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TGS: Crimson Dragon Has a Chance to Be This Generation's Geometry Wars

Microsoft's Xbox One successor to Panzer Dragoon is actually looking pretty good.

I'm going to give Crimson Dragon the strongest endorsement a game journalist can possibly give. When Crimson Dragon comes out in a few months, I'm going to buy it. Even if I don't end up reviewing it, I'm willing to give this game my hard-earned time and money.

Yes, my excitement is partly due to Crimson Dragon's excellent pedigree. Being the direct descendant of the much-loved Panzer Dragoon, which has been cruelly absent from our lives since last making an appearance on the Xbox, is hardly a detriment. But what I saw today was also darn impressive looking shooter on its own merits as well; enough that I would probably pay full retail price for it, let alone a relatively paltry $20 (of course, I'd better shut up now, lest Microsoft decide to kick it up to full price).

Sitting in a tiny hotel room just outside of the Tokyo Game Show, I sat back and enjoyed the sight of a massive dragon swooping and destroying its foes with its primary attack -- a powerful laser. I say "massive" because it really does feel huge. Especially on a large television like the one that Microsoft was using for the demo, the dragon looks huge and powerful, dominating the screen with its impressive wingspan.

When it came time to fight the boss waiting at the end of the leve, the dragon entered what amounted to "all-range mode" from Star Fox 64. One thing you should know about me -- I love Star Fox 64. If it's not in my Top 5 favorite games of all time, it's certainly in my Top 10. In my view, the shooting, the level design, the music, and the bosses are all close to perfect. So as you can imagine, any game that evokes Star Fox 64 is alright in my book.

And in the end, I guess that's why I'm as excited as I am about Crimson Dragon; games like Star Fox 64 and Panzer Dragoon just don't come along all that often. In this day and age, they're in the awkward place of being too elaborate for indie developers undertake, but too niche for large publisher. So when a game like Crimson Dragon comes along, it's kind of a rare and beautiful thing.

It doesn't just rest on its retro appeal either. While it has moved away from being Kinect-only at the behest of the fans, instead opting for a slightly more traditional Kinect-controller hybrid, it does make good use of the Xbox One's social features, particularly the ever-present cloud. In Crimson Dragon, it will actually be possible to upload a dragon, whereupon it can be downloaded by a friend and used as an assistant during a mission. The benefit for the player who downloads a dragon is obvious -- extra firepower; but the person who uploads the dragon stands to gain as well. When their dragon is downloaded and used in a mission, it earns them special items, which in turn grant abilities and attacks. It's the sort of transaction that should become very common with the new generation, which I happen to think is pretty cool.

The various attacks and items also have side benefit granting Crimson Dragon a certain amount of longevity, since the core fans who comprise a large part of the target audience are encouraged to grind rare items to maximize their rides. Dragons also gain experience, with the current level cap sitting at 10, and earn new abilities as they evolve. With a campaign lasting 25 hours, and promises of additional downloadable content, Crimson Dragon ought to last longer than any of its predecessors.

I don't want to reduce Crimson Dragon to a mere value proposition, because I think games are greater than the sum total of their hour counts. After all, Star Fox 64 is one of my favorite games ever, and it could be finished in a single setting. That said, it's hard not to impressed by the amount of content being packaged into what seems like a very affordable package. If Crimson Dragon reaches its potential, it has a chance to be the sort of mandatory purchase that Geometry Wars was during the Xbox 360 launch.

In light of its fairly rough development, I can't help but be impressed by how good Crimson Dragon is looking. A lot of development teams would have buckled under the pressure of not only porting their game to a totally new platform, but rethinking the control scheme as well. Given the level of polish on display at the demo though, Crimson Dragon seems to have not only survived the process, but thrived. I'll be picking it up on Day 1.

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