Kingdom Hearts Re:coded • Page 2

A cipher Sora eyes.

Strangely, I am free to discuss the game's camera, which is easily one of its weakest points. It's entirely user-controlled, which wouldn't ordinarily seem like a bad thing. But in the heat of battle, it's extremely difficult to move and use the camera at the same time.

You can sweep the stylus across the touchscreen to shift your viewpoint or hold the right shoulder button and move the d-pad for a more helpful perspective. But that means you either have to stop moving Sora, or take your finger off the attack and dodge buttons.

The select button pulls the camera back, though that makes it harder to judge distances. A quick tap of R centres the camera behind Sora, but in enclosed spaces, this can make things even worse.

The amount of screen furniture doesn't help. The busy HUD can obscure some of the action, particularly the command list on the left of the screen from where you can select special moves.

It's a pity, because otherwise battles are fast-paced and fun. The 3D graphics are some of the smoothest on the DS, even when things get hectic and projectiles and particles are flying.

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Story sequences are relatively restrained by series standards, cutting back to the action before overstaying their welcome.

Defeat a Heartless and it explodes with a satisfying 'pop' into colourful bubbles which are instantly absorbed for experience points. Even when things get darker, the game is rarely as murky as Disney Epic Mickey.

Unlocked abilities can be combined once you've used them often enough into even more powerful attacks. These add much-needed variety to the initially repetitive combat. Encounters against smaller enemies can still degenerate into mindless button-mashing, but larger Heartless and bosses require a little more thought.

The clock gauge also adds a degree of nuance. Constantly counting down between kills, it encourages you to find more Heartless to beat up. Keep slicing away with your Keyblade and you'll eventually unlock a special finishing move which is handy for dealing with larger creatures or groups.

Should you find the challenge too slight, the difficulty level can be increased at any stage. The game offers a persuasive reason to do so: the harder the game gets, the more fallen enemies will drop rare and valuable items. Some are only available on Proud mode or above, at which point the Heartless grow more numerous and aggressive.

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Like the Mario RPGs, the most powerful attacks require timed button presses to execute.

The game is designed to offer something for everyone. Combat can be relatively perfunctory for those who simply wish to follow the story, and deeper and more satisfying for experienced gamers seeking a more substantial challenge. Those camera issues tend to make higher difficulties feel somewhat unfair, but it's always good to see a game attempt to cater for every player.

One thing the handheld Kingdom Hearts titles lack is the sense of spectacle provided by the PS2 games. Those famous Disney settings naturally look better on a bigger screen, and neither DS game so far has come close to matching the beauty or the scale of those environments.

This puts more pressure on the mechanics of the game, and there's potential for it to buckle under the weight of scrutiny. It feels like there's scope for Kingdom Hearts to develop beyond simple tweaks to the levelling system.

While Re:coded features a clutch of new ideas, it also feels much like the same game fans will have played several times already. Anyone hoping for a significant evolution may be disappointed. However, for those who are able to offer a detailed summary of the story so far from memory, this new instalment in the further adventures of Sora, Mickey, Goofy and co. could fit the bill.

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