Experience the finest in quarter-gouging beat 'em ups.
The Wii U's lineup isn't exactly rich with classic arcade games. Capcom has decided to help fill the gap by releasing this twin pack of arcade brawlers that, until now, haven't really seen any attention in the console space. Prior to this release they were only available at home via a 1999 Japan-only Sega Saturn release. The games included are Dungeons and Dragons: Tower of Doom (1993) and its sequel, Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow over Mystara (1996). While these games share the limitations of their genre, they are well executed and proved to be a great deal of fun, despite their repetitive nature.
Both games clearly share the same heritage: side-scrolling beat ‘em ups from the mid 1990s. Games such as Final Fight, Double Dragon, and Golden Axe paved the way for these two arcade games. While these D&D games are clearly more advanced than their aforementioned predecessors, the room for improvement in this formula is really minimal. You will choose from an assortment of stock D&D archetypes as brawlers, and attack dozens of monsters by mashing the attack button. Eventually, you will come across enemies that have block, evade, or recovery techniques that make you vary your attack pattern or risk repeated certain death. Adding to the variety somewhat are special moves unique to each character that can be activated with Street Fighter-esque joystick combinations.
Unfortunately, the collision detection in the game is a bit unnatural. From time to time you will have difficulty understanding why you got hit, or why your hits didn’t seem to register the way you intended them to. The result is a game that frustrates more than it should, but no more than most other beat ‘em ups. These games were initially designed to burn through quarters as quickly as possible, and it shows.
The visuals are colorful and fun, reminiscent of other Capcom games from this era. While the animation isn't quite as good as something like Street Fighter III, the game still looks great with large colorful 2D sprites. The sound, like many arcade games, seems to be a bit of an afterthought, but it's not distracting. Most of the sound effects consist of grunts and yells, with somewhat generic swordplay and magic effects.
In addition to the main campaigns of both games, Chronicles of Mystara includes some in-game achievements to increase replayability. As players unlock achievements, they gain points that can be spent on unlockable concept art, and house rules that can range from an Enemy Rush mode to abilities and limitations not normally available in the game. The house rules and other unlockable items make for a great excuse to keep grinding through both games, especially because many of the achievements themselves are unlocked through extended play (kill 1000 enemies, etc.).
As you play through each game, your in-game characters will level up. In addition, the more you play with each character, the higher base-level your character will start with. It's a fun way to counteract the unfortunate fact that your in-game "characters" don't really stick around past a single playthrough of the game. Players will have incentive to build up their favorite stock character through multiple plays of each game.
Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara features drop-in online co-operative play, and it works great, to a point. Creating or joining a game is a quick and painless process. You can set up a private game that only your friends can join, and they can drop in as they like with up to four players. Alternatively, you can create or join a public game and play along with strangers. Games like this are always fun with more players, and it’s definitely the ideal way to play. The lag is minimal with two players, but the one time I joined a four-player game with strangers, it was substantial. There is no voice chat support, unfortunately, but this isn't a game that requires much communication to work together. At this point, most Nintendo-centric online gamers have probably already established other ways of talking while playing, which isn't a way of saying that the game shouldn’t support voice chat, but rather, just a fact of life for Wii U owners.
Chronicles of Mystara isn’t anything revolutionary. More than anything else, it represents the final evolution of a dying arcade genre from the era directly before that genre ceased to be relevant. For anyone who spent time in arcades during the mid 1990s, this will certainly scratch that nostalgia itch. If that’s not your itch, however, the game will likely be a bit too frustrating and archaic by modern standards.