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Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight Wii Review Box Art
D3Publisher, Bandai Namco

Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight Wii Review

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard scoring criteria.

If you remember kids' television in the '90s, you may remember the Power Rangers. Yet don't assume that the Kamen Rider franchise is a Power Rangers rip-off: it predates the Power Rangers by a couple decades (the very first Kamen Rider television show premiered in Japan in 1971), but one of the more recent series in the long running franchise (Ryuki) was reinvented for North America as Dragon Knight-- a series that started in January 2009 on the CW before being canceled in December 2009. The untimely cancellation didn't prevent a video game making it out in the show's final days: Wii's Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight was developed by Eighting and published by D3Publisher in mid-November.

If Eighting's name sounds familiar to you, that may be because you're anticipating its flashy and drool-worthy fighting title Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, due out January 2010. Yet while that game may have brilliant potential, none of that game's charm, finesse or balance is present in Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight. In fact, were you to try the Kamen Rider game before touching T vs. C, you'd likely never want to try another Eighting game again and predict T vs. C was doomed for failure.

Our hands-on time with T vs. C can reassure you that game is worth your wish list. Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight is not. Perhaps two totally different Eighting teams worked on the games, but Dragon Knight looks like a PS2 game (unsurprising since it is based on Eighting's Kamen Rider: Climax Heroes, a 2009 Japanese PS2-exclusive), has poor gameplay controls and an unbalanced roster of fighters, all spread across a game that could provide hours of gameplay if you're the most die-hard Kamen Rider fan of all time.

As with most D3Publisher games of late, Dragon Knight comes with a simple, black and white 3-page manual. That'd be fine if all the game's moves were detailed in the manual, but the game's one-player "Mirror World" mode actually has an occasional challenge that asks you to perform a specific move (an Advent Guard) that the game doesn't specifically teach you and neither will the manual. Sheer luck and button mashing may get a gamer past that challenge, but only after many, many retries. If unlucky, prepare to back out of the mode entirely if that challenge point is the only gateway through the rest of the map.

To elaborate, Mirror World mode is a more unusual offering for a fighting game: gamers can pick any of the unlocked Kamen Riders to travel through a map (or game board, if you like) of "challenges." The gamer can pick which challenge spot to go to, provided a path to it exists, and after beating that challenge, one to three more paths on the map to other challenge spots will appear. The gamer makes a stop at whichever challenge desired with a goal to get to a "boss" challenge at the end. A challenge in this mode can be a free-roaming beat-em-up down a long, straight corridor (such as a city alley) where swarms of enemies appear every 15 feet, and the gamer must eliminate them all with a few punches and kicks while they usually stand around dumbly, all within 700 - 1000 seconds. Other challenges are traditional 1-on-1 battles against other Kamen Riders, often with a constraint such as not using Advent Cards, the opponent's guard is always active, or the opponent's life bar is doubled.

Advent Cards are something unique to the source material's mythology: they grant the Kamen Riders special powers and attacks. This translates well into the video game and adds the most novel dimension to the otherwise elementary fighting. By landing successful hits, a five-bar energy meter will fill up. One or two of those bars is all that's needed to execute an Advent Attack, wherein a Kamen Rider summons something of a robotic familiar to execute a power attack against the opponent while a funky, foggy corridor briefly appears in the background. Yet fill all five bars, and a yank of the remote will activate an Advent Card attack or stat boost. From the get-go, all Kamen Riders have a "Final Vent" Advent Card unlocked, for which the aforementioned familiar will perform a very flashy, over-the-top attack-- easily the best graphical part of the game. Lens flares, layered explosions and completely ridiculous attacks (seriously: a lethal attack by a swan) play out in a cinema-styled move that's pretty difficult to block and often wipes out the opponent if his or her life bar's already low. Other Advent Cards do things like disable the opponent's cards, summon other monsters or allow reuse of a previously used card.

The catch on Advent Cards is, aside from the one Final Vent card, all must be purchased with Rider Points, which are earned by trudging through the repetitive Mirror World Mode with all the different characters. From the game's main menu, Card Mode is the store interface where cards can be examined and purchased, but Mirror Mode run-throughs must be completed before even the inventory of cards is shown. Once a card is "in stock" (that is, not blanked out), it can be purchased with Rider Points. This impediment is unfortunate, because a fighting game that only has "weak attack," "strong attack" and "advent attack" for its moves feels shallow without the extra cards immediately available to vary the advent attacks.

1-on-1 fighting, which is supported for both single and two players, occurs in small square or circular arenas-- invisibly marked-off spots in parking garages, churches and factories, and also outside on beaches and near underpasses. Even if the arenas' simple geometry and architecture stretch out to the horizon further, the combatants can't cross the exterior perimeter: they must circle each other, A-B-A-A-B-B button mashing to victory, with an occasional lower level Advent Attack triggered with C or an Advent Card used with a remote yank. If remote yanking and nunchuk-yanking (for sidestepping) isn't palatable, the game also supports the Classic Controller which maps the two motion controls to Classic Controller buttons.

Also available in arena battles is the option to jump by flicking up on the analog stick. Unfortunately, Mirror Mode's open world brawl levels don't support jumping, perhaps because up on the analog stick is needed to move forward in the level, but, ridiculously fast running or not, losing jump functionality is a big deal if you're used to stringing in some combat moves that require you to be airborne for execution.

The audio/visual package gets the job done but doesn't sound or look like anything more than a basic PS2 game. The only time the game visually shines is during the Final Vent attacks, but the rest is merely adequate. The character models look fine and animate well enough, but the simplistic arenas are basic and boring, featuring few textures and next to no background animation. The soundtrack is dominated with harmonized electric guitar wails, hard rock drumming and synth piano, overlaid with voice clips for each punch and kick, and cheesy one-liners before and after a fight. None of this is particularly memorable and Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight fanboys of the TV show are in debate whether the voices used are even the North American show's cast or bad sound-alikes.

The main thing going for Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight is it provides lots to unlock-- half of the fighters have to be unlocked, and all of them have four to six cards they can equip, which also have to unlocked and then paid for with Rider Points. All of that seems like something only a die-hard fan could commit to. For the rest of gamers, if frustration sets in, just select Torque as your fighter. Unlike the rest of the fighters, he has a gun and can just stand far away from any opponent and endlessly fire away until any foe is dead: this is about as cheap and unbalanced a fighting game can get. Sure, Torque's bio is supposed to be a cheat and con-man (who else would bring a gun to a karate fight?) but allowing the gun to be included and be so effective (couldn't it at least overheat?) is a serious game design flaw.

That leaves us with the source material, of which there is nearly forty years' worth to work with, or at least a year or two as far as this most recent television series is concerned. Yet all gamers get is a quick piece of scrolling text book-ending each fighter's journey through Mirror World, which sets up the bare minimum of character back story with little connectivity to other fighters, the Kamen Rider world or even just the game. So, aside from some decent character models and a few signature Advent Card moves, fan service is in short supply, and of what exposition is there, Kamen Rider newcomers will gain little understanding or appreciation of the source material, which ends up being a losing proposal on all fronts. Fighting game fans, whether into Kamen Rider or not, should bide their time and put their money towards Eighting's vastly superior offering Tatsunoko vs. Capcom.

final score 4.0/10

Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."

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