Ever fall in love with a game’s concept, so much so that it probably blinds you to a game’s shortcomings?
This is exactly what I experienced playing this budget game published by D3 Publishers and developed by Land Ho!. Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire is a game high on concept and low on execution, yet, in the end, is still a fun game in a genre lacking on Wii.
DB attempts to create a brawler that uses novel motion controls and a cool weapon system. It is also the first real attempt to create a third person adventure along the lines of a Devil May Cry or God of War, though of course the obvious shortcomings of this game keep it far from that standard.
The first thing the player will notice is the graphics. Man, are they rough. Especially on the short “tutorial” level. Why Land Ho! didn’t make this part of the game look at least as good as the rest of the game is puzzling. The visuals aren’t exactly outstanding through the rest of the levels either, but the art direction is effective at conveying the mood. I do tip my cap to Land Ho! for prioritizing some things, though: the weapon effects look great, as do the dragon bosses. Clearly some time was spent on these aspects.
Secondly, you have the controls. They aren’t 1:1 but they do recognize the direction of your slashes. Slash left, you slash left, for example. You also have a stabbing move which corresponds to a stabbing motion.
Like most games that use heavy motion control, there can be a learning curve. My first hour of play was pretty dreadful. I couldn’t seem to get accurate movements. Yet, just like other games on Wii like SSX Blur, something just “clicks” and you “get it,” and all of a sudden you are 99% accurate with your swordplay. There is an option in the menu to adjust sensitivity, so your sword swipes can be broad (best for getting a realistic feeling) or short (best for long play sessions!).
Once the controls starting humming, so then does the game. The core fighting mechanic feels great. You execute combos and pull of some majestic airborne spinning attacks. Opponents react differently to the different attacks. Spiders and other low lying enemies are more easily dispatched with a downward slash, while flying enemies are felled with upward motions.
Although enemies seem varied enough, they are also fairly dumb. They’ll just disappear if you leave and area, and archers will just stop shooting you if you move far enough away. This is compensated for with the usual cheap hits and annoying “charge” attacks. Fans of brawlers know what I mean: the ultra cheap manuever when an enemy charges at you full bore and can only be dodged.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a difficulty level adjustment that I am aware of. As such, this is a pretty challenging game. Rank and file enemies and can will kill you, and boss battles will take some time to complete.
The latter point isn’t bad, though, because boss battles are the highlight of this game. The dragons, which are the bosses you’ll encounter, take strategy to take down. Sure, it’s all “hit the weak point for MASSIVE DAMAGE” type stuff, but it works well. Once you beat a boss, you gain a new special ability, and these abilities are definitely highlights of the game. You’ll need these powers in order to survive the totally cheap enemies!
Getting back to the criticisms, I have to point out that the weakest part of this game is the “half finished feel” that it has. Certain sections (most notably the boss battles) feel fully realized. The levels themselves, however, feel underdeveloped, probably due to the short development cycle and limited budget that D3 gave Land Ho!.
Secondly, the fact that they artificially extend the game via unreasonable difficulty is hard to stomach. You’ll probably want to toss your Wii remote in frustration, especially when you blow through your continues and have to start a level over. Not that I mind a challenge, mind you, but it sometimes feels “cheap” and not really “challenging.”
Music is “OK” but suffers from the same issue that most of the game does: it just needs more! The sound effects work, but there are definitely some assets that are being reused, to sometimes humerous results (bats make the same heavy “thump” sound when they hit the dirt that you do!). The mix also has a real tinny, narrow feel; you can tell that the score, while being decent, wasn’t particularly well mixed.
All that said, however, something kept drawing me back to this game. It is because, warts and all, the core mechanic is still quite a bit of fun. So, I cannot give a failing grade, and I can actually recommend this title to fans of the genre.
I do recognize, however, that I am biased on this one. I fully disclose that my hope for more fully developed games like this for Wii is also biasing my opinion. It is with this understanding that I won’t get too carried away. This isn’t a “B” level game for me. Some people would struggle giving it a “C” grade. Yet I will go ahead and bestow a C-. It’s probably more like a C+/B- on fun factor alone, but as important as that is (it is the most important thing after all), the game has basic problems which downgrade the experience somewhat.
In summation, buy this game if you look looking for those little diamonds in the rough, or just really love brawlers. Also buy it if you want to “vote with your dollars” for more original, exclusive Wii games by third parties. Just don’t buy it expecting God of War. I truly hope D3 sells enough copies to see a Dragon Blade II, with a better budget and more development time.