The overhead dungeon crawler has definitely fallen out of style. RPG fans as of late are enamoured with 3D games like Dragon Age II rather than the old school Diablo II style of games. Developed by Runic Games and published by Microsoft, Torchlight is a port of the PC version of the game designed for the Xbox 360 controls. In regards to story, there is only a thread to cling to. You are a hero in the small village of Torchlight and are sent deep into the mines to discover an evil plaguing the town. The presentation is minimal and there's no grand cutscenes to tell the tale.
If anything, the game launches you into combat immediately and send you off on your quest to rid the town of evil, or more specifically, loot the mines. You pick a character class designed to make you rely on melee combat, ranged combat or magic to survive. None of the three classes seems overpowered though, mostly because combat is a simplistic affair. The difficulty in Torchlight is minimal and should be a breeze for anyone that's played a crawler before. Or course, that's assuming that you are decking out your character with all the fancy loot in the game.
Characters are highly customizable and you will constantly be trading out different armor classes throughout the game in addition to dressing up your pets as well. Your pet can also carry back some loot for you to sell in the towns, particularly helpful when entering the deeper dungeons. The focus on the gameplay is on the main quests. The amount of side quests are a bit meager though. The control scheme seems well laid out, but I'm surprised that the developer didn't use all the buttons on the controller. A typical RPG layout would max out the button usage. It also forces you into navigating though more menus, a regrettable evil for not being able to use a keyboard.
Surprisingly, there's no multiplayer included in the game. This type of game seems perfect for online co-op multiplayer. It does come with achievements though, 12 for 200 gamerscore points. The achievements are nearly all story based and targeted at defeating the villains of the game. It's a fairly simple set to complete, just requiring time to complete the game. Beyond that, there's little reason to replay the game. The missing multiplayer component is a glaring problem for replay value.
Repetitive visuals are the name of the game. While the randomly generated levels are a joy, seeing the same textures over and over in both the character & environment design is incredibly boring. It is, however, simple to understand and straightforward in regards to manging combat. There is a good amount of polish on the character models and special effects as well. The menu system is well designed visually, but (as previously mentioned) the interface is difficult to navigate due to the inventory system.
The Diablo-esque tunes are going to sound familiar to anyone that's played a dungeon crawler. The music sets the mood perfectly and works well with each locale / dungeon. The sound effects really don't pop out at you though, pretty ho-hum for a dungeon crawler. They also become very annoying over time as they are endlessly repeated.
By attempting to reach a larger portion of the gaming audience by effectively "dumbing down" the Diablo II formula, Torchlight effectively alienates the core dungeon crawler fan base. There's nothing technically deficient to call out as a major game flaw, but the difficulty is far to easy on the harder levels. Anyone that grew up with and perhaps still enjoys Diablo II is likely going to laugh at Torchlight, easily beaten in about 5 to 6 hours. That being said, those completely new to the genre can get their feet wet with Torchlight, then graduate onto something that's more than a button masher. For $15, it's a bit steep for a dungeon crawler, but probably worth demoing on Xbox Live if you are fan of the PC version.