There should be no shame in sticking to a formula. I can bake a cake if I do what Delia tells me. And those cars seem fairly content rolling around on those wheels. Even cheating in exams still works perfectly. So why should Wanako have to make hover boards for Arkadian Warriors? It's just a bite-sized action role-playing game for Live Arcade after all. And so, unapologetically, it hasn't.
Off we go to ancient Greece for a thinly spun yarn about some mythical beasts who saved the land once and are now embodied by three heroes who will be called on to rid the land of the Gorgon, or Medusa as you probably prefer her. These are Warrior, Archer and Mage, representing Lion, Dragon and Phoenix. This is the first big idea; that you can morph into these Alter Egos to stamp around and do massive damage after you have killed enough enemies and filled up your yellow bar. And this is all made to look nice by a cute art style featuring big eyes and heads on small bodies, complimented by a detailed if rather lengthy tutorial text section for newcomers to the genre.
The big ideas stop there. And you should know the rest. Hello can I kill some fantasy creatures for you? Yes here is a portal to the dungeon. Press the attack button lots and then lock-on (not mandatory) to the next beast. Go downstairs when the objective on this level is complete. Boss. Turn into Alter Ego and stamp around. Win and level up and get a new special attack. Quest complete and portal back to town. Get reward and go to shop. Go on new quest. Repeat for more loot if you like. It's tried and tested - a routine others have done rather successfully before. But not here.
I laughed at Tom and Dan when they were instantly bored, as I was so sure it would open up and offer more than one disastrously dark dungeon with a handful of minor variations. But my outside environment never materialised and the city never expanded past those mysteriously placed guards blocking the path to, well, nothing.
Arkadian Warriors only reached its most engaging when the difficulty shot up and suddenly enemies took chunks rather than nibbles. But this also made most of my (pre-determined) special skills useless, as pausing to yell or pull off a special move meant enemies catching up and filling their bellies. And too much death was either game-over or back to town with all progress in the dungeon forgotten, including loot and experience earned. So, given the repercussions, confronting an entire room of beasties was a surprisingly good crack.
Alter Egos offered a brief reprise from all the instant death with their almost impenetrable hides, but slow movement and weird stamp attacks that only damaged those close around you hardly conjured the image of trotting off on a mythical blood bath. Even bosses were limp; too infrequent and easily dispatched using identical hit and run tactics deployed everywhere else. Once the equipment stopped getting better I nearly cried. Like a girl.
Co-operative adventures with a friend add little else, as both of you are confined to, and given, camera controls over one shared screen. Cue I want to go this way no I do. Bizarrely, online sticks to the same rules, even though each of you has your own telly. And why can only two of us play when there are three classes? Not being able to tinker with the control layout or axis inversion and sensitivity was a real annoyance too, as was having no power over the brightness in-game.
There should be no shame in sticking to a formula, but Arkadian Warriors reproduces it with so little ambition it plays like an ABC of what the genre needs to avoid to move forwards; appearing content to wallow in a stereotype because action role-playing games are under-represented on Live Arcade. Its charm is being accessible and cute, but it soon fades into an adventure more monotonous than entertaining. Apologists may carve an afternoon of fun for themselves with a friend, but most should be looking elsewhere. Titan Quest is a good place to start.
Arkadian Warriors costs 800 Microsoft Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.30) and is out now.