As more and more Chinese console games continue to see release in the United States, I find myself drawn to them. These games are inherently interesting, trying for uncommon ideas and following different trends than what we're used to. Hidden Dragon Legend is one such game, a 2.5D actioner where you'll be partaking in sword fights between bouts of platforming and exploration. Is it worth hearing the legend of the hidden dragon, or should you find another source for your kung-fu fix?
You play as an amnesiac prisoner who wakes up in a destroyed prison following a riot. Unsure of who he is or how he got there, the prisoner sets off to discover the answers. Along the way, he's taken in by a nice family that is immediately killed by an evil organization that is seriously just known as "The Organization". There's evil long lost twins, goofy experiments, a totally random giant robot, and people with names like "Dark Raven", "White Ghost", and "Second Brother". The story is mostly just silly nonsense told in awkward and poorly animated cutscenes that feature terrible voice acting. If you're looking for any sort of interesting tale, you're not going to find it here.
Hidden Dragon Legend's focus is really on platforming and combat, though it only really achieves one of these with any level of success. Combat itself can be fun at times, as you chain together light and heavy attacks with throwing knives and special moves. Like many action games, there's a special joy in juggling an enemy into the air, jumping up to continue the combo, and then slamming them onto the ground to finish things up. While fun in short bursts, it quickly becomes repetitive. Enemies are either easily trapped in infinite combos or annoyingly resilient to staggering as they burst through your defenses.
Bosses are prone to the same problem of either being too easy or too annoying. There are some attempts to change up the combat during these fights, but the results can vary. One boss deploys a smokescreen, making it difficult to see him and requiring you to swing at the air to clear it. This is a clever and fun mechanic that makes the boss stand out. On the other hand, there's a boss that doesn't get staggered at all when you hit him. I assumed that I could stun him if I ever managed to lower a yellow bar above his health, but said bar was glitched and would instead just randomly shoot up and down during the fight. So I have no clue what the bar really does and I just finished the fight without ever draining the yellow bar and dealing with a boss I couldn't stun.
As I continued to spam through my small combo list, I would earn rage points for any damage I dealt. You can spend these on visually impressive skills that were often ineffective at actually doing anything. A boomerang life did little damage, while a dashing slash rarely managed to actually hit my enemies. The only skill I found useful let me slow down time, but I couldn't unlock it until the very end of the game because the amnesic main character had to remember his memories to unlock his inner power or something. Ultimately, I chose to ignore these abilities since I couldn't grasp any natural way to effectively use them or include them in my combos.
When you're not participating in elaborate yet boring sword fights, you'll be tackling clunky platforming challenges. The game will have you perform double jumps and mid-air dashes, and you'll eventually procure a hook that is used for grabbing onto points and pulling yourself to higher areas. None of these are really precise enough for what was in front of my character. I often completely missed jumps, as my character would lose the second jump. It feels as if the game is too finicky on where you start your jumps, and even the slightest imprecision dooms you to fail. This is made more annoying by the game's total inconsistency on what falling down a pit does. Sometimes it's a game over and you need to start back at a checkpoint way back from where you were, forcing you to repeat large chunks of content, while sometimes it just teleports you to the last solid area you were standing on missing a little bit of your health.
The platforming hits its absolute worst during chase sequences where players must flee swarms of robotic bugs or a rolling boulder while going through jumping challenges. The game's physics are simply too loose for what is required, and the design has a frustrating habit of creating threats that pop up out of nowhere, leading to painful trial and error. I'd find myself frustrated as I died repeatedly in elongated platforming sections with bad checkpoints that never seemed to end.
At least you can explore the game's surprisingly open levels during calmer moments. Hidden treasure chests can contain new weapons or collectibles called pieces of Sutra. If you collect all of the pieces for one then you can equip that Sutra and give yourself some passive bonuses like dealing more damage or earning more experience points with each kill. There are also a lot of upgrades for you to sink your teeth into, allowing you to use the points you get inside these chests, or from killing enemies, to upgrade your combos, learn new skills, and more.
Hidden Dragon Legend looks quite good whenever no one is moving. There's good environmental work, and the character models are quite nice. Unfortunately, things get choppy once they're in motion thanks to half-baked animations. Cutscenes always manage to look awkward, as none of the characters have any facial animations even when talking. This leads to extended scenes of the camera trying to avoid faces at all costs. Speaking of cutscenes, the voice acting is laughably bad, with many of the actors sounding completely bored.
While I continue to dive into China's growing indie scene with genuine joy, Hidden Dragon Legend is not a game I would actually suggest to most people. From a nonsensical story and repetitive combat to terrible platforming and generally ugly animations, there are very few redeeming qualities here. Certainly not enough to make the game worth playing. Maybe this legend was hidden for a reason.
Hidden Dragon Legend was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developer.
Hidden Dragon Legend has some brief moments of fun, but they're all lost in its terrible story, clumsy platforming, boring combat, and ugly graphics.
- Some Combat Encounters Can be Fun
- Surprisingly Open Levels
- Game Looks Decent When Not in Motion
- Terrible Story With Terrible Voice Acting and Writing
- Combat Gets Boring Quickly
- Skills are Totally Useless
- Platforming Is Clunky and Difficult
- Bad Animations