So last night I introduced my wife to the Dreamcast version of Dragonriders: Chronicles of Pern. The game is based off of a series of novels by Anne McCaffrey, of which my wife is a fan. Recently I fired up the Wheel of Time demo (Unreal engine powered FPS based loosely on the Robert Jordan novel series) and she hated it. Mainly because it’s too evil and menacing looking (or at least the levels in the demo were) and she didn’t want to play it. As a result, I don’t assume that a franchise tie-in will neccessarily garnish interest from her. So I fire up this game for her and instantly she’s enthralled. I hear “Dragon Riders” and I instantly think Panzer Dragoon – you know: big, fire breathing dragon you get to ride and shoot fireballs onto poor villagers. First thing that happens in the game is a large dragon tells its owner (I think), the hung over protagonist, to find the special hyde cream and brush to clean him, so you have to make your character find these things. This is when it hits me that this is basically an adventure game, which is good in one respect – I’m all for the adventure game’s triumphant return. On the other hand, it’s disappointing since I was hoping you could fly the dragon. A little research tells me that eventually you do get to fly it, but it’s not the main crux of the game.

So she plays this game for hours, which I figured is a good sign. The whole time she’s making comments that only someone who had read the books would know, and she understands the dialogue as if she had already talked to some of these people. This is great and all, but the whole time she’s expressing how frustrating the game is to play. I can’t blame her – though I didn’t play it myself I sat there and watched her for a while and if you thought the control scheme in Resident Evil was bad – this one makes those games look refined. There’s clipping errors, an annoying and frustrating interface, and the same habit that Resident Evil: Code Veronica had where the camera perspective changes from “following you” to “stuck in one corner”. Oh, and the camera sucks as well. In one scene you have two paths in a cave to go through – one of which has this killer snake. Well, you go down either path and you disappear for a second until you get far entough down the path to change the camera to “following”. Problem is the path curves and so you get stuck. My wife literally had to switch to the first-person perspective crossbow to see where in the hell she was, then blindly try to navigate some more, repeating this routine until she got out. Annoying.

Also there’s the usual spate of problems – gameplay too linear (you have to talk to person A before person B, even though you run into person B first), unfeasible situations (a large rock wall crubles to dust with one swipe of an axe) and pointless lines of questions (no consequence to answering something wrong). Plus, you can’t skip dialouge, so you inadvertently wind up having to listen to some conversations multiple times). On the plus side, the voice acting, while not perfect, is not bad. Far better than Shenmue – that game made me want to scream. Also, it does do a good job of synching the voice to the mouth movements – but no one other than Hank Hill shows his teeth that much. Overall, it’s a passable game whose main draw is its license, which is enough to draw in fans of the books enough to forgive its flaws – witness the ability of my wife to keep playing while complaining about the game. I guess it’s a telltale sign as to why GameStop sells this one for $20 ($30 for the PC version). It’s also somewhat indicative of what was one of the original Dreamcast fears – that the systems WinCE abilities would make for straight PC ports with little to no consideration for the complexities of consoles – witness the 66 VMU blocks (close to 1/3 of the card) needed to save.

On an unrelated topic, I also decided to pimp my dot-com I also help do on the side. View it as the lone non-pop-up ad on the site. Or don’t – I don’t care.