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Dragon's Curse (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Dragon's Curse (TurboGrafx-16) review


"A super deformed knight runs across the screen, his sword held high in a completely impractical position. His eyes are larger than his fists, and it gives him a less than dignified look. The man looks like a Weeble. Let's hope he wobbles and doesn't fall down. Super deformed beasties come at him. Even though they smile like characters in a children's cartoon, you know what they want is him laying in a pool of Weeble blood. Maybe he can fall down. The knight hacks and slashes and enemies fall with ease. "



Saturday morning. 2 AM. Insomnia. The wife is at work and I've got writer's block, which really means I just want to play video games and neglect that novel I'm working on. I activate the Wii and browse my old Virtual Console purchases. Dragon's Curse? Did I even play this, or did I just download it because it had “dragon” in the title?

Start game.

A super deformed knight runs across the screen, his sword held high in a completely impractical position. His eyes are larger than his fists, and it gives him a less than dignified look. The man looks like a Weeble. Let's hope he wobbles and doesn't fall down. Super deformed beasties come at him. Even though they smile like characters in a children's cartoon, you know what they want is him laying in a pool of Weeble blood. Maybe he can fall down. The knight hacks and slashes and enemies fall with ease.

No matter how many times he heads down this hall, it always looks the same. It doesn't occur to the knight that he's in a maze and that the only way out is to go through the right screens in just the right places. A little searching takes him to a door. No surprise what's behind it.

Enter the (mechanized) dragon. That's what's behind the door. It looks like a Godzilla villain according to Fisher-Price. A few whacks and he heads to the scrap heap, but not before hitting the good knight with some bad juju. Mr. Knight becomes a fire-breathing lizard-man. Where once he was great and powerful, he's now become Puff the Magic Dragon's cousin Poof. Poof has only one life point where the knight had a full line of them. He takes several hits to kill things and absorbs damage like a glass jar.

Already I feel myself growing tired. Sleep should come any minute. Time: 2:25.

The castle crumbles. It's a metaphor. Don't expect this journey to be like all of the others that start with a knight and his trusty sword. The fantasy is over, and Survival 101 has begun. Where should Poof go? He doesn't know. There are no signs, no townsfolk, nothing to point him in any direction except a small town with several doors, a church, and a shop. There are some merchants, but they tell Poof squat. This somehow feels refreshing. Poof doesn't have anyone telling him what to do. He's his own boss, and he doesn't need someone to hold his hand to the next location or any other thereafter.

Poof experiments, searching, and rules out some areas based on what's there. Sometimes he can't get over an obstacle, sometimes he's horribly murdered and sent back to the town. Unlike some games like this, Poof's coin purse doesn't empty out when he dies. It makes grinding less tedious. The areas are filled with treacherous beasts that can really dish it out. It forces Poof to either wait until he has better equipment or just learn to fight better.

He searches around and finds a path that leads to a beach. Timing becomes vital. This isn't the walk in the park that the castle was. He has to jump from platform to platform and hope not to fall in the water, or else risk missing something. The game hides goodies all over. Shops can be found, new weapons can be purchased, and Poof can become more of a man.

Exploration yields great fruits. Poof finds a key and takes it to a locked door in a tower in the town. Behind the door is a desert. It's best not to question this game's logic or sense of spatial continuity, else one might go mad. The desert gives Poof two directions. To the west is death. To the east is certain death.

That insomnia redoubles. I have to see what's west.

The game handles like a platformer, what with its Adventure Island-esque mechanics that include building momentum and hopping from one platform to the next; yet it plays like an action-adventure title, asking you to search that convoluted countryside for a way to cure Poof of his lizard-man curse; yet it looks like an RPG, as it gives you exchangeable equipment and stats like attack, defense, and charisma. Seems the more charismatic Poof is, the more stuff becomes available in shops.

Poof searches the west, fights another dragon so wrapped in gauze he looks like Imhotep. That juju comes back and now Poof looks more human, except he's tiny and has ears like a mouse. I start calling him Mickey because it's late and I don't feel like being original.

