In Dragon Master Spell Caster, you mount your pet dragon and take to the skies in search of thrilling adventure (or floating balls), engage in epic struggles with (or shake your Wii remote randomly at) elementally-themed opponents, and fly on into your new life of fame and fortune (or...turn your Wii off and think about all the other things you could have done with 500 Nintendo points).
Dragon Master Spell Caster is a game of magic, combat, fire-breathing dragons, varied locations and a wealth of attack and defense options. And yet, somehow, it still manages to be pretty bad. That's got to count as some kind of achievement, at least.
The main game consists of alternating levels of combat and orb-collection. We will look at the combat aspect of the game first.
To control your dragon, you will have to use the Nunchuk. No, not the control stick...the tilt control. This is where our first serious problem with the game comes into play: the Nunchuk's capacity for tilt recognition is simply nowhere near sensitive enough for a game like this. It alternates between reading your motions so sharply that you end up spinning in circles, and not reading them at all so that you fly directly into the path of an oncoming projectile. In fairness to the game you can use the control stick to perform last-second evasive dives, but we would have much rather had actual control over what we were doing in the first place than a panic button that seeks to make amends for the fact that we don't.
Your goal in the combat stages is to take down the opposing dragon who makes this stage its home. There are no other enemies, and you can think of this game as a series of boss fights...in which all of the bosses fight identically and the same strategies work against each. Nevertheless, you have a few different attacks you can use. There are the titular spells of course - each of which you can charge by holding down a particular direction on the D-pad - there is the obligatory fire-breath attack, and there is a close-quarters melee attack.
Actually, in theory at least, there are four different melee attacks, depending upon the direction in which you swipe the Wii remote while holding B. However the motion sensitivity here is no better than the Nunchuk's...and, surprisingly, it might even be a bit worse. Motions and thrusts are frequently not read at all, so your best bet is just to hold B and swing the Wii remote around randomly until something registers. (An option to reconfigure the controls would have been sorely welcome, but the closest thing we get is the ability to invert them, so that "up" is read as "down" and vice versa.)
The fire-breath attack and spell attacks work differently, though they share the same issues. Mainly, the problem is that you can't see what you're meant to be attacking. The dragon you control is enormous and takes up the entire central area of the screen. When your opponent is far away there's no problem seeing him, but as he approaches, he becomes more and more obscured by your own dragon, and so launching direct projectiles at an object in motion in 3D space becomes an exercise in foolishness. Attempting to hit the other dragon with projectile attacks is like trying to shoot down a bumble bee with a hand gun, while blindfolded. How do you think that would turn out?
As such you will find yourself resorting to melee attacks all the time, but of course, it gets repetitive very quickly when you spend every stage pimp-slapping your opponent to death.
Using the fire-breath is easy: a press of the A button is all it takes, and you can hold the button for continuous fire. The problem, again, is that you can't see your opponent, and because the camera remains fixed at all times at a Proctologist's-Eye-View, you don't even know how far your fire is reaching out ahead of you. (Also, if you fly forward while breathing fire you can out-run it, and it looks like your dragon is lighting his farts.)
The spell casting is a little more complicated. You press a direction on the D-pad to launch an elemental spell. Once you've launched that spell, you can press a second (or even third) direction, causing the spells to mix, forming a unique attack. This is, to be frank, a really cool idea. The mixing of abilities should have led to more complex combat experiences, and it's great to see that the attempt was made. But the unfortunate fact that you can't see your enemy cannot be repeated enough; it's simply not worth mixing spells when you're not even sure your opponent is in front of you anymore. Couldn't we have had a radar or something at least?
Pressing C on the Nunchuk will, ostensibly, keep you locked on to your opponent, but the failure rate for this feature seems to be extraordinarily high. Often my dragon would resort to spiralling mindlessly toward the ground as he attempted to lock on to something that he couldn't find, and other times he'd lock dead-ahead onto something, only for me to see the enemy swoop in on me from behind. It's a nice (and essential) feature in theory, but in practice, it's shockingly little help.
On to the orb-collection levels. Between battles, you will be asked to fly through a series of orbs, after which a book will appear; collect the book and add another component to your arsenal of spells. While this is obviously an attempt to introduce some varied gameplay to Dragon Master, it's even more tedious than the succession of identical boss fights. You need to fly through all of the orbs within a minute and a half; if you don't, you will start the level over again. Without a radar screen or directional indication of where the orbs might be, this can get frustrating very fast. It also doesn't help that this mode calls to mind all too easily the "Solve My Maze" sections of Superman 64...both in concept and control-unreliability. Gamers had a lot of problems with Superman 64; if your only problem was that you were not playing as a dragon, then Dragon Master Spell Caster might be the game for you.
As a bizarre aside, why don't the orb-collection levels feature music of any kind? It's jarring to hear the music drop out entirely and not pick up again until you've solved the maze...
There are three modes in addition to the main game: a well-intended tutorial; "Flight Mode," which is there, we suppose, for anyone who didn't get enough fly-through-orbs action in the main game; and a two-player mode, in which you and a friend can come together to decide never to play Dragon Master Spell Caster again.
If there's one nice thing that can be said about Dragon Master Spell Caster, it's that the developers clearly had good intentions. Unfortunately, even though it features some interesting flourishes (the ability to mix and create new spells, unlockable achievements, very nice between-level art), the core gameplay comes across as tedious and sloppy. The motion controls border on unusable, and the uninterrupted view of your own dragon's anus renders the camera totally worthless. Unfortunately, what could have been a unique and exciting title on the service turns out to be yet another dud you're better off skipping.