Review: The Three Musketeers: One For All! (WiiWare)

This week, Alexandre Dumas makes his WiiWare debut. Next week: Crime and Punishment Party!

When it was first announced, The Three Musketeers: One For All! was the subject of much anticipation on the part of the WiiWare community, simply because it belonged a mysteriously under-represented genre: the action platformer. This earned it a lot of attention, but does it live up to its own hype?

The story seems to take Alexandre Dumas' novel as vague inspiration more than anything to be adhered to faithfully, and that's for the best. (How much switch-hitting and sawblade-jumping did you think was in the novel anyway?) As the game begins, Athos, Aramis (two of the Three Musketeers), and their protege D'Artagnan are kidnapped. Porthos - the third Musketeer and the game's hero - springs into action to rescue his friends.

It's a classic platforming setup, and The Three Musketeers adheres to the classic platforming rules: don't fall into pits, don't get killed by enemies, and make sure you collect the coins. Hearts give you health, and a spare hat grants you an extra life. It's familiar territory, and unobtrusive instructions appear at the bottom of the screen to teach you the controls as you will need them.

Only two buttons on the Wiimote are used, which means that there's very little room for confusion. A jumps, B slides boxes around, and Porthos' movement is controlled by the nunchuk. Unfortunately, this leads us to our inevitable first complaint: the sword attack is mapped to a flick of the Wiimote. This isn't automatically a bad thing - as proven by the spin attack in Super Mario Galaxy - but here it can be woefully unresponsive, and will sometimes fail to register for no discernible reason. It's one thing to miss an attack due to bad timing, but it's much more irritating to miss one because the attack failed to activate at all.

Because of this, it would have been great to have the option for classic NES-style control. The attack and push function could have been mapped to the same button, and it would have made the game much more responsive, while also complementing the old-school platforming feel of the game.

The platforming itself is a mixed bag, with some of the levels being rather uninspired, but thankfully the level design is never particularly poor, and every so often you'll come across a stage with a truly impressive layout. Spiraling up the inside of a tower is an excellent early treat in the game, and later maze-like levels give you a lot of room for optional exploration. It's safe to say that when the game is at its best, the experience is fantastic.

The art style is phenomenal as well; screen shots can never do this game justice. The backgrounds are beautiful, and even when an object is occasionally revealed as a flat piece of 2D set dressing, it doesn't lose its magic. Visually, this is among the most distinct titles on the WiiWare service, and we mean that as a great compliment. There is also some brilliant use of the camera, which swings around 90-degree corners to reorient the screen around you, and will sometimes swivel through a room so that your advance, though ostensibly still left to right, takes on a more circuitous and realistic path.

This helps to inject a lot of life into the traditional platforming, and it's one of The Three Musketeers' most unique and successful attributes. Particularly welcome are the wonderful moments when the camera will suddenly drop, giving you an up-from-under view of a particular jump, transforming the mundane into the genuinely dramatic, surprisingly without sacrificing precision! For all the moving around that the camera does, it almost never interferes, and it opens up a whole new world of pleasing design choices that wouldn't have been otherwise possible, such as rotating the screen so that you pass the same room full of archers from three different directions!

Sadly, while the camera will not be responsible for cheap player deaths, the game's loose physics just might. Precision jumping is fine in games like Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man, because in those games, if you fall and die, you're always aware that it was more your fault than the game's. In The Three Musketeers, you will not be able to make that concession. The precision leaps are kept to a minimum, but they are there, and when you lose all of your lives making unsuccessful ladder-jumps over pits of death - and then have to restart a long level from the beginning - don't say we didn't warn you.

Aurally the game is pleasant. None of the background tracks really stood out, but none of them grated, either. This game went the "small and respectful" route when it came to the music, and that was a wise decision. There is voice acting, but it's mainly just for Porthos, as he both makes comments in-game, and serves as our narrator. The voice acting is limited, but is, thankfully, quite good. (Does anyone else think he sounds a bit like Henry Hatsworth?)

Sadly the animated sequences from the original PC game are all missing from this port. While this was undoubtedly due to space constraints, it's very unfortunate that they had to go, as they had a simple charm that triggered appropriate childhood memories of unfaithful cartoon adaptations of great literary works. Of course, given the choice between animated cut scenes and more gameplay, any serious gamer would choose the latter, but the narrated comic book panels are really not much of a replacement, and it would have been nice to at least have the intro or ending sequence animated.

A few more general issues haunt this release as well, such a puzzling inability to pause the game, frame-rate drops and irritating loading times, and though the importance of these issues will vary greatly depending upon the gamer experiencing them, it's important that they are mentioned. This is a shame, because if this game could have dropped the loading times, kept up the frame rate, allowed NES-style play and tweaked the physics, we'd be looking at one of the best releases WiiWare has yet seen. (Of course, if wishes were horses, we here at Nintendo Life Towers would be knee-deep in horse-steaks every morning.)

As it stands, The Three Musketeers remains an impressive and unique title that may frustrate many with its unfortunate quirks, but will impress at least as many others. Legendo assembled a really great game at heart, but, ultimately, it just might have been undercut by its own ambition.

Conclusion

The Three Musketeers: One For All! is difficult to recommend without also reciting a litany of flaws, but, in the end, we feel that those flaws are forgiven by the many things this game gets just right. The art style is lovely, the platforming (overall) very fun, and the use of the camera is both satisfying and unique. With a few quirks ironed out this could have been a masterpiece worthy of the name Dumas. As it stands, its issues are difficult to ignore - and perhaps should not be ignored - but if you're looking for classic platforming action with a great deal of fun and personality, this game should not be missed.

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