Project Draco preview: Fly a fantasy

Project Draco
A year ago, we were told that Project Draco was merely "inspired" by Panzer Dragoon. Having played Project Draco, I'm inclined to think that might be the biggest understatement in recent memory. Project Draco positively drips with Panzer Dragoon goodness. And it should, given the involvement of Panzer Dragoon creator Yukio Futatsugi and many of the game's original team members. Dragons, diving, rolling, gorgeous environments and enemies, homing laser breath – it's all there, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Like the Panzer Dragoon games, Project Draco is an on-rails shooter, affording the player some strategic movement and offensive options. Unlike previous games, Project Draco is controlled entirely via Kinect, allowing players to virtually sit astride the back of a powerful dragon. I was able veer to the left and right, climb upward or dive downward simply by shifting my body weight in the appropriate direction. Shifting quickly left or right resulted in an exhilarating barrel roll (very useful for dodging enemy fire).

Unlike some Kinect games, the motions feel very natural, and appropriately mimic the motions a dragon jockey would make. At least I assume they do, having never ridden a dragon, personally. I selected targets by waving my hand over various gaggles of enemies, commanding my dragon to release his fury with a flick of my wrist. The gestures are even incorporated into Project Draco's fiction, with the tutorial explaining that my trained dragon could intuitively interpret my actions.

There are multiple dragons to unlock, each with a different basic skill, like the aforementioned homing laser breath. By feeding various foods to your dragon, it can also learn two additional, customizable skills. These are activated either by lifting your left hand or raising both arms at once. In my session, the left hand activated fire breath, which offered more power but had no homing ability. Raising both arms activated a barrage attack that pelted all enemies with copious laser fire.

As players unlock new dragons, level them up and customize them with new skills, they can be used to replay levels for higher scores. Beyond the simple joys of racking up more points, I was told that achieving high scores will also unlock more loot, giving players incentive to play missions more than once. Of course, there's no fun in customizing your own corral of dragons if you can't show them off. Thankfully, Project Draco allows just that with three-player online cooperative play.

Even after only a brief presentation and a few minutes of actual play time, Project Draco feels like one of the most promising Kinect titles on the horizon. Mechanically, it functions essentially like Child of Eden, only with broader movement control, a wider variety of weapons, a series of beautiful natural environments and multiplayer support. If that doesn't sound like fun, I don't know what does.

Project Draco is scheduled to launch on Xbox Live Arcade in 2012.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.