Dragon's Crown is a fantasy side-scrolling brawler that combines the 2D hacking fun of Golden Axe with the addictive loot hunting of Diablo. Set in the Kingdom of Hydeland (I wonder if it borders Jekyll World) the game has players taking control of a party of adventurers who have to save the region from being destroyed by an ancient dragon, whilst at the same time trying to protect the nation's princess from usurpers, as well as completing the odd quest for the local guild. It's amazing what Tolkien themed heroes have to do in order to earn some coin to spend at the tavern.
Old school gaming fans that grew up playing arcade classics like X-Men and Final Fight will feel right at home here. Much like in those acclaimed button bashers levels consist of traveling from left to right pounding on an assortment of enemies until you eventually reach the giant boss residing at the end of the stage. One of the game's main appeals is that up to four adventurers can join forces to tackle the legions of goblins, skeletons and bandits that get in your way, but annoyingly the online multiplayer is only unlocked once you reach the halfway point of the story. Oh well, like they say - good things come to those who wait.
Unlike the vintage beat-em-ups that it draws inspiration from, DC's roster of playable characters all handle very differently. The fighter is the tank of the group, able to mitigate damage thanks to his shield. The burly dwarf is a grappler extraordinaire who can pick up and toss enemies whilst the Amazon prefers to slash rivals with a two hander that increases in speed every time she swipes a foe. Legolass fans will be pleased to know that the game features an elf who specialises in ranged attacks with a bow, although her quiver only carries a limited number of projectiles forcing you to pick up more arrows from downed opponents. Lastly are the spell casters who include a wizard who is adept at destructive magic and the buxom sorceress who can support the party by conjuring up health restoring food and freezing enemies via icy blizzards.
As mentioned earlier DC has some Diablo style loot hunting along with some light RPG elements. Upon completing a dungeon your character earns experience points and once you accumulate sufficient experience your character levels up thereby allowing them to learn/upgrade abilities. Gold can also be acquired through your travels along with weapons and armour. Gear provides you with bonuses in attack, defence and random benefits such as resistance to status ailments, increased drop rates and so on. Treasure is normally hidden in the level background or locked away in chests. To open chests you must move a cursor, using the right analogue stick, to command your party's thief to unlock it and in a similar fashion the cursor needs to move over hidden loot to reveal it. The cursor controls are a little clunky so Vita owners will be relieved to learn that tapping the touch screen performs the same function on their version of the game.
One thing I can commend Dragon's Crown for is the amount of content on offer. Side scrolling beat-em-ups, by their very nature, tend to be short-lived affairs, but not so with this Vanillaware release. It took me around twenty hours to trump the story and that's not taking into account the optional side quests I neglected. When you factor in that you'll want to replay the game six times, to view all the character endings, your getting a lot of bang for your buck. Completing the main game also unlocks harder difficulties that raise your character's level cap thereby increasing the replay value even further. There's plenty of entertainment to be had whether you choose to continue adventuring with fellow humans in the multiplayer or going solo with the aid of AI companions, acquired by resurrecting the bone piles you uncover during your dungeon crawling.
Before wrapping things up I'd like to touch upon the game's striking visuals. If you believe 2D games can't be as beautiful as their 3D counterparts Dragon's Crown will put you in your place. The hand drawn backgrounds are lush and I really dug the overly stylized character designs. The male fighters are all beefcakes akin to a roided up Arnie whilst the sexualized females will have feminists frothing at the mouth. I had to chuckle at the sorceress' exaggerated jiggling. Forget whacking someone with a staff or zapping them with magic, I think she'd inflict more damage by bludgeoning (un)lucky foes with her mammaries. However fond I am of fan service I do however concede that the creators took things a little too far, with many of the game's ladies being depicted in degrading poses.
Dragon's Crown was one of my most anticipated games of the year and for the most part it met my expectations. I would give it four stars out of five, as the combat doesn't feel as tight as something like Scott Pilgrim or Double Dragon Neon. Whenever I moved my characters it felt like they were floating over a background as opposed to traversing terrain. I also disliked how in some rooms the camera would zoom out reducing the size of the sprites. It made things hard to see especially when amongst a crowd of enemies and playing with three other people who are executing flashy special moves. It's not a deal breaker though, with the pros greatly outweighing the cons. If you are a fan of old school brawlers I can highly recommend either the PS3 or portable Vita version.