Games Review: Dragon’s Crown Pro (PS4, 2018): Glow up

Dragon’s Crown Pro is kind of a lot. A remaster of Dragon’s Crown, a breathless love letter to the side-scrolling fantasy beat-em-ups of the Golden Axe era, the original both succeeded in its mission and managed to piss a lot of people off with its simplistic gameplay married to some of the most absurd character and art design ever committed to a video game. Now with a fresh coat of paint and kitted out for 4K displays, Dragon’s Crown Pro is back to do it all again.

There’s a lot that’s perfectly likeable about Dragon’s Crown Pro. The game’s visuals have received a substantial upgrade over the original and the game’s new orchestral score does legitimate wonders for overall immersion. It’s far easier to get caught up in the game’s setting than it was the old, far more forgettable electronic arrangement. You can still switch back to the old soundtrack but I have no idea why the hell you’d ever want to.

The core game loop, that of marching left-to-right through various high fantasy levels and beating up everything you find there, is entirely unchanged from the original so anyone hoping for improvements there might be disappointed. The overall quality of online co-op has been significantly upgraded and runs far more smoothly than it ever did in the original, though it is still gated behind completing the main campaign. This is absurd to me — why make me play through the whole game just to unlock co-op? Are you trying to get me more familiar with other characters? I’ll figure it out, game, it’s fine. At least you can still play with people who own the original game which is good news for those friends still clinging to their PlayStation 3 while all their friends have moved on.

The overall impression is of a game that is pulling a bit of misdirection. It’s dancing hard, pointing to all the ways the original’s strengths have been emphasised without really doing anything about its shortfalls. Combat remains the same rather bland, button-mashy exercise it was five years ago and doesn’t really evolve over the course of the game despite Dragon’s Crown‘s interesting approach to questing. It also doesn’t do anything about the off-puttingly sexualised character designs that were a bugbear for many in the original. The men fare better than the women — their designs are all bizarre skipped-leg-day, top-heavy flesh hulks but at least they’re fully clothed. Every woman in the game — even NPC maidens lugging baskets on their heads through the market — cop designs that wouldn’t be out of place in a hentai manga. It’s … look, it’s not my thing. I’m sure they’re someone’s thing but they’re not my thing. I found them really hard to get past, and distracting in a way that is entirely the opposite of the titillation they clearly intended.

In the end, Dragon’s Crown Pro is a solid presentational upgrade for a game that was already a bit shaky and problematic. It doesn’t address any of its problem areas, hoping that the fireworks display will be enough to coast by on. While there are some good ideas in the mix and the game is a decent arcade brawler over beers with friends, it still doesn’t have the legs to be any kind of party go-to.

Score: 6.0 out of 10
Highlights: Big presentational update
Lowlights: Doesn’t address vanilla combat or weird slutty character designs
Developer: George Kamitani
Publisher: Vanillaware
Paltforms: PlayStation 4
Available: Now

Review conducted on PlayStation 4 using a pre-release retail code provided by the publisher.