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Gamer for 20+ years, big fiction reader, prolific reviewer. Lover of the shmup and rhythm genre.

Author of one post-apocalyptic novel (The Wanderer) and one collection of horror short stories (Wither).

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I'll never forget the day I bought the original Project Diva f for my Vita. A lone foreigner wandering into a Japanese movie rental place, picking up a vocaloid game and taking it sheepishly to the counter. One of the most embarrassing video game purchase moments of my lifetime - there's a certain stigma attached to these games in Japan, namely that they are only played by friendless nerds (or so my ex-girlfriend told me!). I guess I have to hold my hands up on that one...

Anyway, after getting it back to my apartment and taking a moment to overcome the shame of what I'd just purchased, I popped the game into my Vita and fired it up. My embarrassment was quickly forgotten as I became engulfed in the simple but addictive world of my first Hatsune Miku rhythm game. I spent hours on that version, despite it being in Japanese and my not being fluent in that tongue, and as soon as I heard of a sequel I grew excited and knew I'd have to have it. Luckily I was able to order this one from the safety of my own home - and in English too!

This game is a rhythm title. It involves you pressing the Vita's face buttons in time with the music. The appropriate button prompts can appear anywhere on the Vita screen and the timing prompts (which must be pressed when the two fully overlap) can float in from off-screen at unusual angles in order to increase difficulty. Further curve balls are thrown at the player including prompts that require the button to be held and released precisely and double button presses (for example, O and the right d-pad button). Also returning from the first Vita release are the much maligned touch-screen scratches only this time a few new additions have been included to expand this dubious design choice including double finger swipes and chained swipes. Luckily in this version you are offered the chance to use the analogue sticks as an alternative input method.

All the songs in-game are performed by a number of computer programmed singers called vocaloids. There are a total of six characters each with their own unique vocal effects. They sing to a variety of genres including rock and roll, ballads, J-Pop and electronic dance. For the most part, the quality of the songs is high, but there are one or two stinkers included. There are a number of really catchy songs that will implant themselves in your head and have you humming the tune long after you quit playing.

The mechanics of the game, just like the original, are extremely tight. making this one of the most polished rhythm titles out there. Buttons presses are registered instantly and I have encountered no evidence of lag affecting performance on the Vita. Sound quality is good from the Vita speakers and much better when a decent set of headphones are used (the game recommends you use earphones for the best possible experience). Graphically the game looks very good although you will be so focused on catching the button prompts that you will barely notice what is going on in the background! You do have the option of watching the videos in a theatre mode and they are produced to a very high standard, each with its own theme, set of characters and dance routines. You even have an AR option which allows you to watch Hatsune Miku perform in your very own front room/bedroom/kitchen!

Difficulty is balanced but much more intense than the first Vita version. Some rhythm games can be brutally punishing, but Project Diva f has a rather more forgiving learning curve. As usual with this type of game, practice makes perfect and with dedication and effort you should be banging out PERFECT stage ratings in no time - if your fingers can keep up with your brain that is!

As you play through the game you will begin to unlock a myriad of hidden items. Gaining high ranks will unlock new tracks that can be played as well as rewarding the player with Diva points which can be used to unlock new costumes for the characters, living pods that can be personalised for each character and specialised tags that can be applied to your online profile. There is a sizeable and challenging trophy list, too, that won't isolate less able players (some rhythm games require players to PERFECT all songs across all difficulties, but thankfully this is not so in this title). These two factors ensure that you will get a massive amount of play time from the game, something that should fall under your consideration if you are considering the RRP in your purchase decision. DLC already released in Japan will also make its way to these shores, adding more songs and outfits to the game should you buy them.

There is also an option for you to create your own patterns for any of the songs in the game and upload them for others to download and play online. This is a great feature, but the edit mode (which is available as a separate 900mb download from the Playstation Store) can be quite complex to navigate around and will take some getting used to. Luckily there is an in-depth guide on how to use it included in the digital manual of the game (this can be accessed on the screen that pops up when you tap the game icon bubble from the Vita home screen). This version also allows the user to import their own MP3 tracks which should allow for extreme creative types to knock out some amazing custom tracks to their favourite songs. Downloading these user made tracks should also add quite a bit of longevity to the game.

