Enter the Dragoon
Growing up, almost every kid out there has asked their parents some kind of pet. Some want ponies, some want hamsters and others want puppies. Then there was me. I wanted a dragon. How cool would it be to have your own dragon? You could fly to school, scare the hell out of the neighbor's dog and toast the bullies at school. Yes, a dragon would be the ultimate pet.
Not too many kids get dragons though. There was that Pete kid out in Passamaquoddy, but his dragon was kinda goofy. On the other hand, Sega's Panzer Dragoon Orta for the Xbox tells the story of a lucky girl named Orta, her very cool, definately not goofy pet dragon and of course, the evil Empire. Throw in some catchy tunes and it could be a Disney movie right? Well, maybe not, since death, destruction and a whole lot of shooting kinda puts Mickey Mouse on edge. But hey, at least it makes a great video game!
Panzer Dragoon Orta is the first installment of Sega's popular dragon shooter to hit the "next generation" of video gaming. It seems like ages since the last time we had the chance to visit the Panzer world. In fact, it's been five years since we last saw the Dragoons back in the Sega Saturn days. The good news is that Panzer Dragoon still hasn't lost the magic touch when it comes to shooters. Though simple in nature, there's still plenty going on to keep you on your toes. The bad news is that I have no idea when the next one is coming out. Let's hope we won't have to wait another five years.
The game begins on a dark night with our heroine about to become a light snack for a few giant bioengineered dragonmares (think of them as a cross between dragons and an Alien), when all of the sudden a familiar looking winged beast stops by to save the day. Ancient gun in hand, Orta mounts the dragon and the two of them set off on a crazy roller coaster ride through the land.
Panzer Dragoon Orta's basic gameplay follows the standard guidelines for your everyday rail shooter. Players travel down a predetermined path and use a cursor to blast everything in sight. Sounds pretty simple, but Sega's got a little extra magic for its dragon.
If you've ever played the Panzer games, you know that Orta employs a full 360 degree view of the surroundings. Not only will you need to shoot the stuff in front of you, you'll also need to pay attention to what's behind and to the sides. It's a really simple feature, but it makes the gameplay a lot more interesting.
The 360 degree view also gives you a chance to check out the very cool looking Panzer world. Like previous games, Orta is filled to the brim with sweet sights. Flying through the lush scenery is as amazing as ever and Orta easily flies up to the top of the heap in the graphics category.
Also making a return is the evolution of the dragon during the course of the game. Defeating certain enemies will yield a "gene base" and collecting enough of them will level up the dragon, occasionally changing its look and making it even more powerful than before.
But as cool as Orta's dragon is now, it has one more quality that gives it an extra punch - it's a TRANSFORMER! The dragon can morph between three different forms all at the simple touch of a button. Naturally each form has its own strengths and weaknesses and finding out exactly when to use them is an integral part of the game. First up is Base Wing, the dragon's "average" form. With mid-level agility and power, and the ability to perform a seemingly endless number of target locks, the Base Wing establishes itself as the most versatile of the dragon's forms. Next is Heavy Wing, the largest and most powerful of the dragon's forms. It's not as agile as the other forms, but it packs a solid punch against even the largest of foes. Glide Wing may be the smallest of all the dragon forms, but it can fly rings around enemies and allows you to use a "machine gun" that's great for taking out incoming projectiles. Just figure out which situations call for which form and you're half way down the road to dragon piloting success.
Interestingly enough, Orta also has a branching path in each of its levels (determined by the direction of your cursor at the time). This often leads to completely different areas with completely different enemies. The fork in the road isn't always that obvious, but the ability to fly through different areas of a single level add a little replay value to the game.
And speaking of replay, there's plenty to do even after the main game is completed. Orta boasts a large extras section known as "Pandora's Box" that's sure to keep you coming back for more. Besides the mildly amusing films, illustrations and records options, there's also plenty of playable levels featuring other characters and vehicles. Not only that, you can also play the full version of the original Panzer Dragoon!
Though it belongs to the limiting genre of rail shooters, Panzer Dragoon Orta still rises up to become a great game that soars above and beyond expectations. Even as a shooter, its superior control, astounding visuals and all-around enjoyable gameplay come together for one hell of ride. I'd take this dragon for a pet anyday.