You plummet down a dark, twisting tunnel, barely registering the lights that flash past because you're too busy juking one moment and jinking the next, avoiding death with a flick of your wrist. As enemies crowd around you, spewing missiles from every direction, you expertly guide a stream of deadly fire, targeting your opponents with a steady hand and an uncanny precision that, within seconds, leaves you and your dragon alone, hurtling down an empty passageway toward destinations unknown.
Or at least, that's how it could be. Welcome to the inaugural edition of Born for Wii, a new weekly column looking back into the annals of gaming for titles that could be adapted for the Wii in new and exciting ways. This week, we'll take a look at Sega's highly appreciated but criminally undersold Panzer Dragoon series.
When Panzer Dragoon Orta was released in late 2002 for Microsoft's Xbox, it had every right to sell out across the globe. The game was (and, more than five years later, still is) beautiful, and the fact that it's an on-rails shooter belies a system of impressive depth and fluidity. What's more, the disc is packed with extras - "Pandora's Box" features a wealth of unlockables such as an Encyclopedia of Panzer Dragoon information and short missions that are sub-scenarios to the main plot. You take on the role of Orta, a young woman who finds herself battling against an evil Empire with the aid of the legendary Dragon of Destruction. The story, though minimalistic in the vein of many shooters, presents a more than adequate backdrop for the exquisite gameplay, which is what really counts, right?
If you want to see more of the game being played with the Wiimote, click here
The Dragon of Destruction can assume three unique forms, each fulfilling a necessary role. The Base Wing can lock onto numerous targets and release a rapid pulse of fire; the Heavy Wing can do the same, dealing far more damage, only it cannot lock onto nearly as many enemies, and is considerably less maneuverable; the Glide Wing lacks the ability to target enemies, but automatically homes in on anything within its reticule and is considerably more maneuverable than either of the other forms.
Maneuverability is actually a very important part of Panzer Dragoon's gameplay thanks to the Glide system, the term Sega applies to the acceleration and deceleration of the Dragon of Destruction. More specifically, the HUD has a Glide meter that is depleted each time you speed up or slow down. Though the bar replenishes slowly, using the Glide system with the proper Wing form is key to survival. The lumbering Heavy Wing can't use Glide at all, and the Base Wing and Glide Wing have the ability to use two and three successive Glides, respectively. The Glide system factors heavily into boss battles, as it is used to move in front of, behind, or on either side of gargantuan bosses who are far larger than Orta and her mount.
The system only gets more complex from there. You'll constantly be forced to shift your perspective as enemies dive in for the attack from all directions, while simultaneously dodging incoming fire, shooting down enemy projectiles and targeting your opponents. Throw in the occasional obstacle that requires the use of a boost or a proper application of the brakes, and you're in for a hell of a ride. All of this is manageable on a classic Xbox controller, but with a Wii control scheme, Panzer Dragoon could shine in a whole new way.
Targeting in the Xbox version is done with the left analog stick, which also controls movement -- move the cursor so far, and instead of merely shifting your targeting focus, your dragon responds. But with the Wii remote and nunchuk, these two actions could be separated, allowing for an extra level of precision. The analog stick could control movement, and the nunchuk's motion control could additionally allow for a quick dodge move from side-to-side. The Wii remote would be free to control targeting and firing (with motion control and the A button, respectively), and with a quick thrust forward or backward, dictate acceleration.
The rest of the controls fall into place simply, although the unique nature of the Wiimote and nunchuk combination cries out for a customizable control option. And, of course, for you diehard purists out there, a port of Panzer Dragoon Orta could easily include support for the Classic and GameCube controllers.
On the technical side, Orta is already impressive for a game several years old, with support for 480p and 16:9 widescreen. Still, with the power of the Wii and several years of technological advancement, the visuals could easily see some slight improvements. With a little bit of time, tender love, and care, Sega could tweak and polish Orta to lustrous perfection.
And while Panzer Dragoon Orta is the newest entry in the series, its predecessors could just as easily find a home on the Wii. The original Panzer Dragoon is actually bonus content on Orta and could receive a similar controller revamp. In fact, Panzer Dragoon, Panzer Dragoon Zwei, and Panzer Dragoon Saga, all for the Sega Saturn, could easily fit on a single DVD. Panzer Dragoon Compilation, anyone? Unfortunately, disc-based Sega Saturn games are a bit hefty for the Virtual Console, but given the relative cheapness of flash-based memory these days, not to mention the possibility of a solution to the memory crisis from Nintendo, it's not outside the realm of possibility.
Every week, Born for Wii digs into gaming's sordid past to unearth a new treasure fit for revival on the Nintendo Wii. For more great titles that deserve your attention, take a peek at Virtually Overlooked. Also, to see Panzer Dragoon actually being played with a Wiimote and nunchuk, check out columnist Mike Sylvester's videos here.