Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shall We Do It? (Dragon Buster II)

On a whim, I decided to play the ancient Famicom game known as Dragon Buster II for the very first time over the weekend.

What prompted me to boot up this Namcot-made title? I'm not entirely sure, although I have a feeling I read Video Game Den's rather glowing review of it at some point in the recent past (I'm always scanning that site for morsels of retro-gaming goodness), and that's what pushed me to give it a go on Sunday.

If this is the first you've heard of Dragon Buster II, at its heart it's a dungeon-crawler. Unlike today's Etrian Odyssey titles or even yesterday's Wizardry releases, however, this one is presented in top-down fashion à la The Legend of Zelda or even StarTropics.

That's not to suggest Dragon Buster II looks or even plays like either of those last two 8-bit classics. Instead, it calls to mind old-school roguelikes--though I'm not sure any of the elements included in Namcot's creation are randomized. (Dungeon layouts certainly don't seem to be, although enemy placement as well as treasure chest and exit door locations may be.)

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, Dragon Buster II is similar to another of the company's long-ignored IPs: The Tower of Druaga. The former is a lot more engaging than the latter, though, so if you're like me and the very thought of Druaga makes you yawn, don't be afraid to give Dragon Buster II a try at some point down the line.

One of my favorite aspects of this cart-based adventure, by the way, is that its protagonist primarily uses a bow and arrow to send baddies to the great beyond. Even better, the arrows he shoots do more than just plunk off of the dungeon walls that surround him throughout his multi-faceted quest; rather, they ricochet off of them in a manner that is equal parts satisfying and thrilling.

Two other interesting components of this 1986 release: fog blankets (in more of a figurative than literal sense) each dungeon upon entry, and you clear the surrounding area with every step you take. Also, found within the boundaries of these underground chambers are a number of unique-to-the-genre foes like dinosaurs and beings that resemble the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I've encountered a few niggles so far, too, I have to admit. The most noteworthy one is that there isn't much variety to Dragon Buster II's environments, as far as I can tell. After you've traipsed through the brick-walled dungeon as well as the mossy and icy ones, you've seemingly seen them all. Granted, it's possible I've yet to encounter a couple of locales, but I doubt the ones I've missed are worlds beyond the current offerings in terms of their aesthetics.

Another complaint can be leveled at Dragon Buster II's confounding lack of a soundtrack. For about 95 percent of the game, all you hear are your own footsteps and the sound of your arrows pinging off nearby walls. It's only when you approach one of the titular beasts that any actual music comes into play. I guess the title's developers may have done this on purpose, to add a bit more suspense to its dragon battles, but I can't say I think the trade-off was worth it.

Oh, well, I've enjoyed the time I've spent with this Famicom cart so far--even with its overly quiet and repetitively tiled dungeons.

Have any of you played Dragon Buster II? If so, what do you think about its looks, sounds and gameplay?

See also: previous 'Shall We Do It' posts

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