For years, the only way I was able to re-create the magical experience of playing Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons arcade games — which were way deeper than anyone expected from a side-scrolling multiplayer game — was with the import Sega Saturn release, but it was difficult, mainly because it was hard to translate exactly what characters were saying. I simply had to shrug and accept that everything I was doing was for the greater good. Still, I couldn't help but feel I was missing out.
That's no longer the only option for enjoying Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. The new digital release Chronicles of Mystara contains these remastered games, complete with multi player options and live Achievement/Trophy tracking on the sidelines — similar to developer Iron Galaxy's treatment of Darkstalkers Chronicles and Street Fighter III: Online Edition. They're certainly something to appreciate, especially if you're looking for good, classic coin-op fun — or even if you're experiencing the games for the first time.
In either game (doesn't matter where you start), you choose from various characters, each with special skills. Our personal favorite is the Fighter, though the Dwarf and Elf can hold their own. From there, you'll embark on your quests, helping townsfolk and defeating all sorts of goblins, ghouls and, of course, dragons.
The game plays like a typical side-scrolling Capcom beat-'em-up would, with a number of attacks (including a dash move) and the occasional ability to use a secondary weapon you pick up during the game. You'll break away from the action to make choices on your next mission (cross through the moat and face more enemies, or take the longer route and have less hassle — that sort of thing) and level up your character. There's also plenty of loot. It's not epic looting on the same plateau of Diablo III, but we'll take it.
Some levels are tougher than others, but you can change up how you play through Tower and Shadow effectively, and it almost feels like something fresh around the corner each time you go in — which is a startling thing for an arcade brawler. It's this freshness, along with being able to level up, that makes Chronicles of Mystara stand out from others in the pack, although we'll always be fond of X-Men and Simpsons Arcade. This takes it to a whole new realm, especially once you find one of the special in-game items.
For the visual treatment, Iron Galaxy went all-out on the HD front. The games still appear a bit aged compared to contemporary RPGs, but they maintain that classic Capcom arcade spirit from long ago while featuring some decent textures on top. The music is vintage arcade themes, just as good as it was on the Saturn.
Chronicles of Mystara works best if you have friends in tow. You can play locally with up to four people in a battle, which is entertaining, but you're also able to get online via PlayStation Network or Xbox Live to do some damage. We tried both versions and found no problem with the gameplay, although there are times battles can slow down a little — especially in Tower of Doom — depending on the chaos unfolding onscreen.
Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is a stand-out digital collection, a reminder that Capcom cares about its classic library just as much as its current- generation releases. Iron Galaxy's treatment is refined, and the online/offline multiplayer options, coupled with the level-up system and vintage brawling gameplay, wrap up well into a neat little package. For $15, you get two pieces of gaming goodness that are well worth exploring — and in a language you can understand.
Now if we can just get Capcom to do a collection that includes King of Dragons, Knights of the Round and (fingers crossed) Alien vs. Predator.
VIDEO GAME REVIEW
'Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara'
Platform: Nintendo, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox
Developer: Iron Galaxy
ESRB rating: T