Mana Prequel Bears Mega Flaws

Friday, August 31, 2007

Those who can remember the days of Super Nintendo probably recall a great game called Secret of Mana. Dawn of Mana for Playstation 2 is the prequel to that game, though its 3D world looks nothing like the original, except for the little Peeps-like yellow bunnies that dot the landscape and try to kill you.

You play Keldric, a boy with a living vine from the magic Tree of Mana attached to his arm. This gives you a lot of power. You can fire rocks at enemies, send out a tendril to grab them or use the greenery as a sword. Unfortunately, the targeting controls are bad, so you often end up shooting the boulder beside the angry monster, leaving the beast free to charge.

Very quickly you acquire a fairy companion named Faye, who casts spells that can boost your power or heal you.

Combat relies heavily on the environment and is almost comical. You can just run up and wallop enemies, but that won't get you special rewards. To rack up points, you have to push logs, boulders, fruit carts and anything else you can find into the bad guys. That panics them (you can see how long they panic by looking at a timer over their heads) and makes them more valuable. When you hit a panicked enemy, they drop gold and power-ups and won't fight back.

The game encourages you to explore the world, and Keldric and Faye can earn more power and spells. However, in a huge design blunder, your level is reset at the beginning of each stage. So you work your tail off in one chapter, fight a ton of extra enemies and get your vine skill high enough to pull heavy stone blocks onto unsuspecting enemies? Too bad, because at the beginning of the next chapter, you will be an inexperienced weakling again. Same thing for your fairy friend. Yanking hard-earned levels away from gamers for no apparent reason is the ultimate insult.

It's best just to fire up the old Super Nintendo to play the original and forget this stinky prequel.

-- John Breeden II

Dawn of Mana Teen; Playstation 2 ($50) Square Enix

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