Dynasty Feud as designed. Unfortunately, short of practicing, there’s no easy way to learn who does what. The ingame help is vague, hard to navigate, and written in teensy print, so it’s going to be a bit of a pain in the ass to wait while your opponent looks up what this character does. Ten seconds later, time to look up another character. Maybe you should have done this beforehand? Maybe you shouldn’t have misconstrued this as a frothy “pick-up-and-play” brawler?

Requiring practice is an odd complaint if you want a game that rewards skill. But that’s just the way it works. If you want to goof around while your friends are over, this isn’t the way to do it. It is a for-serious Street Fighter to a passel of frothy Mortal Kombats. It might look simple and accessible, but it’s definitely not. Think of it as a micro-RTS with unique factions, each with unique armies and unique economies and unique demands on micromanagement. You have to learn this stuff to play. It rewards familiarity above all else.

Like an RTS with complex gameplay, Dynasty Feud has online support to help players find other players who know the game well. What RTS doesn’t have online support? But I can only imagine the types of people who would play Dynasty Feud online, learning the nuances of each character on their favorite team. No, seriously, I’m not saying that in a figurative sense. I can only imagine, because I’ve never seen anyone online.

But as with any indie RTS with online support but no online player base, there’s always skirmish mode. Oops. No, there isn’t. There’s no AI for the characters in Dynasty Feud, so there is no skirmish mode. There is no single player. None whatsoever. Dynasty Feud is a game that demands local friends, who must furthermore be willing to learn how to play a set of characters with unique abilities. But if you’ve got any such friends — Dynasty Feud will support four players at a time for maximal intricate insanity — this is the Starcraft of people running around punching each other.

  • Dynasty Feud

  • Rating:

  • PC
  • Intricate, complicated, funny, and smartly designed. But without any way to play unless you have friends over willing to learn an intricate and complicated game.