Yeah, i don’t need to introduce this one, given his legendary bad game status as one of the worst ones ever on the original X-Box, etc.
I didn’t consider why i never heard of it here in “the Boot”, but i soon realized Majesco never bothered to even give this one an european release (same as the infamous Aquaman: Battle For Atlantis for Gamecube, we European were spared that one). At least on X-Box, it was released on PC in 2004 in Europe as well, i can attest because i found a PC physical copy of this on a flea market for a buck.
Eventually, in 2018, it was re-released on Steam for 6,99 € (or regional equivalent), with some improvements and bugs fixed in an attempt to “un-shit” the game a bit and tempt gaming masochists like me who never played the game themselves. It worked.
And it’s the season for horrors, so strap in, there’s a lot of rotten guts here to morbously examine and fiddle with.
It doesn’t bode well that they couldn’t even be bother to add native controller support for a game originally launched on consoles, but then again, one of the tags is “memes”..
I’m gonna go over the game history and it’s plot, quickly, just in case you happen to know bugger all about it. Most likely you already know all of this, so you can skip some paragraphs ahead, i have nothing new to tell.
Developed by Idol FX with the intent of launching an entire multimedia franchise (nominally a comic book tie-in and an animated television series), Drake Of The 99 Dragons sports a comic book style and tried to capture the zeitgist, and if nothing else, Bruce Timm’s (of Batman The Animated Series’ fame) involment made for a nice comic book style, with a supernatural Hong Kong take on John Woo via Batman, leaning heavily into the supernatural and divine stuff, while obviously aping Max Payne, which while drawing more from hard boiled detective noir, also obviously draws from The Matrix, itself drewing from Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost In The Shell, the fountain of life from where it all springs from. Sorry, was thinking about WAY better things.
Idol FX was a fairly small swedish developer, and probably the reason why this turned out such a legendary disaster is that they were also working on other two titles at the same time, and they were pretty much cojoled into believing Drake Of The 99 Dragons would really a big multimedia franchise by their publisher, Majesco, so it’s no surprise one of the beta testers for the game attested to them sending lots and lots of feedback only to be met by rejection or no response at all.
Why bother actually balancing your game and make sure it’s not a buggy piece of shit that borders on unplayable, if you really believe it’s gonna be big bucks and spawn merchandise, a movie, etc?
It’s no surprise nothing more came out of the deal, so let’s move on this improved PC port available on Steam….. and i feel by extension on DVD-Rom, as it uses the same old launcher. Most likely is the same as the old PC DVD copy i got.
Sure as hell they didn’t improve enemy IA or the awful aiming system, so the guns don’t shoot where you’re aiming them, or at least, they would if they weren’t tied to the flamboyant arm movement Drake does (what about using just one gun, Drake?), so they shoot at whatever angle they’re pointed at in that second, pretty much making nearly impossible to properly aim and shoot the enemies while moving in a reliable fashion, in a game that requires a lot of that. And even reloading might somehow fuck with the crosshair… even if you shoot with the other weapon in hand, as Drake is stuck with dual wielding, because Max Payne, as said before.
Yes, crosshair, there’s no fidgety auto-aiming system in this PC version, you can aim using the mouse, but since aiming and moving the camera are tied together you can’t really look around when you shoot. Then again, now you can actually aim where you want without Drake deciding to target a random floor tile instead of an enemy.
So it’s more functional but not exactly MUCH better, as – as i’ve already said – often you don’t have a reticule on screen since Drake is still doing some of that Matrix bullshit or reloading in a way that impedes shooting. Oh the irony.
While this actually is an improvement and makes playing the game manageable, the controls are still shit and you can tell that they didn’t actually fix any other obvious bugs and broken features, worse, some abilities that seemed to work in the X-Box version don’t here. “Improved” my fuckin ass.
For example, the ability to attract souls of fallen enemies (which restore some health) just plain doesn’t work, i’ve checked the controls, rebinded them multiple times, it just doesn’t work, same for the useless ability to detonate souls. Speaking of which, most of the abilities that you obtain are frankly pointless, even if some actually worked you would never use them, and the only useful one (kinda, not really), the Undying Dragon unleash special move… it’s nearly impossible to pull off since you have to fill the health points over the 99 cap in order to do it, and even if you don’t get hit in the meantime the game rolls back it to 99 in a matter of seconds.
