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Dungeons of Hinterberg has stolen my heart

"People want to have schnitzel and magic going on!"

Dungeons of Hinterberg officials creen showing the character overlooking a purple and icy blue frozen mountain world.
Image credit: Curve Games

I'll forgive you for having missed Dungeons of Hinterberg during Xbox's big summer showcase. It was tucked away, forty-something minutes in, between a new horror from cult-favourite studio The Chinese Room and an appearance from little-known character actor Keanu Reeves, plugging little-known indie gem Cyberpunk 2077. But I won't forgive you for forgetting about it now, because I saw a little more of Dungeons of Hinterberg behind closed doors out in LA, and listen: this game looks brilliant.

In it you play as Luisa, a tourist-slash-adventurer who's gone on holiday to the Austrian village of Hinterberg. Hinterberg, a once-sleepy mountain resort, has seen a flock of these adventure-tourists recently because, a few years ago, 25 dungeons full of weird mythical creatures suddenly popped up in the mountains nearby. You're there to explore them, just because, solving puzzles and bopping goblins with your sword - but also, this is a holiday, so you're also there just to noodle around town for a bit, chatting with locals, going to bars, decompressing amongst the high-altitude air.

Here's Dungeons of Hinterberg's Xbox showcase trailer.Watch on YouTube

During the short-ish demo, guided in turns by Austrian developer Microbird's co-founders Regina Reisinger and Philipp Seifried, we saw a few different dungeons in action. The first was a kind of crystallised, popping-candy blue-pink world, where you'll unlock a snowboard for Sable-like traversal through its open areas and for use in some combat as well. Each region has its own unique group of abilities that you'll be able to use in its dungeons, so with our board we rode a kind of magic grind rail up to a little combat arena.

Up there, a fight with some goblin grunts and a delightfully unnerving mini-boss of sorts: a black, long-necked goat person - I'm not doing this justice - which would attack by sticking its head in the ground like an ostrich and popping it up somewhere else to whip you with. It's based on a monster from Austrian folklore called a Percht, Seifried tells us, and it is very odd. "Alpine mythology is just this treasure trove of strange and weird creatures that we like to dig into and that inspires a lot of our enemies." In this case it's also a good advert for a bit of combat depth - it has a second health bar which needs to be taken down using specifically magic damage first.

After this, it's back to the overworld via magic portal, and then on to another, up in the hills off on some strange direction through bridges and forests and accessed via this region's special ability, which is wind power: you have to get a big windmill moving to open up the portal that waits inside. There, the world is more about environmental puzzles, where we had to use a combination of throwing strange, bloated eyeballs at objects to rotate them and raise ourselves up with a controlled whirlwind to get around. At times the camera angle shifts, out to side-on, almost 2D-platformer style perspectives, and apparently this will be a regular part of what Dungeons of Hinterberg does, with dungeons ranging from deep puzzle worlds to a single challenging boss fight.

The real magic, though, is back in Hinterberg, the quaint Tyrollian hub town where you'll mooch about mingling with other adventurers and mountain folk. There are tourist amenities like boat rentals - Bootsverleih - available from the little boathouse down by the lake, which you can explore with another character if you like. There's one amiable, moustachioed Professor we pass by at a cake shop in Main Square, who you'll surely need to befriend for mysterious reasons. In the shopping district you can stock up on potions for exploring or buy a souvenir to gift to another character, and this is where we arrive at Krampusbar, the archetypal chocolate box aprés disco. Here we meet a yuppie reporter, Travis, who's come to town to write an article on the monster hunting fad, and wants to interview you for it.

Much of the social life sim aspect comes down to making various characters happy - in this case you'll need to answer wisely to impress him in the right way. Travis is "a bit too much of a hipster" to get too caught up in the adventuring fad, Reisinger jokes, as Travis shrugs and raises eyebrows over the wubs of background Europop. "He would rather hang out in a cool bar in Berlin I guess."

Action-RPGs can make for quite a fitting partner to life sims - Shenmue, with its emphasis on character and atmosphere and place, is the big one that comes to mind - but still, this all makes for such a strange pitch. Reisinger told me it was "quite an interesting experience," shopping round the idea for a game where you can hunt monsters and then go back to town to eat a schnitzel and hang out. Ultimately developer Microbird benefited from the same thing that won me over, which is simply showing it.

"The two of us just started this project out from home basically, it being a prototype, and started to tweet a little bit and show off some artwork. I think it worked quite well because the artwork was a bit of a more unusual take, and we actually got a lot of people who actually approached us and were interested - it was during the pandemic so we pitched from home just on video call," Reisinger said.

"Xbox also approached us at that time, and I think in terms of the social mix, what we found with early tweets was that it kind of draws people's attention, when they have a modern setting but also someone who has a sword and there's magic and a cable car, what's going on there? And I think that was intriguing to people, so it kind of worked well, people were not really weirded out but more fascinated by it."

A gif from Dungeons of Hinterberg showing the player riding a magic snowboard on a pink grind rail trhough a frosty mountainous world
Image credit: Curve Games

"When we were pitching we could just point at it and say 'See these retweets?'" Seifried added, before Resinger: "People want to have schnitzel and magic going on!"

They're right, but also, gosh, are they underselling it. People want it because they want to be in this place, a world of pointillist comic-book colour and immediately human character and subtly comical, unserious people. They want to holiday in the alps and thwack weird little gremlins with their sword called Supercut 2.0, to poke around and glide through desperately pretty landscapes and come back to their sleepy mountain holiday home to look at a lake and… exhale. In just a short demo, Dungeons of Hinterberg has captured my heart, and stolen it away to the mountains.

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