The gameplay takes a dynamic turn, once you start jumping into peoples' heads. Laid out in a series of randomly generated, multi-level grid environments, dungeons are turn-based affairs where every action you take advances the entire floor by a single turn - in Roguelike fashion. Each step gradually replenishes your health and magic, but it also gives the wandering denizens an opportunity to move around or take a swipe if you venture close enough to get their attention.
Combat boils down to trading blows with your adversaries and using magic or special abilities to improve your advantage whenever possible. Monsters typically wander in a set pattern or lie in ambush until you approach. Get too close and they'll take more than a passing interest in your feathery hide. Just like when you're exploring, each movement or action you take gives other nearby creatures an opportunity to react. This allows other wandering beasts to take notice and jump into the fray, making for some occasionally frantic encounters where you'll end up surrounded on all sides. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to discover items and hone equipment to aid in handling tougher encounters down the line.
Surviving long enough to progress through the deeper dungeons and take down the bosses later in the game requires use of special abilities gained from leveling-up numerous job classes uncovered throughout the adventure. Old-school Final Fantasy classes like the knight, white mage, black mage, and ninja are among a handful of other jobs Chocobo can take on by donning an adorable costume at the start of each dungeon.
Soon after the story picks up, the dungeons increase in size and become much tougher to complete. In addition to taking out monsters and dodging traps, you'll be continually searching for the stairway to the next floor. Tracking Chocobo's hunger meter also adds another level of complexity, since you'll begin to take damage with every step, if you venture for too long without a snack. Successfully navigating their depths becomes a very deliberate process requiring strategy and a careful approach. The steady increase in difficulty as time progresses doesn't grind the gameplay to a halt, but you'll find a little extra time spent leveling-up goes a long way.
Chocobo's Dungeon proves appearances can be quite deceiving. Despite its extremely kid-friendly exterior, the game has a lot of depth. It strikes a decent balance between pouring on the charm and offering a lengthy and challenging RPG adventure. Regardless of whether you favor one end of the spectrum over the other, there's some good middle ground to be explored here.
Bottom Line: Look beyond the curtain, and you'll find Chocobo's Dungeon is a far more than a kids' game. It's one of the better RPGs available on the Wii and a good starting point to get into the dungeon crawling genre.
Recommendation: Try it. Cute and cuddly isn't always secret code for "crap."
Nathan Meunier is a robot made of meat. He's also a freelance writer with an unhealthy video game obsession.