The traditional, side-scrolling beat ’em up has always held a special place in my heart. From Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Final Fight… I really loved them all due to the simplicity and the rudimentary button smashing. But then, Capcom turned the formulaic button mashing upside down, when they released both Dungeons and Dragons: The Tower of Doom and Shadows Over Mystara. The took the elements of the D and D table top formula, and threw in some moves that definitely were more than just rudimentary, added some character classes, and, voila. You had the perfect fix for those looking for a streamlined D and D experience, and a highly successful set of games released when arcades were popular all over. Now, the glory returns, as both the PSN and Xbox Live see the return of both these arcade classics with The Chronicles of Mystara. And believe me, at a reasonable price of 14.99 or 1200 Microsoft Points, it is a steal that has a lot of cool new extras and features added, including a drop in drop out multiplayer component. If you are still not convinced that this concept sounds awesome, read on, adventurer.
Tower of Doom: First released in 1993 in arcades, Tower of Doom took an Elf, A Dwarf, A Fighter, and A Cleric, and threw them into the republic of Darokin, where they face down the hideous creatures associated with the Dungeons and Dragons world. From Gnolls, Kobalds, Skeletons, Beholders, Dark Elves, and even a Lich, players could choose their character, multiple paths (so no experience was the same twice), and do battle with up to three other players to rid the Republic of Darokin from evil.
The game play was pretty simple, compared to the sequel. attack, jump, a block attack using the joystick, and a button to cycle sub-weapons were all included. Sub-weapons includes rings, daggers, arrows, and oil flasks. This allows attacks to be varied. Obviously, clerics and elves have spell, some for healing, some for damage (such as fireball, polymorph, and ice storm). The Fighter and Dwarf are obviously heavy melee characters, while the other two rely more on spells for damage and defense. It comes together pretty simply, but is fun none the less, especially when you get a few more people involved in the game. I would have to say, it is the weaker of the two, and that is based solely on the fact of the limitations of the move sets, and the items that can be acquired. Don’t get me wrong, it is classic in a nostalgic way, but Shadows Over Mystara is far more in-depth and fleshed out as a sequel.
Shadows Over Mystara: The sequel to the Tower of Doom finds our original four heroes joined by a Thief and Magic-User. Taking place directly after the end of the first game, the heroes move to another part of the realm of Darokin to find adventure. They are thrust into and even bigger quest than the first, with an evil female dragon being their main nemesis.
Shadows is definitely a more fleshed out experience than Tower. It includes moves similar to other Capcom games, involving quarter-circle movements and down-up movements on the joystick. It has a far more robust item inventory, multiple paths, and an increasingly difficult set of bosses. Graphically the game is identical to Tower of Doom, with similar enemies (goblins are now added, and dark elves are a regular nemesis). It includes the same four player multiplayer, and has a pretty satisfying quest length, especially given its arcade origin. I could see players pumping a lot of quarters in to this one if they wanted to see the end.
Additional Features for the Console version: Of course, Chronicles of Mystara has a pretty big challenge system, where various challenges must be met, which allow players to unlock concept art, secret files, and the “House Rules. ” Now, House Rules are essentially cheats that can be turned on and off. Time Attacks, Items picked up don’t break, and Lockpick, where chests don’t need a thief or key, are just a few you can unlock. Trophies are standard, and there is a pretty impressive amount of concept art and classic arcade ad posters to unlock, so this should give the game some legs beyond the first week of playing. Also, finding treasures, and leveling up your “profile” is another bonus and something to work for.
Multiplayer: The drop in drop out feature is definitely a nice addition. I have only played online with fellow Comichype contributor Bryan, and we had a few random people show up in one session, but it was enjoyable. Annoyingly, though, the spell casting pauses the game for a second or two, and if you are a melee heavy character, you may be in mid-swing, and miss with your attack. This is annoying, as stated, but minor, as overall the game is exciting with four people.
Verdict: Chronicles of Mystara is a classic game that is definitely worth the price of download for either system. This review is based on the PSN version, but I am pretty confident both are identical. It’s a blast with four people, and even with two, and is a good, short time killer if you just want to jump in to a game. While Shadows Over Mystara is the meatier of the two quests, Tower of Doom has its own charm, and without spending quarter after quarter, the game is definitely worth playing. An arcade classic born again, definitely check out Chronicles Of Mystara on PSN and Xbox Live. It’s hacking and slashing and spell casting at its nostalgic finest.
Pros: Great value, classic beat ’em up gameplay with a twist, cool unlockables, multiplayer.
Cons: Pausing when spellcasting in multiplayer, special moves may be tough on the 360’s digital game pad.