by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & DRAGON QUEST SWORDS & r & Rated Teen; Wii & r & 3 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & omething's wrong with the queen. When the elegant monarch of a peaceful realm dons a mask with spikes like a fish-man's gills, a beakish nose and unblinking orbs for eyes, the situation is freakier than it usually is in role-playing games. Despite the rich scenario, however, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors is not the next official role-playing game in the Dragon Quest series, but is instead a spin-off that resembles a toy more than a work of art.
Swords is the first role-playing game designed by Square Enix for the Wii, and longtime Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii seems to have tinkered with the Wii's possibilities rather than devoting his energy to making a full-fledged adventure. That's a shame, because almost all of his Wii-centric experiments turn out to be successful.
I glide through Swords like a passenger on a theme-park ride, moving forward by squeezing the Wii Remote's trigger, sticking to a basic path, occasionally choosing between two or three forks. Instead of limiting me, this streamlining eliminates the meandering that often dilutes videogames with intricate 3D worlds. Why do I need to see behind every building and tree? Usually I don't. By putting the navigation on rails, Swords keeps the game itself on track.
Swords also eliminates the traditional role-playing game's turn-by-turn combat planning, and replaces it with real hacking and slashing with the Wii Remote. When battles begin, monsters move onto the screen like animated targets in a shooting gallery. Each beast requires different tactics, and much of the game's challenge comes from remembering which strategy works for which creature while parrying their attacks with my shield. Then I swing and thrust at them with my blade.
With the focus on a new form of combat, it's natural to lose some role-playing features. Instead of choosing how to develop my character, I'm limited to merely selecting his weapons. And magic spells are cast only by Wii-controlled backup characters. I suppose Horii couldn't figure out how to turn the Wii Remote into both a sword and a magic wand. Despite these shortcomings, however, Dragon Quest Swords gives me hope that one of the oldest series of role-playing games is on the path to revitalization.
THE GOOD: Swords introduces a combat system based on actively swinging the controller. It makes adventuring much more dynamic, and given the Wii Remote's subtle motion detection, the swordplay becomes a precise tactical challenge that can be varied depending on the monsters I face and the style of combat I prefer.
THE BAD: Swords' simplicity of navigation need not mean a straightforward story and predictable outcome. The Choose Your Own Adventure books often limit actions to two or three choices that eventually branch out into dozens of different successes and hundreds of distinct demises. As it's presented, Swords makes one of the series' best scenarios monotonous, dulling what could have been a rich and rewarding adventure.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Swords is a role-playing game so simple it can be played with one hand, but deep enough to keep the long-running Dragon Quest series alive and swinging.