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Crimson Dragon rails against its Kinect origins

Crimson Dragon was originally designed as an Xbox 360 game that might make the best use of Kinect (back when it was called 'Project Draco'), but although motion controls are still evident, its new Xbox One incarnation feels more like a regular on-rails shooting game with some voice and movement stuff attached.

Sure, you can heave your body sideways in order to avoid attacks on the central flying dragon character (basically, simulating the shoulder-button dodge-roll) and you can vocally order your sidekick dragon to go offense or defense, but at its heart, this is really a very old-fashioned twitch-arcade game of shooting and not being shot.

Crimson Dragon is made by Yukio Fatatsugi, and boy, it shows. This is essentially a new version of his famous Panzer Dragoon rail-shooting games from the Saturn era, in which you played as a dragon-jockey hurtling through tunnels and shooting at multiple enemies, until you got to a big, bad enemy at the end of the level, generally a great worm snarling at the center of a cauldron-like arena.

In those days, Panzer Dragoon seemed like the last word in delectable visual fantasy, but here in 2013, Crimson Dragon looks like what it is ... a downloadable $20 console title aimed at a very specific kind of player.

If rail-shooting is your bag, there's plenty here; 26 missions across seven locations, a bunch of dragons that can be customized according to your wishes, all with multiple weapons. There are collectible items and an RPG-like ability to add on skills, plus three-player co-op and a difficulty curve that suggests perseverance for those who would like to get to the game's end. There's also a story and characters, though the dragons are clearly the stars, painted by artists who worked on the original Andromeda games.

Unlike in those original games, in which the targeting reticule was tied to the direction of the shooter, this is a twin-stick affair in which flying and shooting must be balanced at all times. This gives the player a greater sense of space as well as more opportunities for environmental dislocation and grief. Crimson Dragon takes its lead from the past, in the sense that classic games required skill to progress.

"Rail-shooters haven't been seen so much recently," said Microsoft's Connor Monahan, who is working on the game's design with Fatatsugi's company Grounding. "It's returning with a rich narrative, added functionality, free-flight and multiplayer that will give players who have missed this genre a real feeling of satisfaction."

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