Heck, with the bad geometry on display even wall running (which is essential to the gameplay) is barely usable, even in slow mo and if you – like me – had to bind the slow mo button and the jump button to the same key in order to get any semblance of control. And of course this is the kind of crap game with a lot of platforming sections, way too many for a gameplay not made for precise platforming manouvers…. AND fall damage, which the game doesn’t tell you about before hand. And makes even less sense since Drake is technically a zombie anyway.
Combine this with a very bad collision system and you have a recipe for a game where you have to keep trying a level over and over because it glitched, the game decided to kill you with insane fall damage out of nowhere, or used all the cheap tricks in the book, this game knows and uses them all.
Add no mid-stage checkpoints, stages that trudge on, and having to waste 10 seconds on the Serene Garden, where the gods mock you. EVERYTIME. Only Too Human manages to be worst than this, as one of the only few games bad enough to feature an unskippable cutscene each time you die.
Apparently, this version doesn’t have the many bugs but i honestly don’t understand the people on Steam defending this game saying most people just go off reviews of the X-Box version (which seems to be a botched port, as the PC version was the one they developed first), and that – “actually” – this is a decent game. No, sorry, when the tutorial fight is way harder to clear than it should, just because – even without the iffy autoaiming – you can’t trust the shooting in a tps.
This game is fondamentally broken, it is, when the main gameplay basic feature, the one that should work as the foundation for the experience,… is almost a liability, and any weapon besides the base pistols are even worse, being even more unrelialable outside of very specific situations.
Really, even in the “less shit” version, this is a masterclass in legendary crap design and unfinished mechanics: buggy enemy IA easy to exploit (when the level geometry doesn’t trap them by accident), horrible linear level design so full of cop outs (like downright using arrows to indicate where to go), levels that often don’t end but just stop, or actually end in ways you’d think the game broke, crashed or you – somehow – fucked up despite winning, small and bad variety in level types, cheap shots everywhere, unbelievably bad and glitchy boss battles (where often you can’t even tell if you’re damaging the boss or not) that are insanely drawn out or pathetically short, frustrating difficulty spikes, overall lack of any kind of balance in combat, unreliable or incorrect hints, horrendous music, more fog on screen than in a 40’s Universal horror movie, etc.
I really could go on and on, but most of you already know the various missions, like the courier tailing one, the cheap ass final boss, the jumping on wind fans, etc.
My “favourite” mission that’s often not cited is the singular attempt at stealth. Incredibly shit stealth, of course, but hilariously it’s one of the easier, quicker levels, despite how it sounds set up to be one of the worst ones in the game that you get blocked at for hours, even the many issues in having any kind of precision platforming and jumping and shit in this crap hole of a game.
Even more laughable because the game itself isn’t that hard, it’s just 25 missions long, each with a 10 minutes timer anyway, so it’s not even a long game, it’s just so bad, broken, glitchy, unfinished (often frustrating on purpose as well) that it’s barely playable, so instead of the 4 hours it should take to finish, it will require more. Either way, it feels incredibly stretched thin, with continous recycle of locales and levels often reusing the same main location more times in a row, like in the final stretch.
The only thing that makes the whole thing actually playable – somewhat – to the end credits is the fact the fact that most boss fights are their own mission, so it’s not pulling the “play through a barely working level with barely functional gameplay then face a boss at the end AND start again from scratch if you lose on the boss”, but it’s just a “side effect” of them not bothering to program mid-mission checkpoints or save states.
It’s that classic bullshit ending too, with one of the characters straight up saying “this is only the beginning”, because we know cliffhanger endings worked so well for Super Mario Bros The Movie. the old live action one, i mean.
And of course, no extras. NOTHING. Finish the game, credits, thanks, bye. You don’t even unlock an extra difficulty mode or something. Not that anyone would care, but still, NOTHING to do aside the main game, they didn’t even bother to add some tacked on Steam achievements, just slapped this on Steam, as it doesn’t look off near stuff like Drug Dealer Simulator or softcore hentai masquerading as sliding tiles “puzzle game”.
