Unfortunately the modern combat mechanics is just about the only thing Re:coded gets right. I have a list of complaints longer than Pinocchio's nose, but I'll start with the most pressing issue -- the camera. In Kingdom Hearts you control the camera, in the sense that you have to hold the right trigger and use the D-pad. This means that you can't move around and control the camera, which means that you constantly have to stop and fiddle with it. And did I mention that the game doesn't have any sort of auto camera? That's right, the if you change directions (which you do constantly) you'll be forced to stop and fiddle. I spent more time fighting with the controls than I did actually fighting the Heartless.
The game's presentation also takes a hit. At first I wondered if I was unfairly comparing this DS game to the PSP's Birth By Sleep. Sadly, that's not the case. The in-game graphics take a noticeable hit. It's not that the game is ugly, but rather that it can't even match the 2009 release. To its credit, Re:coded's cinemas are spectacular looking. These videos feature gorgeous polygon characters and full voice acting. Sadly, those are few and far between. Most of the cinemas involve two still images talking to each other through text bubbles.
Another problem is the pacing. Originally this mobile phone game was episodic, which might explain why so many of the levels are truncated versions of their console cousin. Instead of wondering through fully realized Disney worlds, you are forced to fight in a few small areas. It's easy to tell when each episode begins and ends, since that's when the bulk of the story is unfurled. Most of the game has you doing busywork in order to get a morsel of story, none of which is worth the trouble. The narrative isn't just poorly paced, it's downright awful. There's not enough story to fill the 20 or so hours it will take you to beat it, which ultimately left me disappointed in the shallow journey.
Kingdom Hearts also features a four-player mode ... kind of. The back of the box suggests that you can play with up to four players, but it's not multiplayer in the traditional sense. Instead what you can do is create unique levels and share them with your friends, who in turn can play through them. If that doesn't sound very exciting, it's because it's not. Sharing boring dungeon maps is hardly a reason to get your friends together, you would be better off going back to 358/2 Days.
Of course, the game isn't all bad. It does attempt to introduce a few new game types into the mix. You get everything from side-scrolling to turn-based action to an on-rails shooter. I commend Square for adding some variety, but it would have been better if they had refined the controls. That's not to say that they are bad, I had a reasonably fun time with the shooter, but even then I had to adjust to a rather forceful change in pace. Still, I like what they are doing and would like to see this style of variety perfected in future Kingdom Hearts releases.
Had Re:coded been a budget title, I might understand picking this up. After all, the combat is good and fans of the series will likely want to see it through. But as a full-priced Nintendo DS release, this is a hard game to justify. Remaking a three year old mobile phone game is fraught with perils and it feels like Square Enix hit every one. If only they could figure out a way to flesh out the levels and fix the pacing, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded would be worth picking up. As it is, even hardcore fans should wait a few months for the inevitable next installment.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
You know you're doomed when the game starts its life as a mobile phone game. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is a baffling adventure with a sub-par story, horrible pacing, lack-luster multiplayer support, disappointing levels and the worst camera system I've ever used. Not even the modern combat mechanics are enough to make me recommend this mediocre remake!
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