I have fond memories of playing on arcade machines back in the day. Where I grew up, these machines were normally located at the back of the local chip shop, and daring to play them meant that you could incur the wrath of the school’s headmaster who assumed (for some bizarre reason) that arcade machines equated to gambling, and any student found on one was to be suspended. Luckily the fake name “Fernando Merriweather” saved my ass a number of times.
Despite the memories, playing arcade games on a home console has never held the same appeal. Be it the lack of chip shop aroma, or the fact that these coin-guzzling insta-death games were never meant to be played at home – it just doesn’t feel the same. Can 90s side-scrolling beat’em up Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara buck the trend?
Well for starters, Chronicles of Mystara is actually two separate games – Tower of Doom (originally released in 1993), and Shadow over Mystara (1996). Despite its age, Tower of Doom holds up pretty well in every area. After picking a character – either an Elf, Dwarf, Cleric or Fighter, you are dumped straight into the thick of things and left to get on with it.
Those expecting a tutorial would do well to lower those expectations; this is a proper old school experience, and the only way to find things out is by experimenting (or, as we call it in the business, “dying lots of times”).
Initially combat feels rather basic, but the way you approach fights with each character does differ. Be it melee or magic, there’s a myriad of attacks to learn, as well as knowing when and how to best utilize them. Different spells and weapons can be selected on the fly, meaning there’s no irritating pauses to enter an inventory screen. It’s quite impressive for a 20 year old game.[drop]Even so, Tower of Doom is probably not where you’ll be spending most of your time. That honour goes to the superior Shadow over Mystara. Picking up after Tower of Doom, Shadow over Mystara is more of the same, but with a bit more élan.
As well as looking nicer, it adds in a couple of new characters, alongside a polished weapon/spell selection system. There’s also a bit more variety added to the combat, with an aerial, crescent, knock-down, and desperate attacks added. Again, don’t expect to be told these things!
Both games also support branching story paths, whisking you to different locations depending on what you decide to do. It’s a nice touch, and those who like to complete things 100% will do doubt relish the opportunity to go back and see what they have missed.
There’s also a nice amount of stat-tracking, showing the player their most used character, time played, percentage of treasure collected and so on. Challenges also play a big part, with awards and trophies/achievements being dished out for killing a certain amount of enemies, hitting enemies with projectiles etc…
These can get quite addictive, especially if you like setting enemies on fire. What? It’s a perfectly normal and healthy thing.
Completing these challenges also earns you Vault Points, which can be used to unlock a number of modifiers, essentially rebalancing parts of the game. An example of this would be “unbreakable”, meaning equipped items won’t break.
Those of you who enjoy the social aspect of gaming will be pleased to hear that both games support 4 player local or online drop-in/out co-op play. The experience seems very smooth, with no issues connecting to a game and little lag. It also adds a more tactical edge to proceedings, as you really want to build a balanced team, making sure both melee and magic are catered for.
Of course, with games the ages these two are there are bound to be a few issues. For example, character animations are extremely limited. This may seem obvious, but it’s still pretty jarring when you first start a game. There’s also a slowdown when some of the bigger enemies are on screen.
As with many arcade games of this ilk, the difficulty curve can sometimes be more of a brick wall, with wave upon wave of enemies chucked at you (no doubt designed to relieve you of your 20p coins at the arcade). Continues are unlimited, but it does interrupt the flow of the game.
- Old school button-mashing is rather cathartic.
- Two games to play through.
- Co-op play works well.
- Challenges add an enjoyable layer to the games.
- The limitations of the era are quite apparent, so be warned
- £11.99 / 1200MSP seems a tad steep
Whilst it never thrills, Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is a perfectly enjoyable experience for those who are looking for a quick blast that doesn’t involve taxing the old grey-matter. Whilst you’ll get through each game in a couple of hours, there is a fair amount of replayability on offer. However, I do wonder how many people will ever go back after reaching the end.