Anyone else remember this award winning fantasy epic from 1996 starring Dennis Quaid as our rugged hero Bowen, and Sean Connery performing the voice of the dragon, Draco, who forms a partnership with Bowen in the hope of swindling the locals out of their money? It wasn’t a bad movie! I went the cinema to see it at the ripe old age of 13, and I remember enjoying it. Not enough to buy the VHS / DVD / Blu-Ray (is there one?), but still it was entertaining. Also not entertaining enough for me to get excited about when news of a video game adaptation developed by Acclaim was announced but I somehow managed to get my hands on a copy of the PS1 version, probably from dodgy Brian and his weekly bootload of ‘rentals’ he used to peddle out of the back of his car.
This was definitely a case of a wasted weeks rental. While the movie is watchable, the game is boringly playable. A simple side-scrolling Golden Axe style beat-em-up with dreadful motion capture animation, audio is repetitive, sound effects are uninspired and the visuals are not of the quality that the movie was nominated for a ‘Best Visual Effects’ award for back in 1997. We’re talking Kasumi Ninja style animation here, it’s barbaric. If standing still, Bowen probably has about 5 frames of animation which loop over and over. The enemies probably have fewer than that. Even worse is that the main characters in-game aren’t even played by their on-screen counterparts. That is NOT Dennis Quaid and the very hot Dina Meyer on your game screen unfortunately.
If I can give the game SOME positive feedback, the level designs and backgrounds look pretty good for their time. But when they’re accompanied by characters as badly animated as these ones are, it feels like a total waste. Also, some of the bosses ARE pretty cool looking, with some of them looking pretty huge on that there screen. They never feel very threatening though, the kind of bosses where if you find that right sweet spot on the screen, you’re good to slash away invincible from all hits. Enemies also piss out blood like fountains when you kill them, and some of the boss deaths can actually get very messy which is always fun.
The combat is laughable, with the O button carrying out a slash, pressing it and up or down attacking upwards and downward, and a shield bash attack and knockout attack. Which never really knocks anyone out. You can also fire a few arrows if need be which looks like Bowen has never actually fired an arrow before. That’s about it for melee and ranged combat. There’s a few ‘special moves’ available too involving whirlwinds and juggling but they’re about as exciting as the never-ending slash attack you’ll carry out about a thousand times throughout the game.
You do get to use a special attack, when you get to call in Draco as a ‘summon’ like you could summon the dragon in Golden Axe, oh boy… first of all, it’s the least exciting horn you could ever hope to hear someone blow, truly lacklustre. Then, a terrible looking dragon which is twice as tall as Dennis Quaid comes swinging by, all of the on-screen enemies seem to freeze, but remain animated, and you’re free to go poke them to death with your sword. It looks absolutely dreadful. Golden Axe got that stuff right with the epic fire breathing dragon call.
There’s even a few quick time event sequences where you get to ride the back of Draco through a FMV forest and press up, down, left, and right to avoid the trees and branches. This was before Shen Mue even came along, so we’re talking some real Dragon’s Lair inspired stuff here! It’s a shame it looks shit though, with these uninspired green arrows popping up under the screen to guide you along.
Audio is provided, with a soundtrack that isn’t even from the film. While it does the job well enough considering the game’s setting, it’s quite uninspired and won’t get your pulse racing. The sound effects are dreadful. Prepare to get used to the sound of a sword swinging at thin air. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be striking enemies and objects, you just won’t hear the actual physical strikes taking place. Enemies all grunt the same way, all ghosts die with the same horrifying moan, and there’s absolutely no speech whatsoever. You’ll hear more vocals in Ridge Racer Revolution.
There’s so many daft moments in the game, such as when you find the ghost of some legendary knight in the middle of a village at war who is there to help you improve your ‘constitution’. Trump could do well with this guy. There’s a great bit with a catapult, where it looks like you get launched like a rocket sky-high, only to find you’ve actually only moved about 10 feet so you could clear a spiky wall ahead of you. How about ‘YE OLDE SHOPPE’ which you can visit in-between levels? Doesn’t matter if you’ve just defeated a monster boss in the snowy mountains, there’s somehow a shop (represented by text on a scroll background of course) that you can buy your items from.
And when you finally reach the end of the game and defeat a truly half-assed unexciting final slug boss? You get ‘BOWEN’S QUEST IS COMPLETED! YOU ARE A HERO!’ as a well done message. This lasts about 10 seconds, while the staff credits then take nearly 5 minutes to play. Congratulations on playing through a complete waste of a few hours of your time. Go watch the movie and hold a Playstation pad when you’re doing it, you’ll get more enjoyment from it this way, I promise. Oh and by the way, there were no worthwhile images to use for an article cover picture so I thought David Thewlis firing a bow with passion was a great replacement.
See me blowing my horn @auto2112