I'm really enjoying this game but there are one or two things I must talk about in a less positive light. One of the things that the developers have done to increase the difficulty of this title is to programme in much more complex button patterns and this can cause problems. The prompts that appear sometimes pop up rapidly and in unusual shapes making it difficult (without memorising a song) to figure out which prompt follows another. Another decision I'm not fond of is that occasionally the prompts will appear in the exact same spot, right on top of each other, which never fails to catch me out (it is difficult to decipher how many prompts are hidden beneath each other) and can feel a little cheap and frustrating.

My major gripe is with the touch-screen prompts. They can be very bothersome, forcing you to move your hand from the face buttons at inopportune times to enable you to reach a scratch prompt. Often the Vita touch-screen, which is usually pretty responsive, infuriatingly won't register your finger. This is especially frustrating when you are on your way to a perfect and you miss a beat through no fault of your own. While this was also a noticeable problem in the first game it is much more prominent now due to a heavier reliance on touch-screen interaction. The double swipe that has been added will catch you out at first as you forget to swipe with both fingers but eventually you'll get the hang of it. The chained swipes, however, are terribly annoying. Often they commit the rhythm game sin of changing speed in song. They will approach the prompt location and then speed up or slow down without notice, catching you off guard and completely destroying the rhythm/beat you've been keeping throughout the rest of the tune. Additionally, sometimes when you think you've reached the end of a chain the prompt will shoot back on itself to the previous prompt and you'll miss it, which again feels quite cheap and will anger you at times. I can understand why they were added, to enable bigger and more varied high scores, but their varying speed can be frustrating and they take a lot of memorisation to master. You can switch over to the analogue sticks but I found this didn't really improve things as some of my flicks went unregistered too. Perhaps, just like the game, more practice with this control method will pay dividends.

Despite the aforementioned quibbles this remains an absolutely fantastic title. The Vita is becoming a hotbed for music/rhythm titles and this, coupled with the original Vita Hatsune Miku, DJMAX Technika Tune and digital download Cytus Lambda, should be enough to convince any rhythm game aficionado to take the plunge and get the handheld console. Project Diva F 2nd will keep you busy for weeks and is definitely worth a purchase.

Rating: 5/5









Theatrhythm is back with Curtain Call, a bigger and better version of its previous release in 2012. This time, instead of a measly 60+ songs and a handful of characters, we have a whopping 220+ songs and a plethora of your favourite Square Enix stars with future DLC promised if you are partial to paying for additional content.

 

The gameplay remains largely untouched from the previous version of the game with the player being required to tap, swipe or hold particular notes as they appear in time with music from the fabled Final Fantasy series.  Songs are again separated into Field, Battle and Emotional categories which, although remaining very similar to one another in gameplay mechanics, change the way the notes approach the player. In Battle (in my opinion the most difficult category) we have four lanes of notes that rush towards the target zones, in Field we have only one line of notes and the mode is more reliant on hold based moves, and in Emotional we have the target zone moving around the screen instead on being fixed to one location. Anyone who found the first edition of the game too easy will be pleased to know that Curtain Call is much more difficult than its predecessor ; some of the Ultimate songs (which in the last version I found myself confident of beating) offer a stern challenge indeed.

 

While gampelay remains largely untouched, the presentation of the game has improved tenfold over the previous iteration. Songs are more easily accessible from the get go, displayed in scrollable lists that can be favourited allowing the player to access their most beloved tunes at the press of a button.  Menu screens and graphics are more artistic than before and there are a  large number of additional enemies and noticeable faces to go up against in game that were missing from the initial version. Playable character designs are as cute and recognisable as ever, only this time round there are far more to choose from and discover. Things also zip along a lot faster now; the EXP screen is much more user friendly and levelling calculations happen in one go instead of tediously counting down over a number of seconds. The same can be said of the rhythmia screen which is much more efficient this time round.

