'Dragon's Crown' for PS3 and Vita.
There was a time when multiplayer side-scrolling brawlers were all the rage. That was a time when coin-up arcades ruled supreme in the States and gamers were popping quarter after quarter into machines like The Simpsons, Captain America and the Avengers, and (perhaps most notably) Golden Axe. But as tastes, technology, and the market evolved, the genre fell by the wayside, it seemed like a fully-budgeted side-scrolling brawler was something of the past - at least, it seemed that way until Atlus released Dragon's Crown for PlayStation 3 and Vita.
Unapologetically arcadish, Dragon's Crown takes its inspirations right from those sword-and-sorcery side scrollers of the late 80's and early 90's and adds in some light RPG elements (equipment, earned abilities, etc.) for good measure. Players choose from one of six character classes - each with their own strengths and weaknesses (and some are a little more "up front" than others) - and venture off on quest after quest earning experience, loot, and resurrecting fallen adventurers to join the effort along the way.
What's nice is that each level has decent replay value. That's not only because each time you enter you have new baddies to bash and new loot to score, but also because new areas become accessible as your character and party grow. Even with that draw to return and re-quest, it does get tiresome after a while (as would most things) as gameplay begins to feel repetitious once you hit the two hour mark or so within a single gaming session.
Controls are kept nice and simple, perhaps as an homage to those early games from which it takes its heritage. For the most part, the analog stick and one button does most of the work. Other abilities such as jumping and the picking up of consumable items are mapped to the other action buttons, but they make up the minority of your actions (save, perhaps, for going airborne).
Aside from that, there is a mouse-like cursor that's controlled with the right analog stick. Players use this to click on sparkly points on the background to reveal extra look, open chests, or unlock doors. The concept works well enough, but its execution leaves a bit to be desired. Overall, however, the game plays very well.
As it typical for a Vanillaware title, Dragon's Crown looks great and features the same breed of hand-drawn graphics one would expect from one of their titles. It does, however, sometimes get hard to find your character on screen when there's a lot going on.
High-res and clean, the game features art that can best be described as taking its cues from artists like Boris Vallejo, which probably explains the wardrobe choices and exaggerated dimensions of a couple of the game's female characters. Remember, kids, dental floss is not clothing no matter what the Amazon says.
The Atlus-published Dragon's Crown does well to deliver an under-served genre within this current generation of video gaming. Gameplay is just as accessible now as it was back then, though quarter pumping is now no longer part of the experience. Somewhat questionable character art choices and a weak overarching story aside, this should be a must-have title for PS3 and PS Vita owners.
Version tested: PS3 (also available on PS Vita)
(Atlus supplied a copy of this game for review.)
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