Version tested: DS
Let's be honest: the clamour for improved graphical fidelity plays a big part in driving the progress of new gaming technology. Pretty games sell. Not that all games are reliant on visual frippery, of course, but it's impossible to deny that much of Kingdom Hearts' appeal comes from its lush recreations of famous Disney worlds and the characters that reside therein.
This naturally presents Square Enix with a problem when it comes to the DS. Re:coded is among the better looking games on the system, but there's no doubt the old girl's starting to creak a bit as she prepares to make way for a shiny new model. The PSP's terrific (and technically impressive) Birth By Sleep offered a number of new locations to explore and smash monsters around in, but Re:coded is content to mostly retread old ground, as Sora revisits settings from the first PS2 game. Sadly, these worlds lose much of their impact in the downsizing process.
The plot contrives to find an excuse to return to the likes of Wonderland, Agrabah and the Olympus Coliseum. Jiminy Cricket's computerised journal of the first game's events has been corrupted, and so Mickey, Donald and Goofy decide to send a virtual Sora into the digital world to get rid of the bugs. But soon after you arrive on the Destiny Islands, it's clear these unsightly blocks of code are the least of your problems.
I'm afraid that's your lot as far as story info goes, Square Enix's faintly silly review restrictions preventing me from elaborating much further. Suffice to say that while the plot is more straightforward than most Kingdom Hearts titles, there's a degree of assumed knowledge that means some scenes won't make a jot of sense to newcomers. Given that there's a strong sense of déjà vu to proceedings for those familiar with the series, you do begin to wonder just who the game is aimed at.
There's plenty of toing and froing as you're sent on simple fetch quests by a variety of well-known Disney characters, and along the way you'll spend a fair bit of time smashing the stacks of black blocks which represent the glitches in Jiminy's digital journal. Most hold either restorative items or experience orbs, though they can also be used as stepping stones to reach hidden areas or higher platforms.
Completing missions and defeating certain baddies earns you computer chips, which are placed within a matrix to enhance Sora's powers. It's not entirely dissimilar to Dead Space's weapon upgrades, though here you're levelling up your character more than his arsenal. The rather neat concept of 'dual processing' sees the effect of certain chips doubled if you use them to connect two circuits. This can allow for faster levelling, or hugely increased power in battle – useful during the handful of boss encounters.
There are even 'cheats' of a form, which you can use to tweak the combat mechanics, increasing the amount of experience or cash gained from defeating enemies, but at the cost of making them tougher to beat. The difficulty level can be adjusted at any stage, with rarer and more valuable item drops for those up for the challenge.