 

Upon firing up the game you will find all but one option on the menu screen blanked out. To begin with you must create a team of characters from a limited list – if you would like to add an additional 10 choice options to the list, then download and install the demo from the eShop before starting up your cart. When you choose your characters you will then unlock the tracks that correspond to their relevant Final Fantasy title; for example, choosing Cloud will unlock all songs from FFVII and choosing Tidus will unlock all FFX content. The game then tasks the player with clearing songs in order to unlock all the additional content associated with the game. Impatient players need not worry, as you'll unlock all available options within the first fifteen to twenty successfully completed songs. The reasoning behind this is essentially a cleverly disguised tutorial mode to help familiarise the player to the game before they rush head first into online battles which, let me warn you, can be rather punishing (especially if you run into any Japanese players!).

 

As the player plays through songs they earn EXP for levelling up characters. Levelling up is important; as character stats increase, the player earn benefits such as higher HP allowing for more missed notes, higher strength for defeating more enemies in Battle mode, and higher stamina for covering more distance in Field battles. Abilities are also unlocked, which allow characters, among other things,  to hit additional damage in game or heal each other. Items can be equipped in a similar fashion, but once used they disappear from your inventory. Upon successful completion of a song, you also earn rhythmia, the total of which varies based upon the player completing a number of preset challenges during any song; for example, having an all male team, completing with all critical hits, playing on consecutive days, and so on. For every 250 rhythmia the player collects, a new unlock is achieved. These unlocks vary from hidden tracks to additional characters and new chime sound effects for your taps, swipes and holds.

 

One problem with the old version of the game was longevity. Unless the player purchased DLC content, the game quickly grew stale – you'd be required to grind the same songs over and over again in order to max out characters and, even if you are a huge fan of the Final Fantasy tracks available, things grew tiresome. The developers have addressed this situation by upping the song count by a staggering amount (all previous DLC from the old game is included and many of the bonus songs from the original now have three difficulties instead of just the one) and introducing a number of additional modes.

 

Quest Medley involves the players moving across a map and completing random tracks from the game. Upon completing all the songs successfully the player must face a boss battle. If the boss is beaten, then rewards can be earned including items for your inventory and crystal shards to unlock new characters. To make this mode even more difficult, all songs must be completed using only one health bar that doesn't regenerate between songs. If you are struggling, you will need to use your stocked items, but you are limited in how many of them you can use per medley. This adds some much needed challenge to the game and will help wring a good few extra few hours out of the game for the completionists among us. Completed maps can then be attached to your profile card and shared with other players you meet online (you can also earn theirs, too).

 

In addition to Quest Medleys, this time round we also get online battles. In this mode you can go online and face off against other players from around the world. I find this to be a fantastic addition, lengthening the time spent with the game a great deal. When playing other human players, you activate EX bursts for successfully hitting targets during songs. These bursts effect your opponent in a number of negative ways from spinning their arrowed swipe notes to speeding up targets to hiding them from view until the very last moment. One of the only negatives I can find in the game thus far is the discrepancies between burst effects. Some make hitting notes successfully almost impossible, while others (HP swap) can go barely noticed. Either way, playing online is easily the most challenging mode in the game and memorisation of songs is required in order to perform competently against real-life opponents. I class myself as a highly skilled rhythm player, yet I have come across opponents who have put me to shame. Even people put off by the tests awaiting them against almost savant-like human challengers are covered, however, by an AI versus mode in which you can take on the computer instead although the early difficulty levels are insultingly easy.

 

There is a multitude of content awaiting anyone who chooses to pick up the game. In the museum section you can check how many in game trophy conditions you have bested (the requirements of which vary from easy-as-pie to mind-bendingly difficult), see how many of the collector cards you have found thus far, listen to a number of the games songs in a jukebox section, and watch a number of movies related to each FF title. Unlocking all of these goodies will take you an absolute age; you can be sure your initial outlay will not be wasted. I have seen some online players who have racked up over 400 hours of game time already!

