Friday, 1 August 2014

GROW: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara (ARCADE)

Review by Clint 'Thorn' Thornton
ComposerMasato Koda
Release date(s)Arcade
  • NA 1996
  • JP 1996
GenreBeat 'em up & action RPG
PlayersUp to 4 players (co-op)
Arcade systemCP System II/JAMMA+

Back in the mid 90's when the modern arcade was at its peak, people would pump coins in to those big beautiful cabinets like there was no tomorrow.  I personally remember putting $1 in to my local MVS cabinet (usually to play Metal Slug X & Shock Troopers) and would be lucky to get more than 5 minutes out of a single credit.  Mortal Kombat II was another example, you would put $1 in and 5 minutes later you would see that 10 second count down enticing you to throw another coin in to the machine.  And you know what?  I did, and I know you did too.  It was a part of the whole arcade experience to deposit a couple of bucks for some fast past 5 minute fun and after it was over, you would walk away and start all over again on another machine.  But for some arcades there were a few cabinets that offered something more, something that felt detailed and comprehensive, something that could turn your usual 5 minute game in to an hour long epic journey that would take you to a world of fantasy, mystery & magic.  Let's go play some Dungeons & Dragons:  Shadow over Mystara.

Welcome to the brave new world......

D&D Shadow over Mystara is the 2nd and final chapter following on from 'Tower of Doom'.  It takes place 2 years after the events of defeating the Arch-Lich Deimos at Sable Tower and restoring Darokin.  The Heroes now search for new and exciting adventures through the Broken Lands and find themselves in Glantri where they must face a new evil who plans to conquer the resident humanoids and punish all of those who stand in her way.  The evil of Synn.

If you are new to the Dungeons & Dragons arcade games, the best way to describe them is 'Golden Axe on steroids' with an RPG element to it (Yes that's right, you can have an RPG arcade game).  'Shadow over Mystara' has your typical Capcom Beat 'em Up feel to it.  The fighting components are straight forward and will be mastered in a matter in minutes.  Each stage requires you to defeat the minions, open the treasure chests and pick up coins.  But this is were it takes a slight turn.  Throughout each stage you will also find new new gear & armour to wear to help strengthen your defenses, earn new spells and gain experience points.  Although these RPG elements bring a much deeper level of gameplay, everything it still kept very simple and straightforward so it is not to get in the way of the arcade experience.

Throughout your journey you will approach branching paths, hidden rooms, towns to visit and shops to upgrade your equipment and magic.  For an arcade game, there is so much packed in to this it's amazing it's all possible to complete in approximately 1 hour.  You also have multiple endings, so if you add everything up this game has a lot a re-playability and if you have the opportunity to play multiplayer you are in for one of the best co-op arcade experiences.

You have six (6) characters to choose from each having their own individual strengths and weaknesses:

1. Fighter - The best Melee character with the highest armour class.  Definately the best character for beginners.

2. Dwarf - The strongest character in the game and has some great special attacks that wield high volumes of damage.

3. Cleric - Most useful when playing multiplayer as the Cleric has party healing abilities and has a variety of spells that can strengthen his allies attacks and also punish his enemies.

4. Elf - The elf is the most versatile character of the group.  She has a variety of magic attacks as well as being a proficient fighter.

5. Magic-User -  The most powerful of magic and spells but the weakest hand to hand fighter but has the ability of teleportation to avoid all hand and weapon attacks.

6. Thief - She is quick and nimble and possesses the ability to have a variety of useful offensive jumps and can also pick locked chests that normally can't be destroyed by the other characters (except the dwarf) and detect traps.

Based on the CPS2 engine, this game shines with bright & vibrant colours, character sprites that could fill  the entire screen, backgrounds with depth and smooth animations that you never stop appreciating.  Each level produces a new environment and makes use of the CPS2's vast palette and not to mention the spiraling staircase in the games final level really shows what sort of visuals the CPS2 board can produce, even compared to today's modern 2D games.

It's simple, turn the volume up as loud as you can and just enjoy the cinematic sounds of the game.  The music creates that epic journey atmosphere and compliments each stage environment.  The sounds of your melee attacks, the spells you cast and the sounds of each boss as they cry out one last time before they perish in to the dust.  Every sound effect and every piece of music is a treat for the ears.

Like all Capcom Beat 'em Ups the controls are straight forward and won't take long to get the hang of.  The only difference compared to most of the other capcom Beat 'em Ups (excluding D&D Tower of Doom) is that there is a 4th button added, which brings up your inventory wheel.  This can sometimes be a little frustrating, scrolling through trying to find an item to use when you are in mid battle as you essentially stop fighting and are completely vulnerable.  But when you get the hang of the system, it becomes fluent and apart of the gaming experience and you know the best times to bring your inventory up.

Even though this is an arcade game and arcade games do age better than consoles, it is still a game closing in on its 20th year.  And for any game that was produced in 1996 and still plays, sounds and looks like it could belong in today's modern gaming society, that is to be commended.  Maybe I am being biased as I have been playing this game since I first saw it at my local arcade in 1997, but I don't care.  I would gladly grab a friend (or 3), a carton of beer and play co-op until the early hours of the morning and I think you should to.  Unfortunately it's very difficult to get your hands on the original CPS2 board as many of these boards were discarded in the late 90's early 2000's due to the suicide battery and vendors not willing to pay the fee to Capcom to get them replaced.  But the good news is you can get yourself 'Chronicles of Mystara' which contains both 'Tower of Doom' and 'Shadow over Mystara' and can be found on XBLA, PSN & Steam.

You won't be disappointed in you purchase!


  1. I would have loved to try this as a four-player game in the arcade. I love playing two-player in these "Golden Axe" games, but I've never tried a four-player game. I found this shot of a four-player arcade cabinet running the game - when I become a millionaire I want that cabinet in my collection ;-)

    Great review as always Clint! I love the layout - best one yet on the site.

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