Friday, July 29, 2011

Pryzm Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn

I don't think there a lot of games that have made me laugh out load right there in the store, but considering what you see above, Pryzm Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn  definitely did. It's just a clusterfuck of weirdness that you just don't see anymore. I wouldn't be surprised to hear an NES game described as “a game where you play as a unicorn that uses magic to save enemies that have a plague” because that was a time when games were abstract and weird stories were invented to market games, but for a PS2 game from 2002, it's quite jarring. Unlike NES games, that weird story actually describes the game pretty well.


What kind of meeting does one pitch the concept of a magical unicorn versus plague game, and what group of developers green light such a thing? It would seem obvious to assert that drugs were involved, but really I don't think there is a logical explanation. Anyway, the story, or at the very least the setup for the story is typical of bad fantasy. The world is segregated into 5 lands, with trolls, gnomes, and a couple of other fantasy races, separated into their own worlds, as well as one for unicorns in the center. They are fighting each other all the time, so an evil, or rather, dark, unicorn decides to fix this by getting rid of all the other races. The ruling unicorns deny him, so he goes on his own and releases a plague on all the other lands. So, the world sucks now and it is up to Pryzm, a prophesied winged unicorn messiah or something to fix everything.  I'm not totally convinced the game's world was very well thought out. The art design is okay, but the levels aren't differentiated visually as well as they could be. Most importantly, the unicorn land has buildings with doors, which makes me wonder how they open them and who built them.


The game starts off with a cutscene that pairs Pryzm up with a troll, Karrock, that rides her back and uses magic. I was confused that he is considered a troll, because he looks like a dwarf to me, but whatever. It's their fantasy world, they can do what they want. I guess that was their way of explaining away why in a game where you play a winged unicorn, you can't fly. Anyway, the controls are weird. Up moves you forward and pushing left or right makes you turn, which doesn't sound all that bad except you always have an awkward amount of forward movement. Typical awkward horse controls. On top of that, L1 has to be held to move in reverse, and L2 is used to dash.

What the?! This looks like something that belongs in Chakan, not some happy unicorn game.
You can jump with X, but it seems kind of pitiful, and the double jump isn't much better. The game refers to jumping as “hovering” but there isn't anything hovery about it. Again, horse controls. While attacking isn't handled like you would typically see with horses, it has it's own unique brand of awkwardness. The right stick controls the troll's weak attack. Basically, you point in in a direction, and that is the direction his magic will go, so you can quickly do a circle to swing it all the way around yourself to clear off weak enemies. The problem with this is that once an enemies is hit with it, you can't just continue to hold the stick in that direction to just keep it out there, you actually have to return the stick to neutral before you can attack again.


Most of Pryzm Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn's combat is handled through the strong attacks of your two protagonists. You can lock to an enemy at a distance by holding down R2, and circle will cycle through targets. Square is the Karrock's magic attack, which works sort of like artillery, and it can be charged to deal more damage. Triangle is Pryzm's magic attack, which can only shoot straight forward, from the horn of course, but is capable of rapid fire and hitting targets that are further away.

Well, this is horrific.
Combat is just really awkward. The controls for movement make it difficult to move and attack accurately, so my basic plan ended up being to charge up and use square while moving enough to run away, then snipe enemies from as far away as possible with triangle. My biggest complaint with the combat is that is just hard to tell what is going on. It is difficult to determine when you are actually hitting an enemy and when an enemy is hitting you. Maybe this is explained in the fact that you aren't actually attack anyone, but healing them of their plague, so combat isn't necessarily combat in the strictest sense. Of course, it is more likely that the game is just poorly designed, and considering that this is basically the whole game, the game just isn't fun.


Pryzm was developed by a company then known as Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment. Up until this point, they had been around since the early 90's and the most well known game they had released was a Shrek game for Xbox. That is, except a week before this wacky unicorn adventure, they released Battlefield 1942, a World War 2 FPS, in the era when those were the thing, that boasted huge multiplayer maps with a large variety of vehicles and a large number of simultaneous players. DICE went on to make a bunch more Battlefield games to great success, were bought up by EA, and now Battlefield 3 is one of the most anticipated games of 2011. For some reason Pryzm Chapter Two has never been made.

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