Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dragon's Curse

Westone / Hudson Soft / NEC

Dragon's Curse would certainly have no place on any sort of "unappreciated gems" list; it's received far too much recognition to pass for a "sleeper." Still, speaking in purely relative terms, I'm a little surprised that it isn't discussed more often amongst Turbo fans, as it's a very charming and extremely well-thought-out sidescrolling adventure game.

A large, secret-stocked realm for players to explore and a main character who transforms into various creatures are DC's finest assets. Some shapes come with expected proficiencies--that Piranha Man swims, Hawk Man flies, and Mouse Man sneaks through small openings should come as no great shock to anyone. But the rodent can also scale walls and tread upside down on ceilings, while Lizard Man breathes fire and Tiger Man attacks with sweeping sword swipes. Comfortable controls make even the more routine actions enjoyable, and putting all of your available skills to good use can lead to some astounding discoveries.

Many elements considered obligatory for sidescrolling quests are presented with twists here. Some of the hero's available forms prefer certain types of weapons over others, and their respective items of choice may surprise you. Slay enemies to earn gold for acquiring equipment, but be aware that merchants will be unwilling to deal if your character comes off as a hoodlum. Stumble around in the hideous Goblin Mail and a shopkeeper may be offended by your appearance, but get all dressed up in the Prince's Armor and the same fellow will be more than willing to assist you.

DC innovates, but at the same time, it remembers to do the most fundamental things well. You'll travel quite a long way, and backtracking will ultimately be required, but placed throughout the sprawling land are portals that allow you to warp right back to the town that serves as your hub. The similarly structured Shape Shifter gets a hell of a lot of things right but provides no such convenient method of returning to home base.

DC's appealing sounds and visuals contribute to its overall air of lightheartedness. The soundtrack, one of Duomitri's favorites, is generally fast paced and upbeat, while the graphics are quite colorful and cartoonish.

There isn't anything particularly flashy about Dragon's Curse. It doesn't feature much of a plot; and, unlike Shape Shifter, it won't treat you to any moments of high drama. Its limited-range attack mechanisms wouldn't be deemed acceptable in a straight-ahead action title. And for idiot collectors, it isn't nearly as desirable an acquisition as its inferior successor, Dynastic Hero. But DC succeeds by giving its players fun forms to assume and a world that requires mastery of said forms' capabilities. At the end of the day, without indulging in fanciness or pulling off anything mind blowing, it manages to thrash most other adventure games of its era thanks to the wise choices made by its creators in matters of world layout and concept execution.

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