GAME REVIEWS

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dragon Saber

~ DRAGON SABER ~
Namco
HuCard
1991

This vertical shooter is a heck of a lot better than its plodding predecessor, Dragon Spirit. I had my doubts when I first powered it up, as I felt a disturbing sense of deja vu due to its visual style (the animation, specifically); but before long, Saber proved it has much more going for it in virtually every area than its overrated forerunner. While its animation is indeed similar to Spirit's, its graphics on the whole are much, much better. Stage 4's flower patches work because they look good, a concept unheard of in relation to Spirit. Stage 6's tight ice caverns are reminiscent of Spirit Stage 5's laughably basic and ugly rock mess but are much nicer to look at (not to mention that the action is more engaging, and the level design, more interesting).



You can tell that far more effort went into boss design this time around. There are lots of "big and cool" baddies to duel with here, and you get a number of new attack types to utilize against them.



And the soundtrack is far more assertive and attention grabbing than Spirit's (which some dub "legendary" but has always been considered by me to be less than stellar).

But while Saber is wonderful compared to Spirit and pretty good in its own right, I wouldn't quite rank it among the Duo's elite verticals. Just like Spirit, it makes players deal with a stupidly large hitbox. People who play a lot of shooters develop a feel for where their ship/creature/whatever is in relation to everything else, but the DS beasts, with their enormous wingspans, toss that feeling right out the window. And the journey is a stretched-out affair at nine levels; some strips and bosses end up being throwaways. Stage 5, a "speed run" segment that the game's mechanics simply aren't suitable for, comes off as a sloppy mess.



And I really don't think we need both a fire-snake boss and an ice-snake boss, especially seeing as how they employ similar sets of maneuvers.



So "good but far from perfect" is the verdict on Saber. It's a shooter worth checking out, a must if you enjoy its predecessor.

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