Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire (Wii)
One of the smartest moves Nintendo made with its Wii was to incorporate motion-sensing controls: In the right hands, the console's remote can serve as a golf club, fishing rod or even flailing lightsaber. So with more players 'getting into the game' than ever, you'd think D3 Publisher of America would have a surefire hit on its hands with slash-happy action-adventure Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire, which turns the gizmo into a flashing sword. Alas, despite some fun, arm-cramping encounters and snazzy boss fights, poor production values and repetitious play conspire to make this sadly unambitious outing little more than a quick-hit weekend rental.
Before digging any deeper into the meat of the quest, we've got just three words for you: generic fantasy escapade. Why? Because that's the initial impression of the game that'll flash through your mind in the first five minutes, and shortly thereafter correctly prove to be the ultimate conclusion you'll come to upon finishing this all-too-brief tale, as well. Shockingly, despite a storyline provided by bestselling fantasy author Richard A. Knaak (whom Dungeons & Dragons fans may recall from the DragonLance universe), both the game's script and setting are unmemorable to say the least. Basically, you're a young peasant lad who finds a magic sword and sets out to destroy several evil fire-breathing lizards and avenge the last good dragon left. And if you think you've seen it all before, hoo boy -- just wait until you actually hoist that wrist strap.
Long story short: Shakespeare this isn't -- just an excuse for you to hit the road through bland-looking temples, ruins and mountain passes, and cut a swath through an equally unremarkable range of baddies. Among the various foes you'll face are bats, wolves, lizardmen, orcs and other token sword-and-sorcery staples, all of which tend to spawn out of thin air at the most predictable times and mindlessly pursue you, generally relying on sheer numbers to overwhelm. Ironically, despite the size of most backdrops, encounters aren't nearly as frequent as you'd expect, and most boil down to simple kill-at-will scenarios. Bucking current trends, about the only time you'll do any puzzle-solving (or even basic tactical planning) is during climactic boss encounters, which come across as each level's core focal point. Rather than applaud this 'less talk, more action' design philosophy, however, we can't help but note how it leaves standard melees (and the bulk of nearly every stage) looking like pure filler, with final end-level engagements the only real stand-out moments.
The obvious issue here is a lack of budget and ambition. It's painfully apparent that design team Land Ho focused strictly on creating a single sales hook (the gesture-tracking combat system), then quickly constructed a supporting game and universe to go around it.
Looking at things from a glass-half-full standpoint, you'll definitely appreciate the way horizontal, vertical and stabbing motions are translated into on-screen motion (even if occasionally frustrating detection routines interpret a hack as a slash and so forth, potentially leaving you defenseless and open to attack). Collectible dragon powers that grant you flaming claws, whip-like tail assaults and fire-spewing heads that can be similarly activated to amusing effect can also be gained following major combat episodes as well.
Regardless, downsides are also plentiful. For one, play is extremely bland, with the game coming off as little more than a jazzed-up button-masher whose button-mashing mechanics have been remapped to waggles of the Wii remote instead. Bosses, while impressive at first, can further be defeated through pure pattern memorization and the occasional God of War II-like timed key-pressing routine. Dragon powers quickly crush the competition, but mostly net the same overall effect, meaning you'll just pick one or two you like and stick with them. Graphically, the title looks like it would be just as home on the PlayStation 2 or Xbox as a supposedly next-generation system like the Wii to boot. Camera issues are frequent, especially during close-up engagements. And damned if the whole thing doesn't feel like one big tech demo, given how rough and clumsy both the dialogue and gameplay execution really are.
Naturally, some will have no problem overlooking the title's ultra-basic approach simply to experience the thrill of feeling like an actual warrior (although there's a tremendous amount of room left for improvement by, say, any other team with a decent development budget that cared to give the concept half a shot). But at an asking price of $40 -- which, apparently, passes for value-minded these days -- we're hard-pressed to see who'd really want to spring for the package, save those seeking a semi-tame and gore-free means of entertaining their hyperactive teen.
Our advice: Save your cash and rent if there's really interest, knowing you'll see all the disc has to offer in a couple extended sittings. And, of course, hope that if a sequel rears its head, most of the aforementioned deficiencies are at least better addressed, if not 100-percent corrected.
This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.