Dungeons & Dragons : Shadows Over Mystarra – Coop Arcade fun for 4 (Xbox, PC)

I can recall first the first time I watched the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon in the early 90’s and loved the idea of heroes adventuring in a fantasy world. Not comprehending the complexities of tabletop RPGs I just loved the stories and that was enough. Then I remember going to the arcades with my brother and we loved playing coop games like Metal Slug and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which even allowed for up to 4 players. I would read about Dungeons & Dragons Tower of Doom that was released in 1993/94 for the legendary CPS-2 machine by Capcom, a developer and publisher all kids we all too familiar with. Tower of Doom would not be the first D&D game released by Capcom with TSR after signing their deal in 1990 which resulted shortly after in the porting of Eye of the Beholder to the SNES.

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The artwork in the magazine was evocative and the cover featured the standard party with the Dwarf, Cleric, Warrior and Elf. At the time races were classes as they were using the AD&D Rules Cyclopedia rules when designing the game which also made it unlike any other side scrolling beat em up game. Not only had they gotten the rights from TSR for the system but they also were using a popular setting from the AD&D books. At the time fans of D&D had gold box computer games and other iterations of their favorite tabletop game ported to the PC but nothing that looked as good as what Capcom released and no game allowed for up to 4 players couch coop! The game would eventually see it packed with the sequel Shadows of Mystarra (Dungeons & Dragons Collection 1999) for the failed Sega Saturn console but only Japan with the removal of 4 player capabilities.

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The things that made this a different gaming experience for arcade goers was that it allowed players to do more than just simple attacks, infact Capcom wanted to remain true to the abilities existing fans of the tabeltop game loved so much.  Capcom would enlist the talents of video game and anime concept illustrator Kinu Nishimura (Street Fighter games and Capcom Vs SNK) while leaving the writing duties to Alex Jiminez who did great in translating the feel and narrative of Dungeons & Dragons to a more mainstream audience. Players would be able to select abilities and feats while picking up items and loot which was stowed in their inventory. Prior to this inventory functionality and the differentiation of what each character to do made this a gamechanger in the early 90’s, the last era of arcades still being relavent in gaming culture globally.

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The game had miles of depth on the competition at the time, it was hard to complete and it played different depending on the choices the players made in game. A store and and the addition of a block function helped players survive a few more kobolds. D&D fans coming to arcade would be pscyhed when they saw the inclusion of their favorite spells including, magic missile, fireball, cloudkill and invisibility along with the same limitations from the book meant their exzisting knowledge would allow for them to get the game from the first quarter. Levelling up and loss of gold and points when dying made it a game where you had to think more than your would for other beat em ups like Fatal Fury or the Simpsons. The replayability of Tower of Doom and its difficulty had us dumping money into the cabinets and for those who got to see the ending at the 7th level we were amped after seeing the cliffhanger ending which hinted at a sequel.

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Shadows over Mystarra would be the second Dungeons & Dragons game released for arcades in 1996, adding more to the game and expanding the choices for playable classes. The thief and magic user class were added to the joy of many D&D players. Each class had alternate costumes so two players could play as the same class if they wanted to and believe me have two casters is nothing to sneeze at in this game. Capcom also jammed in more combos for the fighting classes and threw in more spells along with diverging paths for specific classes and alternate endings added more replayability to that game that already did it right the first time around.  By far the 4 possible endings for each class is something I think no game has done since.

 

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Now that we have laid on the praise real thick with our nostalgia goggles on it is time to get into what we don’t like about the games. Seeing as the games were originally designed for the arcades it was common practise for developers for have money grab levels and cheap bosses who were so hard that you would HAVE to have a fair amount of coinage to survive. Pay to pay at it’s finest but this is truly visible when fighting the Red Dragon in the first game where you do not even see his health bar after a barrage of hits connect and his insta-death fire breath killed many one second into the encounter. Also, there were glitches in the sequeal where you could cheat through entering certain words when given the choice of naming your character along with a few other glitches which could give you powerful items helped some cheaters get their names on the highscore charts. Other than that my gripe is more with Capcom than it is with TSR which was going through hell in the 90s.

Imagine if Capcom did not sacrifice the 4 player option for the Saturn, better yet try picture them releasing these game on the Sony Playstation as a bundle in 1996? I could not find any explaination as to why Capcom would not pursue it further, one of the reasons could be that D&D did not catch on as fast or grow as much as it did in the west. Alex Jiminez who wrote the scenario for Capcom said the Japanese staff were not understanding the concept or much of the mechanics behind D&D. The heads in Tokyo even were debating whether the game should have a Western or Eastern theme prior to Alex’s arrival.

Let us recall that RPG fans in the early 90s had slim pickings for games especially when discussing consoles with Diablo 1 coming to the Playstation in 1998 with only a two player option, beating Capcom by a year for their collection which was exclusive to Japan. Baldurs Gate would not hit PCs until 1998 meaning Capcom had more than enough time to capitalize on a severely under served genre with most of the titles remaining exclusive to PC platforms. Waiting as long as 2013 to repackage and release the collection globally on most platforms seemed like a long wait and I’m pretty sure if they had ported it to the Playstation, PS2, Dreamcast, or Xbox they could have gotten some more sales and perhaps rekindled the interest of Wizards of the Coast in a time where consoles were not even a thought for developers. Proof of this is that we had to wait until 2001 before console gamers would recieve the critically acclaimed ‘Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance’.

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REMINDER: The titles listed were gamechangers and all came towards the end of the 90s, not to say there were not games on the PC and Playstation that did not have Dungeons & Dragons licensing but these products fell short of the mark when it came to graphics, replayability and never made the arcade. With the exception of Eye of the Beholder which was well reviewed no D&D computer game would make a splash prior to Baldurs Gate in 1998.

