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PAX Preview: Crimson Dragon Hands… Waving Impressions

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If you read my Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor preview, or anything else I’ve ever written about the Kinect, you’ll know that I generally don’t think too highly of Microsoft’s controller-free motion sensor. One thing I do think highly of, however, is the Panzer Dragoon series. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve been clamoring for a new entry in the series ever since 2003′s superb Panzer Dragoon: Orta was released for the original Xbox.

Ever since Orta’s developer, the extremely talented Smilebit Studios, was absorbed by Sega in 2004 I had all but given up hope for a new Panzer Dragoon game. Fortunately, Crimson Dragon (first announced as Project Draco) is a thing, and its development is being led by the creator of Panzer Dragoon, Yukio Futatsugi. I got to go hands-on – so to speak, anyway – with Crimson Dragon at PAX East, and I am not left with any doubt. This is the spiritual successor to the Panzer Dragoon series, and, incidentally, the first Kinect-based game I’ve ever truly enjoyed.

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In Crimson Dragon, you play as a dragon rider named Seeker. The particulars of the story were vague beyond the fact that it takes place in a world called Draco, so there isn’t a whole lot I can really say about its narrative. I’m sure you can count on it being something about saving the world, though.

There is, however, much to be said about Crimson Dragon’s gameplay, simple as it is at its core. Like the Panzer Dragoon games before it, Crimson Dragon is an on-rails shooter, which just happens to be the ideal sort of set up for a game played entirely with Kinect motion controls. The game is played standing up, and leaning in any direction causes your dragon to move in that direction.

Using your right hand, you can wave it over advancing enemies, painting them as your targets in the process in classic Panzer Dragoon style. Making a throwing motion with your hand releases your shots, decimating anything you’ve designated as your target. The left hand reticule, by contrast, fires a steady stream of projectiles and only requires that you aim. As you kill enemies, you will build up a power meter, and when it’s full, raising both hands above your head then making a downward slamming motion unleashes a charged up power attack.

That’s pretty much it – simple, as I said. You’re constantly flying forward and your only real duties are to dodge projectiles and shoot at enemies. What really struck me, however, is that the controls actually felt responsive. I never had the usual sort of Kinect trouble where it struggles to keep up with your actions, and in general, it felt surprisingly precise.

It doesn’t hurt that Crimson Dragon also looks pretty great. The level I played was packed with detail and displayed no noticeable framerate hiccups. One area of the level had you flying over water, dodging large outcroppings filled with flying enemies, while anther had you zipping through a lush forest, blasting everything in your path. There was a pretty decent amount of variety in the environments in just this single level, so it’ll be interesting to see if that variety holds up across the entire game.

After my 10 minutes with the game was up, I came away genuinely pleased and surprised with what I’d played. I practically had to slap myself to make sure the fun I had wasn’t just some figment of my imagination. It wasn’t, of course. Crimson Dragon seems like it will be legitimately fun because it actually works. Having just received a Kinect of my own (being the consumer whore that I am, I bought an R2-D2 Xbox 360 with Kinect), Crimson Dragon is the first game that gets me excited about owning one.

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