Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Amaze Entertainment
Release Date: November 15, 2006
Young fantasy novelist Christopher Paolini has met a measure of success with his debut book, "Eragon," and any time a novel finds a wide audience, Hollywood's not too far behind with a movie deal, ready to milk the intellectual property for every penny it's worth. This also usually leads to a licensed video game deal, with subsequent video game adaptations for every gaming console application out there – including the PSP. Amaze Entertainment and Sierra games have at least put forth the effort to separate this handheld version from its big console counterpart, though. On the PS2, you control young dragon rider, and titular character, Eragon, with on-foot combat reminiscent of EA's Lord of the Rings hack'n'slash games. For the PSP version, you'll instead take to the air as Eragon's mighty blue dragon Saphira.
Chances are, if you're reading this review, you're already a fan of the novels and/or movie, so a recap of the game's story isn't necessary. What is necessary, however, is pointing out that if you're looking for a close adaptation of either the novel or the film, you're not going to get that here. Sure, there are a few cut scenes that will bring you up to speed with what's currently happening, but you probably won't remember a scene from either the book or movie where Saphira had to drop boulders on wolves' lairs so they wouldn't eat all of Eragon's livestock or where Saphira had to take out armored soldiers who were holding gates closed with rotating handle mechanisms.
The actual game controls much like your average flight-combat game, where you maneuver Saphira across a map level, target enemies with an on-screen reticle and work toward meeting a list of objectives. While the book tells a sprawling tale of adventure and thrills through the fantastical world of Alagaesia, Eragon for the PSP is an objective-based action game, separated into several story missions. Hopefully, fans of the novel weren't expecting a fully realized action/adventure game with massive landscapes and epic battles, because this handheld title is far, far from that.
As for how the controls handle, you steer Saphira with the analog nub, press X to accelerate and Square to brake. Little might you have known, flying a dragon is very similar to driving a car … you know, if it had leathery scales, could shoot flames from its grill and fly in mid-air and stuff. Sadly, the controls beyond your basic flying can be rather confusing. You have to tap Square to pull tight corners, double-tap Square to make a sudden turn in the opposite direction and double tap and hold X to perform a speed boost. After you've come to a stationary position by holding Square, you can strafe left and right with the analog, or hold both Square and X to strafe vertically, up or down. If you're already lost, imagine trying to remember all of this while trying to complete timed objectives.
To further complicate matters, the overall handling just isn't very good. Part of this has to do with all of the movement being delegated to the single analog nub. When you're trying to track a mobile enemy target, it's much too easy to over- or undershoot their location and take large amounts of unnecessary damage. It can also be rather taxing getting yourself centered, or back on track, once you've adjusted your flying position. You'll spend a lot of time flying in small, concentrated circles trying to spot miniscule, hard-to-see targets, especially if you're attempting to pick up an enemy or object with your claws by pressing the Circle button. I found myself aimlessly meandering about far too often, just waiting for the grabbing action icon to appear on the screen.
The complications do not end there, regretfully. Even simple combat can become extremely irksome because of poorly planned button mapping. To attack your foes while flying Saphira solo, you tap the right trigger to spout a single fireball projectile, and you hold down the trigger to shoot a steady blast of radial fire. However, sometimes your fire won't get the job done, and you'll need Eragon riding on a saddle on your back. With him flying tandem, you can press the left trigger to initiate different arrow attacks or magic spells. You have to keep track of which type of attack you want to use, though, and this can be really frustrating when you're wanting to use specific attacks but have to waste precious time shuffling through arrow types and spells with the directional pad.
For a game obviously aimed at children, Eragon is rather difficult. Some mission objectives will require multiple, almost tiresome, tries before you'll get the job done. One particular boss battle that takes place halfway through the story mode is too hard for its own good. How younger audiences are expected to finish some of the overly tough scenarios in this game is entirely beyond me.
Fortunately, if you get tired of the story mode, there's also a bevy of arena challenges you unlock by completing each story mission. These challenges are the same game types also available in the multiplayer mode, ranging from deathmatches to capture the flag and all of the other match styles found in most games these days. You can unlock different dragon riders and armor types by completing the challenges, which you can also use in multiplayer mode. Multiplayer play can only be done through Ad Hoc mode, though, so you'll have to find some local friends to play along with you. This game does support the Game Sharing feature, so at least the multiplayer's not a total waste.
Eragon isn't going to win any awards in the gameplay department, and the same could probably be said about its presentation. All of the environments are really generic, look extremely washed out, and define the word "bland." The model for Saphira looks a lot better than everything else, but that's not saying much. The smaller animal and human models look almost comically bad, and the fire and lighting effects are anything but impressive. Unlike the PS2 version, the PSP iteration doesn't have the added bonus of the film actors providing voice work, either. Here, we're given mediocre sound-alikes that deliver their lines with all of the excitement of a dead cat. The game has been blessed with the film's rousing orchestrated score, however, so you won't feel obligated to turn down the PSP's volume all the way.
Eragon is a great example of why most people stay far away from licensed video games. Much like most licensed products, they're rushed to shelves for their marketability and not because they're actually worth your time or money. As I mentioned, for a game apparently seeking a younger audience, it can be far too difficult at times, and most children will probably even realize just how shallow the game's single-player experience is after 30 minutes. The multiplayer can be surprisingly fun, but only in small doses. Eragon fanatics who must own all things Eragon-related are going to buy this game, regardless of my recommendation. If I were you, I'd leave this dragon inside of its bad egg and forget that you ever found it.
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