Games 2/27/08: Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors, FIFA Street 3

Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Square-Enix
ESRB Rating: Teen (fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol)

‘Tis the season for “Dragon Quest” spin-offs. “Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors” is the third such side project to surface in slightly more than a year, and it’s arguably the most stark trip off the beaten path the series has taken thus far.

“Swords” borrows some conventions from more traditional “Dragon Quest” role-playing games. There are, for instance, seemingly random encounters with enemies (they’re not really that random), and defeating said enemies ultimately will level up your character’s attributes. Pieces of the series’ lore also make frequent enough appearances to keep fanatics happy.

But the similarities give way once we’re past the surface. Instead of traditional RPG play, “Swords” turns your Wiimote into a sword and turns “Dragon Quest” into a first-person action game. Rather than issue commands to attack enemies, you swing the Wiimote and slash away instead. A separate gesture allows you to block attacks with a shield, and you’ll learn special strikes as you make your way through the game’s eight levels.

Combining a series as rich as “Dragon Quest” with something a ton of gamers want — Wiimote-controlled swordplay — would seem a no-brainer, but only if Square-Enix properly locks the mechanics down.

That, sadly, is where “Swords” stumbles hard. The sword motions feel too rigid, and the lack of 1:1 control means the slashes that take place on the screen don’t match the motions you make with the Wiimote. A fickle lock-on mechanic makes switching between sword and shield more cumbersome than it should be. And for all your trouble, the only visual feedback you see on the screen is a bright slash. Given that swordplay is the clear selling point here, it’s a little off-putting to not actually see your weapon in front of you when you’re swinging away in a seemingly first-person game.

With time, it’s entirely possible for fans to get used to and even accept “Swords'” shortcomings, and while the harsh linearity takes something away from the story, there’s enough mythology here to please those who care most.

That said, Wii owners waiting for their first great swordfighting game — something that seemed like such a gimme when the system was first unveiled two years ago — will have to keep waiting. There are certain expectations in play, and “Swords” doesn’t meet them.

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FIFA Street 3
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: EA Sports BIG
ESRB Rating: Everyone

The 2005 premiere of “FIFA Street” landed with such a thud that the 2006 sequel … wait, there was a sequel? Who knew?

Simply by making the jump to the 360 and PS3, “FIFA Street 3” makes a bigger splash than its almost invisible predecessor. The game looks noticeably better, thanks in part to the stronger hardware but in equal part to semi-cartoony player model makeover and a stylish visual presentation that borrows tricks from the “NBA Street” bag.

Other tweaks, including improved online functionality (tournament, best-of head-to-head and playground-style modes are supported) and a terrific soundtrack, also make their presence felt rather quickly.

Unfortunately, “Street” fails to improve where improvement was needed most. EA Sports continues to try and shoehorn the “Street” formula onto soccer, but after three games and despite an improved control layout this time around, it’s simply not a happy gameplay marriage.

“Street” still leans far too heavily on players performing tricks to fill the Gamebreaker meter, which in turn allows you to be temporarily unstoppable and score multiple goals with ease. That’s nothing new, and it’s something “NBA Street” does rather well.

Unfortunately, it neither feels intuitive nor is it much fun to stand around playing footsie with the ball when, in most cases, playing traditional soccer is a more effective and natural strategy. What works seamlessly in “NBA Street” rings contrived here, and the Gamebreaker maneuver feels far more disruptive due to the low-scoring nature of soccer when compared to basketball.

But playing “Street” with a traditional approach isn’t all that fantastic, either. Passing the ball often results in your player kicking to no one in particular, and playing defense just feels like a lost cause at times. The ball has a strange magnetic attraction to whatever foot is dribbling it, and you’ll commonly make a perfect slide tackle that accomplishes nothing while the ball magically returns to the opposing player’s foot. For those keeping score, these are the same issues that hampered previous games.

Weirdly, “Street” actually moves backward when it comes to single-player content. There’s no option to create a player, something the first game allowed. The career mode also runs thin, offering little reason to take it deep and very little inspiration in terms of rules and match variety. Between these shortcomings and the many problems with “Street’s” gameplay, it’s just about impossible to recommend this to anyone who plans on playing alone.