CHILDREN OF MANA / Squaresoft / Nintendo DS
Fuck you, elf
Children of Mana is basically Secret of Mana : Dungeon Crawl Edition. The gameplay engine resembles that of Zelda 3 more than any of the previous Mana games, but with much less complexity, and none of that game's structure (actually, the original Final Fantasy Adventure would probably be the closest point of comparison for this one).
You pick one of four characters, each with differing stats, and the whole game is based out of one small town (in Diablo style). The town is a pretty tiny place and there never really ends up being much to do there, so you spend the bulk of the game in dungeons, which you travel to automatically via a static world map (there's nothing resembling an overworld in this one).
The dungeons are semi-randomized, the floor structure usually stays the same but the enemies and treasures that pop up can change somewhat. While in town, you choose two weapons and one Mana Spirit to take with you, but you can exit the dungeon at any time using an infinite supply of Magic Rope. One nice touch of the game is that you have the two weapons equipped simultaneously, and switch between them on the fly simply by using the X and A buttons. On the downside, combat is extremely simplistic. Attacking is simply a matter of mashing A over and over again, and Mana Spirit magic just consists of them basically spinning around you for a bit and doing decent damage to any enemies they hit. You also don't get any further party members, although you can connect with other players for a multiplayer mode (which I didn't get to check out.)
The plot is very threadbare, the usual yadda yadda about the Spirit Crystals are breaking and the Mana tree is dying, etc. It's interspersed with the occasional anime cutscene, but the whole thing is very juvenile and it seems like they weren't even really trying with it. The whole of the game thus comes down to repetitive bashing of monsters in the dungeons, and grinding up levels so you can bash even more effectively.
The game really has a great menu system and presentation, one worthy of emulation, particularly in its use of the two DS screens. However, the whole thing is just too over-simplified, and it covers gaming ground that has been done to death in the past already. It really doesn't even feel like a Mana game, just a simplistic action-RPG dungeon crawl that they happened to paste a bunch of Mana characters into (probably due largely to the fact that the Mana development team was mostly absent, it was farmed out to Nex Entertainment, one of those generic developers that the big publishing houses kick their smaller projects out to.) The music is basically pleasant and acceptable, but also forgettable; an occasional pass is made at emulating Hiroki Kikuta's style, but it's not even close to the same. Mediocrity is pretty much expected from Kenji Ito at this point, but I was surprised to see that Masaharu Iwata (Ogre Battle / Tactics series) worked on the soundtrack to this one as well - he's usually good for a dynamic and interesting score so I don't know what happened here.
It might be some fun with multiple players, but as a single-player experience I just found it too boring and limited to bother with.
* Gameplay Video