Hoping you enjoyed reading this post and we cannot recommend this enough if you have 15$ lying around give the game a shot as it is packed with nostalgia while also providing hour of fun in a familiar setting.  I give this collection 9 out of 10. 

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Aliens : Colonial Marines ( Xbox 360 Game Review ) * Couch COOP Gaming *

We take on the the Aliens in this splitscreen shooter, read more to see how we faired and what we think of one of the worst reviewed games in console history.

To clarify for all of our readers that the guy who wrote this review was a fan of Aliens from the jump. The first Aliens game I played was on Sega and I spent hours of my early teens in Lan gaming spots playing the first Aliens Versus Predator with an IV drip of soda and pyramids  of snack wrappers littering my immediate surroundings . All fandom aside this will be an honest critique of the game where the franchise history factored only slightly in regards to ‘theme’ and ‘story’. Having hear many negative things about the games AI I still held out hope when I heard writers from Battlestar Gallactica worked on the plot, trying to approach the game without bias proved harder than I expected.

It would be wrong to ignore the power a brand can have on influencing your first impression or motivations in purchasing a game. The Ridley Scott classic movies made Xenomorphs one of the most identifiable aliens in popular cultural putting them in the same category as ET, the Predator, the Grays and the green men from Mars. Every kid wanted to blast those aliens and if nothing this game promised you that out the gate.

Needless to say we were curious to see the campaign Sega managed to pull together with all the existing source material available and if would play as well as it should compared to previous shooters under the same brand. It was their second game after purchasing the franchise and took the developer Gearbox which had worked on a version for the Playstation 2 earlier butt hat project was scrapped. Sega had a lot of pressure to deliver and I would be lying if I said this game even came close. In fact after playing the game the first time I read that it was considered to be in the top 10 worst games of all time. This game was released in a time when Sega had long given up on consoles and were making the millions in intellectual property so they did not have that many games in the works.

Off the bat the graphics are not the best we have seen as the campaign opens with you and your player 2 getting briefed on the USS Sephora before things start blowing up. As expected for the classic first person title the controls are standard and easy to learn while the darkness and shadows are done well making it feel more authentic adding to the overall horror theme. Despite the graphics seeming kind of blocky in the some of the cut scenes when compared to other titles out at the time. The designers and developers dropped the ball so much that at a few times while playing I was genuinely disappointed because I expected more from Sega.

The are arsenal contains all time fan favorite pulse rifle with upgrades and gadgets to add to your enjoyment such as red dots beams, scopes and grenade launchers to boot. Shotguns, pistols and smart-guns make for more passionate slaying though we feel more weapons should have been offered and the option of dual wielding pistols would have been something good to see.

Its reminiscent of the newer Doom and its predecessors as my brother and I swept through corridors shredding xenomorphs while remaining silent and on edge. the tension adding to the immersion of the game. The game is not as easy as expected and will leave you frustrated but in a good way because you really want to pass that next checkpoint. We recommend having a 40″ TV or monitor and up minimum to be able to enjoy the splitscreen experience in the its fullness.

Sadly the game clocks short at 11 levels with an extra level with the Limited Edition we played. The game does have highs and lows as the short campaign, less than smooth graphics and no DLC or expansions leaves Aliens Colonial Marines with much to desire. The upside is that it is fun to play, it won’t have you as glued as Borderlands but there is something in the nostalgia of it that leaves you on the edge of the couch. The game is too dark at times and turning up the brightness highlights some of the bad graphics but after some fiddling you can reach a playable compromise. I feel Sega were banking on releasing something that could keep gamers interested in Aliens but failed in creating a classic game let alone breathe new life to such a titan of a franchise. Bodying waves to Aliens, acidic highlighter colored ooze splashing everywhere, covering your other players back and the gore and explosions will test even the best of friendships. There were time I found myself taking a smoke break after being frustrated at certain points in the game, partly because of my paper thin nerves and mostly because of glitches and some stupid game architecture. Be warned, if Left 4 Dead has you screaming at your teammates this might having you choking them !!! We strongly advise playing this with the lights down low and in coop because it seems to be intended to be played that way. The short campaign and difficulty in solo play points to this being a two player experience.

All in all a fun game, worth the purchase and can be found cheap second hand. You have to stick together so the coop is emphasized and is a must have if you are looking for something other than zombies and terrorists. A good game to play through a few times but don´t expect it to be in your top 20 and it will not be something you come back to often. However, I do enjoy pulling it out after I watch of the Aliens movies so there is always that.

Giving this game a rating of

5 out of 10

Let us not get it twisted or misconstrued, ACM is far from a good game but it passes the minimal requirements. If we look at the third gen console library you will be hardpressed to find that many couch coop titles and this is one of the less than 20 titles availible. With XBOX live and PSN removing other titles the list is even shorter so that helped give ACM that extra point to get it to a passing grade. The sound is on point and you do feel that paranoia when scanning corridors with your pulse rifle. The lack of weapons, customization and personalization is a downside along with no extra content to spice things for repeat play. We factored in how cheap you get a copy for and it does give a decent coop experience if you have run out of things to play. Despite the short campaign and visible glitches of the developers made this a game Sega probably wishes never came out. This is a game which you can buy for cheap and breeze through in less than a dozen settings but do not expect to revisit it much after you have finished it.

Stay tuned for more reviews on Aliens games that we will be posting and commenting on in our podcast and on this site. Let us know what you felt of the game, did the carnage even satisfy even the least bit? Was the the story as boring to you as it was for me? Did this leave a permanent dent in Sega and its legacy as a developer?