 

I rate this game highly indeed. Any fan of rhythm games or the music of Final Fantasy will not be disappointed with this purchase. A great number of improvements have been implemented from the last version of the game making the title much more enjoyable and far better value for money. Anyone who found the last version too easy will find a far greater challenge here and will have to dedicate a large amount of time to besting the game in Ultimate mode. Newcomers, however, are also catered for by the Basic and Expert score settings, which can ease a player into the game with far less stress and frustration. Indies 0 have done a fine job of ensuring all levels of skill are catered for here and have lovingly created a game that is better in almost every way from its predecessor.

 

Overall, if you are undecided, I would say give Curtain Call a go. You're getting so much content, challenge, and game time for your not considerable outlay of money here that I doubt you'll regret it.

 

Rating: 5/5









In recent times we've seen a marked rise in the remaking and rebooting of some fondly remembered classics. Mega Drive title Castle of Illusion found itself on the end of a 21st century makeover as did NES/Game Boy game Duck Tales. Most recently we have seen a remastering of the highly thought of and oft ignored Strider series. Whilst the remakes met with varying degrees of success, I got a sense of satisfaction from revisiting my childhood favourites under a shiny new HD veneer.



We all have our favourite games of yore. So, if you could choose any title from the past to be remade or rebooted, what would it be? 



For me it would have to be ESWAT. Originally released in 1990 on the Mega Drive (or Genesis if you're from across the pond) it allowed you to take control of rookie cop Duke Oda as he worked his way through the Cyber Police ranks. Once you earn his spurs he is rewarded with a kick-ass Ice Combat Suit complete with an arsenal of varied and deadly weapons. The premise of the original game would lend itself perfectly, in my opinion, to a Metroidvania style offering where Oda would navigate his way around the Liberty City map upgrading his suit ready to face a final showdown with the mysterious E.Y.E.. And, let's face it, who wouldn't love to relive that unforgettable moment when Oda takes down a fully-armoured helicopter with a handgun in glorious high definition?



List your suggestions below. I'm intrigued to see what you think!
Photo Photo Photo








I've been keeping my eye on the price of the Nintendo 2DS over recent months as I have been craving the opportunity to play Final Fantasy Theathrythm on something other than iOS. Yesterday I managed to pick up a brand new one for £69 which I thought to be a bit of a bargain.

As I've only really had my eye on the single game up until now I was a bit lost as to what other titles I should look at getting, what with the 3DS/DS catalogue being so exhaustive. I would like to check out Bravely Default as I do like a traditional RPG and, of course, I will be looking to pick up the new Zelda game as soon as possible. I'm a massive fan of rhythm games so any suggestions in that field would be greatly welcomed. I also like old-school platformers, shmups and puzzlers (I am ashamed to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the Bejewled title on the DS... make of that what you will!). I'm also open to suggestions of regular DS titles, too. I am not at all interested in Pokemon, so despite it being a huge title on the DS platform, I would request you refrain from suggesting any titles from that IP.

So, kindly and helpful souls of the Destructoid blogging scene, what are the must-have games I should be looking to pick up for my nifty new handheld? Your help is much appreciated.








Well, it was with a sigh of relief that I finally managed to make it to the end of Outlast on the PS4. Was it a sigh of relief after an intense and frightening experience? No, it was, unfortunately, one of relief at having finally completed a gaming experience that I thought was disappointingly weak and grossly lacking in every respect.

When it was announced that Outlast was coming to PS+ as part of the IGC I was, like I'm sure many were, very excited at the prospect. A quick check of the reviews of the PC release hinted at a terrifying, sanity-shredding game that would have you sweating with anxiety and worry. I downloaded with baited breath and a change of underwear at the ready.

