I don’t know about you, but I love playing games with other people. I mean, I also like doing the things most other people do, like going to the movies, socializing at parties or going to music venues, but generally speaking, my ideal situation is to be in a room with a few other people playing videogames. However, with the rise of online gaming and the shrinking of local coop in today’s market, its harder than it used to be to have people enjoying a game with you in the same physical space. LANs are all well and good, but it’s a considerable effort to coordinate setting one up. It’s nice to have a game on hand that you and your buds can sit down and enjoy together by only plugging in a controller, and though these titles are rarer now, there are a few gems certainly worthy of an evening spent. You might have guessed which one I have in mind specifically.
I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t heard of this game, because it wasn’t initially released on either consoles or home computers. Chronicles of Mystara is actually a compilation of two arcade titles, Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and Dungeons & Dragons: Shadows Over Mystara, published in the early nineties. Many consider the Dungeons and Dragons side-scrolling games to be the very best of their genre, the pinnacle of multiplayer beat ’em ups. I would be inclined to agree, having sampled at least a hundred different popular cabinet entries during an extended stint with the MAME emulator a few years back. This was how I originally discovered these games, and while I thought they were awesome, my attempts at sharing the experience with friends was hampered by my inability to successfully utilize the clunky emulators required to play these older titles, and so I didn’t get the chance to experience them in their fully realized, multiplayer form.
One day, however, I discovered Chronicles of Mystara, a rerelease of both games smushed together into a single, shiny, feature-rich package. It features emulation options like those that would’ve been available if you booted these games up in MAME, including various filters and screen sizes, and the ability to set the amount of credits (continues) and the difficulty level. CoM also has plenty of new features, such as achievements, level select and various unlockables, including “house rules” which change up the rules of gameplay. For instance, “hedgehog” makes your characters drop gold instead of losing health when hit, while “vampirism” allows players to regain health when they hit an enemy. The well polished, stylish menus and screens and a full amenity of emulation options and extra goodies makes CoM the ideal way to experience these two classics.
The games packaged inside the collection are great. As far as 2D arcade sidescrollers go, I doubt you’ll find one that looks better. Colors are vivid, and the sprites are large and detailed. The bosses are especially exciting, massive beasts that swoop across the screen in a dangerous, intimidating manner. The music is passable, the tracks being generally forgettable except for the epic main theme. The visuals and audio combine to form a charming, arcadey experience that will have a lot of appeal with those who dig the oldschool gaming vibe.
The gameplay is what you’d expect; up to four players choose a character and duke it out with an assortment of enemies and bosses across a series of themed levels. Unlike other similar games, however, the CoM games offer a bit more depth to gameplay. Players’ characters level up and gain more health in between levels, and can collect treasure to purchase usable spells and sub-weapons at shops. The spells cover a variety of different effects, from summoning helpers to healing allies or producing a devastating blast; martial sub-weapons generally consist of throwables which vary in power and range, but have some, like the flammable oil, provide a more strategic mind to use effectively.
There is also some excitement in the form of branching paths between levels. Just like in an actual D&D tabletop session, players are frequently presented with different choices as to where to go next. For instance, the party might be presented with the choice of either confronting a beast in its lair, or coming to the aid of a town besieged by its minions; both options provide a different level for the group to play through, incentivizing additional playthroughs to see what you missed during your first adventure. Even within the individual levels, there are often optional side areas filled with devious traps and hoards of treasure.
These games aren’t too terribly long, with each requiring only an evening to complete, but the richness of the adventure combined with generous potential for replayability make CoM highly appealing for those looking for a fun, simple romp through a classic arcade title. It’s perfect for some couch gaming sessions, and I recommend it heartily to those looking for something to share with friends that has a lot of oldschool charm.