As the spiritual successor to the Panzer Dragoon franchise, Crimson Dragon has some big shoes to fill. The talent is there, as the former director of the first three Panzer games and a Panzer composer are attached, but the prospect of Kinect gameplay and an Xbox One exclusivity deal made things a bit hard to swallow.
The forced Kinect scheme has since been dropped, and as time went on, the game looked better and better. Although it may not be quite up to par with some of the masterful games it takes inspiration from, it's a fine successor all the same for old and new fans alike.
Crimson Dragon (Xbox One)
Developer: Grounding, Inc. / Land Ho! Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Crimson Dragon takes place on the desolate planet Draco, where pretty much everything is out to get you. Humans have colonized said planet, and have seized control of the dragon population to fight it -- which is where you come in. While it would make sense to mold Draco into a soulless collection of browns that the game industry is so fixated on, it must be said that Crimson Dragon is a gorgeous-looking game.
Although it is budget priced, it looks decidedly next-gen, and there's an insane amount of detail that went into the game's handful of maps and locales. I'm not one to usually put much stock in visuals, but being able to see enemies from far away also helps strictly in terms of gameplay. Even just flying around in a few locations had my jaw dropping in awe, with a huge draw distance, and a good variety of themes, like lush jungle forests, frigid tundras, and vast sparkling oceans.
Panzer Dragoon made its name as an on-rails shooter, and that's how the vast majority of Crimson Dragon operates. You'll control your dragon by way of left analog movement and right analog targeting, with the ability to barrel roll using the left and right buttons (LB and RB). The left trigger switches weapons (usually of a lock-on and straight-shot variety), and the right trigger is your shot button. That's basically all you need to know, but the implementation is where it counts, because this game is hard on the default "Classic Mode."
Monsters are relentless, and even smaller foes will regularly keep you on your guard with a consistent amount of bullets always on-screen. If you aren't always watching out and keeping your barrel roll ability at the ready, you won't make it much farther than the first few stages. It's pretty exciting that the old-school challenge of the original series was preserved, and I had a blast trying to best some of the levels that claimed my life more than a few times. If you just want to take it easy, a "Casual" setting is available at any time from the options menu.
To help break up the pacing of the game you'll have sub-missions for every level, like "grabbing beacons" or "killing an enemy within a time limit." You'll get graded accordingly based on your performance, and the quest to constantly get a top mark is extremely addictive. To mix things up even further, every so often (mostly during boss battles) Crimson Dragon will give you "free flight" control and allow you to fly about an arena (think Star Fox 64). These portions don't control nearly as well as the on-rails sections, but barring the occasional camera issue, I didn't have much of a problem acclimating myself to it.
In fact, once you get used to aiming a few levels into the game, you'll have very little issues with the controls outside of the occasional free-flight camera hiccup. Again, I want to make it clear that Kinect support is just relegated to voice commands, and they are completely optional. They're mainly used to navigate menus, and order your wingman around, which can be done with the d-pad.
You'll revisit some maps to do more missions, but they feel different as you'll take you on different paths (think A-B-C scenarios in old-school games). Sometimes, you'll also need to kill certain creatures or complete certain objectives to unlock more levels. It doesn't feel like gating so much as an arcade-like setup, which is a major plus as I'm more inclined to want to jump back into previous stages.
When you're not frantically shooting down horrific creatures in missions, you can visit the Dragon Roost -- which is basically a miniature version of Pokemon. You'll have a chance to feed, evolve, level-up, manage, and even change your dragon's form (fire to sky type, for example). The Roost wears these Pokemon influences on its sleeve, with three levels of evolution, and it's all the better for it. Don't expect anything too deep, but there's a ton of fun to be had experimenting with your creatures.
Crimson Dragon also has a good selection of social features (which is a rarity these days), mostly due to the ability to hire an AI wingman from Xbox Live -- almost like an asynchronous Dark Souls mechanic. The better the dragon, the more the cost to hire them, and I had a blast sifting through various player's creations to choose the right one to complement my team. You can also visit the in-game shop to buy items, and more dragons to allow further experimentation. In fact, I was surprised at how much fun I had spending time outside of gameplay, messing around with menu-based functions.
Like Ryse and Powershot Golf, Crimson Dragon unfortunately employs a microtransaction option to buy more currency. But! It's mostly inoffensive, because you can just buy everything through gameplay. If anyone is familiar with Mass Effect 3, it basically operates by allowing players to buy "boosters" or other items with "Jewels" -- the real-life currency of the game.
I don't like that this system is in place in the slightest, but I never once felt like I had to pay money. Instead, I was inspired to level up my dragons through normal gameplay, and simply improve my skills. Co-op multiplayer support is on the horizon, set for a December update that will allow up to three players to go on missions simultaneously. For now, you'll have to deal with single-player.
Crimson Dragon was a pleasant surprise. As a massive fan of the Panzer series, I was worried that this wouldn't quite honor it, but there's plenty here for gamers who have been longing for an entry since 2003's Orta. There are some mechanical problems, but any old-school rail shooter fan will be able to handle them.