Everyone remembers Golden Axe, Final Fight and The Simpsons, right? Those classic side scrolling beat ‘em ups were all the rage back in the day, their massive arcade cabinets consuming huge quantities of coinage. I have fond memories of standing in room awash with blinking lights and tinny music, and spending my entire allowance on a brief stint as Gilius Thunderhead, Haggar or Bart. Happy days.
But it was with some trepidation that I downloaded Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara on Xbox Live. The newly released HD compilation developed by Iron Galaxy combines two classic arcade games: Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara. Both were well received at the time but it is, afterall, 20 years since Tower of Doom hit the arcades – and quite a lot has changed in the gaming world over the past few decades.
Fortunately, my concerns were unfounded and Chronicles is a really decent package. Combining the simplistic, pick up and play elements that all side-scrolling fans will be familiar with, this has clearly been a labour of love.
The graphics have undergone an overhaul, with the jagged edges and blocky pixels of old looking far smoother and more refined. For those of you who kind of like the more traditional look, however, a fumble around the settings menu allows you to give the games a more archaic aesthetic. What’s more you can also change the view to simulate an actual arcade cabinet or convert it to widescreen – a very nice touch that will surely be appreciated by ageing gamers such as myself.
Before you start your quest, you get to pick from various characters, each with different skills, abilities and weapons. Tower of Doom offers only four: Fighter, Cleric, Dwarf and Elf – whereas its sequel Shadow over Mystara adds a couple more to the mix: the Magic User and Thief. Speed, strength, magic and all the usual attributes vary depending on your choice – and make the game tougher or easier as a result. The Fighter and Dwarf are among my favourites – offering the best combination of attack moves!
With online or local drop in/out play and up to four players, gameplay is a simple affair – your chosen character wandering from the left to right of the screen in a bid to defeat the various creatures with melee, range and magic attacks. More than just your conventional beat ‘em up, however, the games also have RPG elements allowing you to level up your character and choose from various paths that affect the story.
Playing alone is fun – although it can get a little staid after a while, so you should really grab a friend or three to maximise the experience. As your progress, there are plenty of collectibles and treasures to pick up, with the bullion providing access to a host of new weapons and boosts. Achievements and targets are flagged up on screen to encourage you to keep on playing too.
Although neither game is particularly tricky and a playthrough will most likely take only a couple of hours (especially with infinite continues), there is some longevity to be found through the branching storyline paths that result in multiple endings.
This package includes various challenges that can add some replay value but a new House Rules feature, which allows you to customise the gameplay is a great inclusion. These tweaks really do change the feel of the game and shake things up a bit. There are plenty to choose from, such as Time Attack Mode that sees a countdown timer increase with every kill, or others that earn you health or loads of cash every time you dispatch an enemy.
Fans of the likes of Streets of Rage or the more recent Castle Crashers will be in their element with Chronicles. It may have a premium price of 1200MSP, but don’t let that deter you from making a purchase if you fancy a trip down memory lane with some arcade classics.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.