Remember Golden Axe? Yeah? Remember how awesome it was, playing that barbarian and carving through hordes of mythical beasties like Conan let loose in Middle Earth? Yeah? Dragon’s Crown is the game you remember.
Golden Axe was fine for the time but play it now and it’s a touch sluggish. Reliving the game now proves that those memories of great conflicts and epic adventure were somewhat fabricated, as character’s walk like constipated penguins and combat stutters jerkily through the motions with each passing screen. You want to play the Golden Axe you remember? Play Dragon’s Crown.
Heck, you want to play the scrolling brawler from the 90’s that you remember playing in the 90’s? Play Dragon’s Crown.
Dragon’s Crown is gorgeous. A sumptuous love letter to brawlers, Vanillaware’s game sings in every asset. Art, gameplay, systems, this is everything you’d expect a modern take on the genre to be.
Artistically the game continues the incomparable sprite work that defined Vanillaware’s previous titles, Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Where those games were clearly inspired by traditional Japanese art, Dragon’s Crown is clearly derived more from western designs, and the game does have a somewhat, well, unique art style. An exaggerated western fantasy that enhances biceps, boobs and bottoms, turns six packs into twenty six packs, displays beards as tangled bushes and has tramps with limbs resembling a mess of twine, the style is a gorgeous and arresting exploration of extremes.
No image of Dragon’s Crown is boring, it’s simply a visually breath-taking game with every exaggerated character, building and vista echoing the excess and intricacy of the best piece of Games Workshop indulgence.
Gameplay-wise the game doesn’t stray too far from what you’d expect a brawler to be. Dragon’s Crown is a game about hitting people and orcs and goblins and lizards and minotaurs and necromancers and whatever else gets in your way really hard because, well, they’re in your way. The game does, however, layer loot gathering and levelling up on top of this, as well as a hub town, to keep things ticking along for many an hour.
Before I talk about the classes, though, know that the combat here is kinetic, exciting and reactive. Attacks lead into launchers, which lead into juggles and wall bounces and heavy slams; this is a brawler with a clear splice of fighting game DNA. You can dodge, block and even counter with the right class. Dragon’s Crown isn’t a coin guzzling, player spiting arcade-tailored slog, it’s a game that promotes stylish play and player ability.
But there’s a slight bit of the MMO here as well. Levelling characters up lets you invest in skills, and some classes, such as the Fighter, can actually act as a damage sponge and specialise in attracting enemy aggro. Not only is Dragon’s Crown a flashy example of the genre, it’s one with a bit of smarts in its construction as well.
But while brains are one thing, it’s the style that will engage you, particularly if you play in co-op (four player locally on one PS3, or online on Vita). Seeing a fighter wall-bounce a goblin to the other side of the screen, then having an acrobatic elf juggle the sod off the bounce as the fighter comes in to continue the onslaught he started, the game’s combat feel is just so energetic and beautiful, and gives you so many attack options, that it really shows up how slight other modern takes on the genre, such as Castle Crashers, ultimately are.
The six character classes go a long way towards this. Three melee fighters all play slightly differently, and these are supported by an elven archer that is a pure delight to control, a mighty sorcerer and a necromancer-like witch. There’s so much to each of these classes – so many attacks, potential combos, potential gear – that it really shows how far designs have come since the early days of the genre, with their basic attack strings and occasionally one special move. Every class in Dragon’s Crown is a delight, and each will consume hours upon hours of your time as you experiment with them, finding cool ways to play them and just enjoying the sheer oomph of the game’s combat.
The only ‘issue’ I really have with the game isn’t much of an issue at all, more a format niggle. When playing on Vita you can poke the screen for certain features, and this includes a huge amount of hidden treasure. When playing on PS3 you have to simulate touch by using the right stick to wave a pointer around the screen, and it isn’t perfect. Not that it’s bad, it’s just a little sluggish compared to the Vita’s input. That said, you’re trading the elegance of touch for the best couch-based four player hack and slash released this year (the game hits similar gameplay notes to Diablo III, bit really is the far, far superior title; Dragon’s Crown is much more interesting to play and more engaging to master), which is an ample trade-off, really. Both versions can be played online, and your save data can be shared between the PS3 and Vita.
Dragon’s Crown is just brilliance. A gorgeous game that’s arresting to play, if you have any affinity for brawlers, for fighters, for fantasy art, for dungeon crawlers, for loot-fests, for showing off, or for great games in general, Dragon’s Crown is worth your time. And certainly for anyone that’s ever spent time with Golden Axe, or the old Dungeons and Dragon’s brawlers, or Guardian Heroes; leave those memories untainted and play Dragon’s Crown instead. Chances are Dragon’s Crown is the game you remember them being anyway, and then some.
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