The cell phone sits there, untouched. I don't look at it. I don't care what time it is, or that I have to work in less than twelve hours. It's probably got a couple unread text messages on it, too. I want to see what's east.

That curiosity drags Mickey around. Not only does he keep pressing on to see what new and exciting things are in store for him, but he begins remembering little details that he saw before and left behind. While as a mouse-man Mickey can climb on checkered walls. He remembers seeing checkered walls in several places. Time to go check them out.

It doesn't end there. The game stays varied and fresh with each new turn. New areas look different not only in details, but in feel and design. The developers really wanted Mickey to feel like every screen held something different. He searches old tombs with convoluted checkered walls to climb and many passages, or even a feudal Japanese fortress complete with ninjas and samurai that horrifically stomp Mickey. He even fights a samurai dragon there. Eventually he becomes a fish-man, and a tiger-man, and a hawk-man, and even being able to willfully switch between them upon discovering hidden rooms.

Sometimes he's platforming, sometimes he's exploring, other times he's fighting, and others he's backtracking to check out that one area he couldn't access before because now he has a new ability that will allow him to do so. He's always being tested in different ways, and without the game having to spell it out for him. The experience feels like part journey, part puzzle. There's so much to solve and consider, so much that's hidden.

I look at my cell phone at last. Just after 5 AM. The wife will be off soon, and I usually get up around 11 to be to work by 2:30 PM. Mickey really wants to kill that last dragon in the hidden fortress in the sky. I look at the cell phone, back at the screen.

I guess I'll just have to make a few trips to the coffee shop in the cafeteria during my breaks.

That castle in the sky kicks Mickey's ass. He spits his teeth out and tries again. He can find jars of medicine that can heal him if he dies, but they're unreliable. He dies during one fight with the final boss and only gets two hearts back from the medicine. A ripoff. The final boss serves his corpse with gourmet rice pilaf and grape cider. Mickey's adventure becomes an obsession. He hunts his prey and he eventually kills it. That's it, that's all. He laughs and feels fulfilled, triumphant.

He relaxes with his weapon in his hand and shuts his eyes.

I wake up with the Wiimote in my lap, my wife standing there at the foot of the stairs shaking her head. THE END still reads on the screen. It's 7 AM and she knows I've been up way too late again. I sleep on the couch until 11.

I dream of the quest I just had. Never a dull moment thanks to the bold variety and the melting pot of many genres to create a goulash of gaming greatness. Different forms grant different abilities and stats. It also plays into the RPG element like having different classes, only you're able to cycle between them. Dragon's Curse is really a blessing. It's one of the best adventure games I've played on TG16.

I see Mickey in my dreams. I tell him he looks stupid, but I like him anyway.

Rating: 9/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (November 08, 2010)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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wolfqueen001 posted November 08, 2010:

Haha. Nice review. You've got an amusing sense of humor that makes reading this interesting (the weebles line, among others, is a good example). This definitely sounds like a unique game, though, one that's both challenging and different.

Some things to look out for: Some of your sentences can be condensed or restructured so that they're a bit smoother. For example, the "Unlike most games like this" segment of its respective sentence feels a bit awkward and takes me out of the review a bit. In general, though, I like the general short / choppy nature of the review, which is interesting because that sort of thing often doesn't work. I guess it's because it makes it feel fast-paced and intense, which I imagine a lot of the game can be.

Also, I'm not too sure how I feel about the references to your surroundings. It definitely works, and is quite amusing, in the intro, but later on when you're referring to the time and when you need to leave for work, it kind of pulls me out of the review, or at least out of the sense of the game. I can definitely see why you did it, though - you're trying to show how absorbed you are with the game - but you might be better off just leaving it for the intro and conclusion sections, rather than switching between.

Anyway, I do like what you've done here. You seem to have your own style with your own unique take on things, which is always good. Is this review a new one or are you still revising old gamefaqs ones?
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JoeTheDestroyer posted November 08, 2010:

Thank you, Wolfqueen! This was a brand new review, never before seen on GameFAQs. This style is still experimental for me, as I'm used to being quite technical still about review games.

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