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Chu's Dynasty is a game which claims to mix the complexity of Street Fighter with the gameplay of Smash Bros. While this is a lofty goal, the mixture certainly leaves me wondering if a game I picked up for $3 will be able to deliver on this promise.
Chu's Dynasty, first off, is one of the most beautiful things on the Indie Games service. Each stage is appears hand-painted, and the characters themselves look like they'd be more at home in a cartoon than in a video game. Or at least, while still. The character animation is rather choppy, with some noticeable lack of in-between spriting done to ease the transitions. Of course, it's hard to criticize an indie work for that.
Moving on, the music is wonderful, and the voice acting on offer for each of the four characters is better than you generally get from a full retail product purchased for $59.99, let alone a three-dollar game. Each character has a surprising amount of situational dialogue, each line delivered fantastically by the voice actors and hearing Viotale yell out a mocking "N000000B!" when he knocks someone off a ledge actually made me snort my drink out of my nose. Speaking of surprises, I did a double take when Noah first started talking, since he sounded almost precisely like Yuri Lowenthal.
What little story there is here is also told in a very interesting way... Each character's motivations and actions are told through excerpts from books in between in fight, which is both a novel way to tell a story and get out of having to make a lot of tedious cut scenes. It keeps the pace of the game's campaign mode nice and quick, allowing those who don't care about story to get on to the next fight and those that do to fill in the gaps with their imagination.
The game is fun to play, too. Just as promised, the game feels like a mix of Street Fighter and Smash Bros, mixing the pace of the former with the stage-design of the latter. I invited three friends over last night to give the multiplayer mode a try, and to be honest, it was a blast. My friends and I had a lot of fun smacking each other around the various stages, with a couple hours passing by before we'd even realized it had happened.
The gameplay, however, does have some issues which were cast into a harsh light by the inclusion of my friends. The pace of the game, for one, is a little too fast for the complexity on offer, which is not helped by the fact that much of attack commands are linked to a simple directional press and one of the four face buttons. What this leaves is the recipe for button-mashing gameplay which rewards the player for doing so, and that's exactly what you'll get.
And to be honest, simple, repetitive actions are enough to get past the A.I. even on the game's hardest difficulty setting. So while the potential for complex gameplay is there, the truth of the matter is that this is really not that far removed from Smash Bros. Sure, you CAN expend two energy to break an enemy's combo, but it's far better to save them for repositioning. Sure, you can use your time powers, but for the most part, it's not worth the effort since they're either useful only for certain situations or the limit on their use prohibits the user from utilizing them.
The lack of character variety does hurt a bit, too. The game has four characters. Not four characters plus a boss, just... Four characters. During campaign mode, you fight the other three one-on-one, then you fight with each of the three against the other two in two-on-two matches, and then you fight an overclocked Chu in a neat stage with slowly falling platforms to round things out.
However, you should take those complaints with a rather large grain of salt. Bear in mind I'm talking about a game that's only three bucks. Yes, the game could use more characters, but let's be blunt here... One could say that about just about any fighting game and it'd be just as true. While I'd have loved to see a roster twice as large, I'm certain the team could have filled it by going the Street Fighter route and filling the game with clones, so I'm actually glad that they didn't.
If you don't choose to pick up this game, you are missing out on something fantastic. For what it is, Chu's Dynasty is great. The only sore point I really have is that with a bigger budget and a bit more time, these guys could have made something even better.
And should the development team read this, I strongly urge you to consider refining this and going for an Arcade release for the sequel. This is the sort of game which absolutely BEGS for online play, and with a bit more variety on the roster that is a game I'd gladly pay five times the price for.