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For: DS

Guns don't kill people, grappers do

Product: Draglade | Developer: Dimps | Publisher: 505 Games | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Fighting, Music/ Rhythm | Players: 1-2 | Version: Europe
Draglade DS, thumbnail 1
The films of Quentin Tarantino, a novel by Mary Norton, an Oxfam shop and now Draglade. What do they all have in common? It's a borrowing and second-hand thing. Draglade is the answer to that commonly posed question: 'What would it be like to cross Pokémon with a Bemani game and 1980s brawler Final Fight?'

Let's start at the beginning. 505's latest is, at its simplest level, a beat-'em-up. In fact, it's a simple beat-'em-up. A quick tap of Y will see you punch, while a bash of X will see you punch harder but slower. Things are complicated nicely by the use of 'Bullets', unleashing a variety of attacks (like cyclone winds) or calling forth various defences and heal potions. As the game progresses these can be built up so the Zippo-esque ball of flame that you toss at opponents to begin with eventually becomes a veritable Vesuvius.

The problem with this is that the game's difficulty level always feels flat. Your opponents get tougher, sure, but so do you, and you've always got more than enough firepower to outgun them. And how. At one point you can even set a massive tuna fish on your foes.

Things get more interesting as you progress to the bizarre spectator sport of 'grapping.' Tapping the L shoulder button in the middle of a fight brings up a music screen, and pressing X in time to the beat sees you pulling off a devastating combo. At least in theory, because your opponents don't always give you enough time to get into the bopping and, er, bashing groove. As time progresses you can develop your own trademark music to beat up hooligans and evil butterflies. In fact, you can even go as far as to compose your own tunes. It's a silly but fun diversion, although the DS speakers and sound quality aren't good enough for this feature to be the killer app it's intended to be.

Doubtless in a game designer's brief the above would take the beat-'em-up gameplay basics and add layer upon layer until it transcended the fighting genre. Or something. Of course, in practice it doesn't and you just end up leaping around the screen hammering the same two buttons with varying degrees of skill and intensity. As I rapidly found, the 'musical' bit became annoying, and so I started playing with the sound off.

What does work surprisingly well is the game's quest structure. Beginning as one of four elemental characters, the game sets you the basic task of travelling from town to town to complete your grapping exams, while throwing in all manner of subquests, unusual characters and, wouldn't you just know it, an involving and complex backstory. To talk specifics, Guy: The Hero of Lightning is a former hooligan turned weedy good guy, the former criminal trying hard to go straight. He's pursued by the sister of his former enemy until she eventually accepts he has changed and they become friends.

All a load of soft-filtered hokum, you're probably thinking. Well true enough, these are stories that end exactly the way you'd expect, but that doesn't stop you being interested in them. Indeed, I'd go as far to say as that for all the attempts at beat game and beat-'em-up innovation, what really stops Draglade deteriorating into another repetitive fighter is the game's winning sentiment. You really do want to reach the end, and you probably will within a few days of moderate effort.

Draglade is so fast and furious that this lack of longevity is not a massive problem, although it does mean you're less likely to spend a lot of time customising your grapping moves so that you can fight to the tune of Dr Who. Or whatever. Though that kind of patience might be rewarded by the splendid wi-fi mode. Anyway, criticising the game for not being EverQuest Online would be an act of extreme foolishness. This is gaming fast food, an electrifying adrenaline burst, an innovative DS gaming B-movie. You've seen it all before, you've seen it better, but when you're playing Draglade none of that seems to matter. It's fun. I can't think of a better accolade than that.
Reviewer photo
Scott Anthony | 6 May 2008
Convincingly crossing dancing with beat-'em-up, Draglade is a fun, frenetic and hugely likeable DS B-movie
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