- Street Date:
- November 22nd, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- December 5th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- Microsoft Game Studios
- Ground Inc
- ESRB Rating:
- E (Everyone)
Grounding Inc. altered the difficulty and economy of 'Crimson Dragon' (which is supported by microtransaction) in a post-launch patch. Thanks to compulsory updates, this review does not cover the game pre-patch. As reviewed, there are two difficulty levels and a large peppering of microtransactions.
Yukia Futatsugi, best known as the creative force behind 'Panzer Dragoon,' is coming back to the on-rails shooter genre with 'Crimson Dragon.' Previously announced as a Kinect-required Xbox 360 game, Futatsugi's studio, Grounding Inc., recalibrated it for the Xbox One launch with traditional gamepad controls on the forefront. Though the Kinect commands have been regulated to the sidelines, at $20 'Crimson Dragon' may fill a unique spot on the lineup.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
People eat dinner in two ways. Group one sectors each serving into distinct areas on the plate, sampling each separate from the rest, savoring individual flavor as it comes. Group two approaches the food as a collage, allowing the broccoli to mix in with the mashed potatoes, the gravy to smother anything and so on. Group two approaches food with the fundamental understanding that it's all going to the same place. 'Crimson Dragon' is a game made for group two, throwing together all kinds of ideas into a big old mush, crossing its fingers, hoping the resulting taste is palatable. It's not, and though some of those ideas are good, the most basic mechanics like, say, flying your dragon, are messy, uncomfortable and, in the end, hampering to all other aspects of the game. Just get ready to order out once you realize the meal isn't going to make.
You can blame the ridiculous metaphor on Thanksgiving and 'Crimson Dragon's uncanny ability to falter in so many ways as to defy appropriate description. A metaphor was in dire need. So was well-cooked turkey.
But let's start with the place settings. 'Crimson Dragon' is an on-rails shooter in the same vain as 'Star Fox' and, more importantly, 'Panzer Dragoon.' As a spiritual successor to the latter, you're tasked with zipping through linear levels on the back of a dragon, zapping enemies out of the sky while dodging with a barrel roll now and again. Most strategy comes from learning the enemy types, their attacks and tendencies, dodging with the left stick, and countering with a primary and secondary weapon, aimed with the other stick, the latter of which has to recharge. On paper the design is sound, but in practice it all falls apart within minutes.
That brings us to the meat of the meal, the dragons themselves, which I lovingly refer to as "Manatees of the Sky!" Despite a wide variance in dragon attributes – you can customize and upgrade various species of dragon over the course of the game – absolutely none of them feel nimble or spry. More often than not, you're going to feel like a bowling ball barreling through nondescript levels, getting way more strikes than you should. Actually, you might just feel as graceful as a flying turkey.
Upon the turkey you spread the gravy, which in this case is the game's levels. ONLY a disappointing few areas are utilized over and over again in different missions, each split into sections along the path with different objectives. For the most part you don't have to achieve these objectives – survival remains key – but they exist to spruce up what are typically boring and uneventful environments and basic, if somewhat engaging, enemy confrontations. Graded at the end of each section, the motivation is strong to achieve an A, as an example, for defeating a majority of the enemies or collecting a high number of beacons while the game whisks you along the path.
However, if the sluggish dragons aren't the main problem, the level design and accompanying camera work is. This is a thick, viscous gravy that you swallow down in pain because your slightly bonkers aunt brought it all the way from overseas.
Grounding Inc. seeks to envelope the player as a passenger along a roller coaster ride, whisking you on a strict, yet loopy and winding path, the camera rotating to any point around the dragon, supposedly pointing you in the pertinent direction. The problem is the action on screen simply can't keep up, and all too often enemy fire will strike you without any notice, from a direction you weren't aware was populated by the opposition. The infuriation continues when obstacles and enemies come at you in a blaze, which with your fat turkey, you can only dream of the maneuvering ability required to skillfully navigate.