I booted the game up and found myself quickly disappointed. I became aware within the first hour of gameplay that the game was lacking on any number of levels. The character models were totally uninspiring, all of the asylum patients are presented as asexual (bar a noticeable pair...) beings with eyes stitched shut and threads running all over their body. The limitations of the Unreal engine quickly became apparent with graphical glitches galore including ghostly blocks that appear as you turn and look suspiciously like collectable items before vanishing as if they were never there and enemies hovering about a foot off the ground as you hide from them under beds. The game is insultingly linear, with locked doors barring progression left right and centre and the dreaded waist high stacks of beds and filing cabinets that demand 'You shall not pass!'. 

I forced myself onwards though my mounting disappointment and grew only further disillusioned with the experience. I found myself screaming, yes. But not through fear. Mostly through frustration. The game is littered with cheap clichéd scares that we've seen a million times before and implemented far more effectively. You'll have things drop from air vents just like we saw numerous times in Dead Space, you'll have windows shatter a.l.a. Resident Evil, you'll have scares pop out of the dark that can only be seen through your camera just like happened in Fatal Frame. You'll be wheeled through the asylum hospital by a madman (Jacob's Ladder) and have sections of your body forcefully removed (Saw). None of the scares in Outlast are original. None of the scares are particularly scary. I can count on one hand the number of times I jumped with fright.

My frustration came mostly from the game's terrible controls, repetitive nature and archaic mechanics. You'll continually be given rudimentary and tiresome tasks throughout the game. Flip two switches to activate the sprinklers. Pull two levers to activate the lifts. Along the way you'll be chased down dark corridors by the same enemies over and over. Excitingly you can sometimes avoid them by climbing into air vents and using them as a means of escape or by hiding in lockers. I love nothing more than crawling through air vents in a game. We've never seen that before, have we? And hiding in lockers? It was my favourite part of Deadly Premonition. I eagerly anticipated those sections... 

Sometimes the enemies will be armed, other times not. If you're playing on higher difficulties the chances of a one hit death are high. One of my biggest gripes with the title was the fact that, no matter how stealthily you evade your pursuers, whenever you flick a switch or pull a lever, the game would drop the enemies directly behind you. The sense of reward for having tiptoed expertly to your task is instantly ripped away from you, forcing you to hide until they wander away. Often, however, they'll wander to the end of the corridor and then head back. You'll be forced to wait (which grows boring very quickly) or dash past them (which destroys the game's tension). I quickly found myself utilising the latter technique just to avoid the tedium of waiting for the randomly wandering enemies to give me some space. Running, however, poses its own problems. The controls of the game are severely lacking. I found myself unintentionally dashing past the same door three, four times in succession as I attempted my escape from our sexless baddies. You'll often find yourself trapped in corners by enemies owing to the game's abysmal collision detection (it's as if every enemy is walking in an invisible rectangle) then be forcefully eviscerated as a reward. Sometimes the passageways are blocked by upturned beds or obstacles which can be vaulted. Vaulting is often a chore in itself. I found that, unless you are running at them in a perfectly straight line, you will often begin doing an Irish Jig in front of the obstacle instead of leaping over it. Then you'd be murdered.

The story is desultory. You are a journalist on a mission to uncover the strange goings on at Mount Massive asylum in Colorado. You don't get much back story but as your progress through the game you'll collect notes and observe scenes that fill in more of the story for you. Our protagonist, despite being shit-scared and whimpering like a scalded child at all times, also takes plenty of opportunities to write sarcasm-drenched notes like a wise-cracking internet troll. It's nothing we haven't seen before and when the big reveal appears (***SPOILERS*** It's evil Nazis! ***SPOILERS) you'll shake your head in disbelief as this particular story element has been done to death and often many times better. All the while you'll find yourself wondering how the only person alerted to the strange goings on at Mount Massive is a hapless journalist. When you discover the madness and danger inside the asylum you'll ask yourself why the military aren't swarming all over it or why it simply hasn't been nuked off the face of the earth. The ending scenes only serve to sully an already dreadful and unoriginal story even further. 

A few other annoyances I encountered were the appearance of intrusive loading screens between sections of the game - a green image with a spinning load symbol. Even Resident Evil, back in 1996, offered us an animation of a door to make the transition less obvious and more bearable. The load times themselves are lengthy. On a number of occasions these load screens hung and I was required to restart the game in order to continue. In one section I got a load screen in the gardens near the end of the game which hung. I replayed the section and didn't even encounter a load screen on the second attempt which I found strange.

