Hand over the Dungeons & Dragons license to a developer from the East, and what do you get? Surprisingly, an arcade brawler in the vein of Golden Axe and Knights of the Round - but with better gameplay and more innovative tweaks than either of those titles.

Dungeons & Dragons : The Tower of Doom has combo moves, magic spells, an inventory with items you can use in battle, experience points, and even multiple branching paths through the game. These touches are all fairly simple, but add greatly to the experience (particularly the branching paths). Tower of Doom is much more entertaining and replayable than the average arcade beat-em-up.

Up to four players can take on the game at once, playing as either an Elf, Warrior, Cleric or Dwarf. The game tends to hew to D&D rules, conventions and characters, albeit with a Japanese stylistic flourish. You'll face the whole gamut of monsters, from trolls and orcs to shadow elves and displacer beasts (though they often work together in illogical pairings, but hey, it's fun). The characters are all fairly competent fighters, but each has their own particular tweaks and perks - Warrior hits hard, Dwarf is a bit more sturdy on defense, the Elf swings and moves fast and the Cleric often dizzies enemies by conking them on the head with his mace. The Elf and Cleric also get magic spells, of which you get a finite amount per life (except for the Cleric's Turn Undead spell, which can be used infinitely and is highly useful against the many respawning skeleton warriors that appear in boss battles). The Elf focuses on attack spells such as Magic Missile, Fireball and Lightning Bolt. The Cleric mostly gets a combination of status effect and buff spells, such as Striking (which increases attack power temporarily) and Hold Person, but also has the highly amusing Sticks To Snakes spell for direct attack purposes. Warriors and Dwarves, don't fret - you'll find various bracelets, rings and spellbooks along the way that can be used as one-off spell casts. Each character can also use various inventory items as projectile weapons, such as Molotov oil flasks, bows and daggers (though in keeping with D&D conventions, the Cleric cannot use anything metal or pointy).

The experience system is a bit rudimentary - basically, you end up just gaining an extra level for each area that you complete, which gives you a token amount of hit points and some new spells for the magic users.Taking certain paths at certain points can get you bonuses, such as fighting a very tough red dragon that imbues you with fire protection if you manage to take him down.

The gameplay is fast and smooth. The graphics are sharp and have good animation, with lots of nice little touches that many such games don't bother with, like having your characters stop and strike flint to light a lamp before going into a dark cave. The audio is also pretty good, with music that sounds like it was done by the composer of the Breath of Fire games, decent effects and a fair amount of digitized speech (including the most laughably fruity Shadow Elf in the history of fantasy gaming).

Tower of Doom is definitely worth a look if you're into multi-player arcade fighting games. I personally thought it was a more fun and enjoyable use of the license than many of the crusty, grindy, slow-paced PC RPGs it has traditionally been used for. Good stuff.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video