This is fundamentally bad game design, punishing the player for an instilled lack of synchronicity between the agent, the environment, and the camera. It literally feels like swimming through the aforementioned viscous muck. Importantly, there are enjoyable moments littered throughout, and if you aren't battling your controller or the mechanics, you're possibly falling into a rhythm that only these kinds of on-rails shooter games can manage.
Let's call this part the bread roll of the meal, because with either kind of eater, group one or two, the roll stands apart, and only devil-spawn can dislike it. Buttered up and tasty, dragon customization is actually quite interesting. Leveling up your favorite species, granting it a new secondary weapon and increasing stats, accrues for the game a personalization lacking in the bland and poorly-written story. Even better, once you do find a good setup, tackling the failings of the core gameplay isn't so bad. I found myself jamming on a dragon with the health to withstand those off-screen sucker punches, an enormously powerful homing shot and a secondary that grants health. Some of the other dragons I managed to put together confronted the levels in different, positive ways.
Unfortunately, the bread rolls simply cannot last. In what should generally be seen as a defining moment for a game of this type, a level will sometimes crescendo in an open-arena setting for a boss fight, allowing you full control of your dragon turkey. The result is disastrous. It's a bit like turning your plate over on the table and using your nose to dig through the mush. The flight mechanics go berserk. The new requirement for spatial awareness is confounding even enemy fire continues to hit from any number of blindsides.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Crimson Dragon's' Xbox 360 roots show, which isn't to say it looks ugly, but it isn't particularly pretty either. Utilizing an extreme range on the color palette, environments and dragons alike are certainly diverse, but the visual design is muddled, lending to more confusion than vision. While a bit of chaos is always okay, fitting an enemy's purple and cloudy projectile against a dark blue environment background looks dreadful even while lacking much needed contrast. That it bleeds through to gameplay isn't just unfortunate, it's damaging.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
More memorable than the music, more memorable than the voice acting, more memorable than the effects, are the sounds that emanated from the right rumble trigger as I fired my dragon's weapons. There's a generically rousing score and some undeniably flat voice acting. The sound effects do very little to arouse excitement nor do they conspire with the gameplay. Those trigger rumbles through, they're really, really loud.
Microsoft put together this dinner, and to consider it replayable would be to consider it playable in the first place. That's questionable to begin with, but the big M did a little something else to force the repeat of previous missions. 'Crimson Dragon' is rife with microtransactions, which of course are beyond the initial $20 buy-in. The game has two difficulty levels. The easier is such to the point of disengaging, while the latter encourages a challenge that promotes failure, no doubt as a nudge towards the aforementioned microtransactions. When playing on the harder difficulty in particular, everything from improving your dragons to actually purchasing, with in-game credits, missions already in the game, feels stressed under the pressure of real world money. But it's this system that lengthens out the game and encourages multiple playthroughs of the same missions.
Using those credits for any purchases frees you up to spend your real money on more credits, and at times, like when you die and the game asks you if you want to purchase a revival gem and continue on, it's terrifyingly desperate. Paired with the dismal gameplay, it's incorrigible. Therein lies the salt and sugar poured over a failed meal to prevent any pour soul from trying it.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
With the issues mentioned in the previous section, I'd be remiss to call anything in 'Crimson Dragon' "bonus content."
In 'Crimson Dragon' it seems, there aren't dragons, just an incredibly unwieldy turkey. We have a turkey with a fat ass, magically given the power of flight, asked to navigate through a veritable waterfall of chunky gravy without getting wet. If you do make it through, you're asked to do it again, but this time with extra salt and sugar pouring along the gravy. Finally, after retries, augmentations to the turkey – it's ass is ever-so-slightly less fat – acquired by capturing that salt and sugar, you're finally given free reign of a stage. Only the turkey never learned to fly anywhere but straight, so the boss at the center of the stage is literally doing circles around you while you barrel roll into turkey oblivion.
But hey, you can always buy some revival gems, even mid-mission, and tumble your way through the entire game.
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