To summarise, I was astounded by how bad I found Outlast and find myself baffled by its many positive reviews. Any self-respecting fan of the horror genre will find themselves laughing at the pitiful scares and derogatory storyline. And experienced gamers will find themselves appalled by the poor controls and shamefully implemented and dated game mechanics. Usually I find myself going back through a game to tidy up a few additional trophies but I can't face going through Outlast a second time, so I think I'll leave my percentage at 40. The game might fill in a few hours as we await new releases for our next-gen console but I would find it very difficult to recommend Outlast even though it is currently available for free.

An absolute shambles that I was relieved to finish. The anticipation I felt prior to the game's release quickly dissipated and I am glad as can be that I'm finally done with the game. One to avoid, in my opinion, unless you're absolutely desperate to play something, anything at all. 

Rating: 1/5








I love Vanillaware. I have played and hugely enjoyed Odin's Sphere and Muramasa and was massively excited when I discovered news about Dragon's Crown. The game had been in development for an age and I was sure that given all that time to tweak the mechanics and the reputation of Vanillaware for producing impressive games with solid gameplay that this title would be a winner. I am saddened to say that I found the game greatly lacking - the first time I have felt let down by George Kamitani and his team.

Let's start with the positives. The game looks amazing, as all Vanillaware games do. Every frame has been painstakingly hand-painted and every sprite is animated perfectly and looks gorgeous. You will encounter a great swathe of fantasy-themed baddies from huge dragons, krakens, skeletons, dinosaurs and many more; all of them look great. The locales are varied and many, from pirate coves to magician's towers to crumbling ruins.

There have been a number of issues raised with the way the females are portrayed in this game (hugely out of proportion breasts and often in suggestive poses) leading to the designers being labelled as sexist and misogynistic. I have never been a fan of games or other media depicting women with obscenely large boobs (see Dead or Alive as another example of this - they even have an option in there to adjust the feminine jiggles, if you can believe that). I find it both unnecessary and juvenile, but the criticism of the art in this game is unwarranted - many of the character artists involved in creating this title are female and, for better or worse, this over-the-top style is often employed in Japanese culture (and this game is distinctively Japanese). This won't be the first or the last game to portray women characters in such a fashion and I don't feel that the sexism debate should be used to judge a game's merits or lack thereof.

People are also citing the price tag as a deterrent for purchasing the game. This is ludicrous also. The game is massive. There are a selection of six character types all with their own strengths and weaknesses allowing for a total of six playthroughs overall. Each playthrough consists of nine stages each with branching paths amounting to, in essence, eighteen levels in total. There are also fifty mini-quests available from the Adventurer's Guild. This accounts for a huge amount of game time for your money - to play through every difficulty with each character will give you in excess of 60 to 70 hours of gameplay. Not to be sniffed at, no? That can be extended even further should you wish to earn all of the trophies on offer and best the randomly generated Chaos Labyrinth upon completing the game.

Unfortunately, for me, the gameplay does not stand up as well as the game's visuals. You will move from left to right in the vein of many of the old-school side-scrollers of yore, fighting enemies and collecting loot. There are three characters who specialise in melee and three who specialise in long-range attacks but regardless of the class you choose you will spend most of your time in-game mashing the square button which is the regular attack button. The square button can be combined with the directional buttons to activate special attacks such as grabs, parries and slides but they are often difficult to use effectively due to how busy the screen gets - more on this later. You also have a powerful special attack that can be utilised with the circle button which unarms your character momentarily and weakens your attacks as you are forced to fight weaponless. I love games such as Streets of Rage and Golden Axe which employ more basic but similar mechanics to Dragon's Crown and still play them regularly. I didn't enjoy this modern offering half as much as these classics - for some reason Dragon's Crown wore thin on me very quickly and I found the combat repetitive and a bit of a chore, if I'm being honest.

