Capcom’s latest remastered collection stirs up many memories from my days haunting video game arcades in the late ‘90s. Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and its sequel, Shadow Over Mystara, were the kinds of games I’d drop a couple quarters in between turns against competition on my fighting game of choice. I worked at an arcade at one point that had a Tower of Doom right in front. The same two guys would come in and play it almost every day. I would listen to one scream at and hit the machine after a likely untimely, frustrating death. Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (D&D:CoM) is so arcade perfect, I wonder if he’s still screaming at it.
There is an entire generation of people that have never seen nor heard of these two classic Capcom quarter-munching, side-scrolling hack-and-slashers. Outside of arcades and a Japanese Sega Saturn collection, neither game got a domestic release on home consoles. They came from a time when D&D was peaking in popularity beyond pen, paper, and dice and when Capcom was the go-to publisher for quality licensed action games. Iron Galaxy, whose specialty lies in ports and very successful HD remakes of Capcom fighters, returns for a fourth Capcom rejuvenation project. D&D: CoM is a throwback that will likely appeal the most to former arcade rats.
I love my Capcom games. They typically hold up well because of their graphics and gameplay. I think my expectations might have been a little too high for this collection. That isn’t to say it isn’t successful. This might have been a case of looking back on these games with rose-colored glasses.
Tower of Doom looks dated. The character designs are uninteresting and the backgrounds are bland. Shadow Over Mystara is an improvement thanks to two new character classes and different stages. Thankfully, as is the point of these HD remakes, Iron Galaxy offers up a variety of options to customize the visual output. Want to go full on nostalgia with that old arcade feel? Load up the games in their original graphics, ratio size, and with scanlines. You can set the borders to show challenge updates or not. There’s even an option to play the game within an arcade cabinet. Why anyone would do that? I have no idea because the cabinet takes up a lot screen real estate. If you’re like me and like your nostalgia with a more sophisticated taste, sharpen up or smooth out the graphics for a much livelier and more appealing visual experience.
There really isn’t a story of note in either game thanks to standard D&D tropes. The heroes help people, kill lots of enemies, and score tons of loot along the way to the final conclusion against powerful bosses. There is some kind of obscure experience and leveling system, evidenced only by the fact that somehow characters jump to certain levels at the end of a stage. In a game like this, it is less about the story and more about the fun or frustration had with friends. These games were typical unforgiving experiences that thankfully have been given difficulty settings.
D&D:CoM is pretty easy to jump into. The control scheme is fairly basic, breaking down to four buttons. Things get a little convoluted in Shadow Over Mystara for magic users as they can switch between items and two sets of magic. But the sequel improves on Tower of Doom’s character abilities by adding in more attacks utilizing specific motions such as the Street Fighter quarter-circle motions. With the control system largely unchanged, it works on the base level, but the frustrating quirks remain. The attack button is the same used to pick up loot. Too often, I’m caught in this loot trap as my character furiously scrabbles for loose change on the ground dropped by vanquished enemies while more of them close in on me from all sides and smack me around. Lining up attacks on enemies on the vertical planes can be awkward as well. To the naked eye, it seems the characters are in a position to attack silly kobolds or gnolls, only to whiff at air because they are just out of reach above or below me.
There is one thing that I’ve always disliked more than anything about these D&D games, the sound. The menu has repeating theme songs and I can’t get into games fast enough to get out of the menu. The music tracks in both games are atypical of arcade video games, repetitious and forgettable. Characters spout unintelligible phrases and enemies howl and screech the same sounds over and over. I’ve never beaten SOM in the arcade, so I don’t know if it had the same ending with atrocious voiceovers in D&D:COM. I can only assume it did and it is downright pathetic.
D&D:COM’s strength is in the four player co-op. Tower of Doom forces players to be one of four classes, but Shadow Over Mystara lets players choose multiple of the same class. The games’ use GGPO for drop in and drop out matchmaking and is adjustable for better results. I had little issue with latency in all of the games I played online with the worst offense being slight stutters whenever someone joins or leaves the game. The game retains all of the fun of four players hacking and slashing their way through hordes of goblins, gnolls, ghouls, hellhounds, and the occasional beholder or dragon. I always laugh when I see that one guy who has to loot everything. There’s one in every bunch.
If anyone is unsure that $15 isn’t worth the price of entry on this collection, here’s a simple breakdown of the math. It took me 42 continues to beat Tower of Doom solo. At fifty cents a play back in the day, that’s $21.00. That makes D&D:COM a bargain for two games that provide plenty of reason for gamers to come back with branching stages, challenges to complete, artwork to unlock with Vault Points, and even House Rules you can unlock and toggle to provide new rules to gameplay like enemies dropping more money or unbreakable equipment.
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara scratches that old fantasy hack-and-slash itch nicely. Iron Galaxy freshened up the experience and turns out a solid treatment for two games that never saw the light of day outside of arcades. It won’t be for everyone. The gameplay might be a little too thin, the story even thinner. But the co-op is fun and I can’t think of one person who doesn’t like gaming with their buddies, even if they are loot whores.
A copy of Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara on the Xbox 360 was purchased by the reviewer for purposes of this review.