The cutscenes alone would make this a legendary trash game, since they’re so awful they’re plain funny, with no attempt at lyp synch, hilariously forced exposition and things that conventiently happen after being just mentioned, and the “things” themselves don’t make much sense: what kind of assassin dojo has a TV? Why a criminal organization has an ad on tv where they sell cyborg warriors, and pretty much ask to contact them so you can give them your dead and make more? XD
And these are the first 2/3 cutscenes, they’re just the tip of the iceberg, it gets worst, and funnier, since the tone is constantly super-edgy and the dubbing – on top of being kinda shit – just comes off as untentionally hilarious given the dialogue that at times is cliched kung fu assassin crap, other can pass as un unintentional parody of tv ads selling you specialty breads. And of course this makes the plot nearly incomprehensible, as thing just kinda happen and characters pop up, often without any introduction, like most of the bosses. Who’s this douche? Who cares, dead now, let’s move on.
The first plot twist (one that still doesn’t make sense) is that you realize you were actually dead, but only when you see your masters’ and your own corpses you realize that, which activates the tattoo of the Undying Dragon, making you come back to life. And i love how after realizing he’s undead, he jumps off the palace and dies… i guess there are multiple body of his, since this implies he was in another identical body when he found his own corpse. Anyway, this doesn’t make any sense and completely undermines Drake’s cool persona, since he believes he’s immortal and then jumps down a skyscraper. I guess that’s why there’s “ass” in “assassin”, but still.
Continuity…. never mind, there’s very little, if none of it here. Get ready to be befuddled at every move and hilariously pathetic and/or sudden death by Drake.
The plot itself it’s about the Soul Portal Artifact, a powerful artifact that the Dragon Clan has kept safe for 3000 years, and get stolen from a supernatural force on orders from the villain, who wants to use it to harvest the souls of the dead and put it in cyborg bodies… for reasons, i guess quoting the phrase preceding Raoul Julia’s “Of Course” helps in filling the blank.
Of course the cutscenes themselves are the same you saw back in 2005, so they’re terribly compressed, continually stutter, in a low resolution and bad video quality, hilariously bad dub that’s almost charming as the old kung fu dubs were, and the cutscenes themselves were laughable even when the game originally came out. Even the still artwork used to introduce a mission is often laden with laughable odd details, as if the game needed more things to laugh about. XD
There was some potential of marrying the gothic look and the supernatural to this action style John Woo via The Matrix via Max Payne, i will conceide i kinda like the idea, but that is all there there is, the idea and some decent artwork. The character designs are boring, eccessively standard and almost racist, but aside from Drake being written as “white savior duderino that’s SO not asian”, the characters designs are just very uninspired, incredibly stock tropes of old, with nothing else to them.
Even the graphic look like ass, with a terrible cel-shading, embarassing draw distance (so very much fog in every fuckin level), monotone, shabby, overly basic and undetailed textures, bad character models that the cel shade style can only do so much in “tarting it up” (especially since it’s crap cel shade anyway), music that goes from mundane to auditory garbage in a jiffy, but you’ll be quite familiar with it as it just a few tracks reused over and over again, like the stock sound effects.
The icing on the cake is the game still having car noises in the backgrounds even if you destroyed the taxis or limos that in some levels keep looping in the streets, while the obvious stand out is Drake almost never moving his goddamn jaw to talk, he just projects his thoughts in voice over and it’s so “cool”, G.
Saves money on even attempting lyp synch, for sure.
Should i be surprised it looks like ass even with the setting on High, or that sometimes even the launcher glitches out (almost assured on any resolution above 1024×768 )? Or that the launcher doesn’t save the settings for future uses, so you gotta set them up again at every use.
Also, the Steam version is such a turd that at some point i simply HAD to check the integrity of locals files for the game, and EVERYTIME it had to retrieve a single one, all made to avoid that it launches while hiding the screen from me. Even if you select settings that work, which you will have to do EVERYTIME from the game launcher, of course it doesn’t save these things.
This everytime i started Steam up again, and still, sometimes, even after doing this routine i shouldn’t do, it still managed to fail at fixing that problem.
Even in this rerelease of the PC port/version and the improvements found in it, this is legendary trash, a primo example of utterly crap games, that any fan of the “genre” just has to play in order to satisfy his masochistic curiosity.
Or the perfect joke game to gift your friends on Steam. If they are willing to talk to you after you “gift” them this.