Touchscreen controls are utilised in game to loot chests, cast spells and knock collectables from the scenery. This can be frustrating as you have to remove your hand from the face buttons during the heat of battle during some areas in order to use runes that cast beneficial spells that assist your party. Often if you are getting battered (which will happen regularly) you can tap carvings in the wall and combine them with runestones in your possession to damage enemies and cast protective barriers around your characters. However, the runes that appear are tiny and often you will need to tap them more than once to activate them. While you are focusing on this your character will be savagely beaten by your opponents. Often you'll die as a result. Chests can be unlocked with a tap of the screen and you gain rewards and items as a result which can be appraised and either sold for cash or equipped to strengthen your characters at the end of each stage. Fans of Borderlands will love this loot-and-appraise approach but it might not be for everyone.

The multiplayer element of the game, which is advertised as one of the main features on the game box, is locked until halfway through the game. I have no idea why this is the case. As you wait for the feature to unlock, you can collect the bones of dead characters and have the computer control them once you resurrect them at the temple in town. Sounds great, but unfortunately these computer controlled comrades are worse than useless. They will cast spells at random, stand still for no discernible reason and take a beating and die very, very often. You can resurrect them, but each time you do so costs you more and more gold. Their ineptitude will empty your wallet in an instant. When the multiplayer option becomes available, don't expect a plethora of human characters to pop into your game. I have played the game for over twenty hours now and have had very few human partners join my game despite having the connection setting set to worldwide. A recent update has enabled PS3 and PS Vita players to play alongside each other via either platform; hopefully this will improve the number of drop-in players.

At the far end of the town you find yourself in after clearing each stage you use a portal to select the next stage you want to attempt to conquer. Halfway through the game you lose the ability to choose which level you want to play next unless you pay money at the stables to rent a horse. This might not sound like a big deal but if you failed miserably at a stage and are returned to town after spending all your gold bringing the computer controlled characters back to life you may be forced to sell important items or weapons in order to select the area you wish to go to next. If you can't afford a horse, the game picks the level you challenge next totally at random. This might not happen often but when it does it can become annoying - especially when you have only one talisman to collect from a specific stage. This is a design choice, like the locking of the multiplayer, that had me scratching my head. The random level choice would have been a welcome option if it was assigned to a button during the level select screen, but having it thrust on you with no choice in the matter seems strange, to me at least.

In order to progress through the game without pulling your hair out you will be required to grind your levels and improve your equipment by replaying stages over and over. Without doing so you will find your character underpowered and they will be punished mercilessly when you eventually unlock the secondary path of each stage. More often than not you'll get through the stage easily enough, then come to a hugely overpowered boss who will crush you and wipe the floor with your remains. I love a challenge and enjoy difficult games; what I dislike is when a game forces you to boost levels in order to find yourself on even a level pegging with some of the enemies on offer. This might be one of the main reasons I grew disillusioned with the game.

The worst failing of the game, on the Vita at least, is the horrible overcrowding on the screen. There are four allies including your own character on the screen at once, one looter who comes on-screen to collect treasures, a fairy who points things out to you, a multitude of enemies, chests and breakables, and items exploding from the background and dead baddies. This can render your screen an unintelligible blur of action. There will be a dozen times on each and every stage where you won't be able to see your own character through the tangle. This will lead to unavoidable death on a regular basis, especially when facing bosses, as the markers that show where their projectile attacks will land are hidden by secondary characters and enemies assisting the boss. In addition, on the occasions when other humans do join your game, they may be controlling the exact same character as you which only adds to the confusion.

As a massive fan of old-school side-scrollers and Vanillaware I was certain I would love this game. I hate to admit that I am less than impressed with Dragon's Crown overall. It looks great, has a huge amount of replayability but its many frustrations and repetitive nature somewhat killed the game for me. If you love your side-scrolling brawlers by all means give it a go. I'm sure many people will love the game, just for me it feels like there is something missing, that it lacks the character of similar games from the SNES and Mega Drive era.

Rating: 2/5