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PRYZM Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn
Review By:  Jared Black
Developer:  Digital Illusions
Publisher:  TDK Mediactive
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Platform
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  N/A
Date Posted:  7-30-02

Generally budget titles are budget titles for a reason. Usually, it's because the title is either being released for a dead platform (see the PSX's latter releases) or it just sucks. PRYZM Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn is no different, but in this instance it's due to the pathetic graphics engine, not terrible gameplay. Yes, there's actually a good game here.

PRYZM tells the story of a unicorn chosen to rid the land of a plague. Long ago gnomes, trolls, elves, and nymphs all lived in their own lands. Suddenly a plague started sweeping the land, turning many residents into hideous monsters. Those that were able to escape fled to the land of the unicorns. Over time these refugees began to whisper that the unicorns must somehow be behind the plague, since their land was the only one untouched by it. A unicorn seer then predicted that one day a winged unicorn with a sunburst marking would cleanse the lands and heal the afflicted. Wouldn't you know it, that unicorn is Pryzm.

Pryzm is joined by the troll arch-mage Karrock (who rides on her back), and their tandem forms the basis of gameplay. Scattered throughout the land are various plague flowers that must be changed back into healthy ones. Once they are changed, the land around them is cleansed. Complicating matters is the fact that several monsters are usually connected to each flower via a red beam that feeds the flower off of those monsters, so they must first be healed before the flower itself can be. Pryzm's magic and attacks stun the creatures, which can then be healed via Karrock's staff attack. Different attacks work in various manners depending on the world the player is currently in, but generally Pryzm stuns and Karrock vanquishes (healing them).

As you can imagine utilizing this dual setup takes some practice, but luckily the controls are mapped out intuitively. The left analog stick is used for movement, and combined with the L2 button initiates her charge attack. The right analog stick is used to move Karrock's staff around. The X button jumps (double tap it for a stunning Wind spell), the square button casts Karrock's major magic, the triangle button casts Pryzm's major magic, and the circle button acts as a lock-on system. R2 by itself focuses magic on a target (thus increasing its potency), while R3 brings up radar showing all of the flowers in that world. With a little bit of practice, the result is a very intuitive control scheme that is a lot of fun to play.

Restoring the land is no easy task, thanks to some wicked enemy AI. Monsters will chase the player, latch on and suck the player's shield away. The plague flowers release deadly spores, and can hurl them through the air over very long distances. The only sanctuary is the land Pryzm has already cleansed (moving into it restores Pryzm's shield), but the player must first cleanse that land and sometimes it can be very far away. Level design is excellent, with huge sprawling levels filled with interesting landmarks, multiple tiers, challenging platforms, and cleverly placed monsters and plague flowers.

That's really what makes this a good game. Conquering the complicated control scheme takes practice and at first the game is pretty frustrating, but once you get the controls down it becomes extremely enjoyable. You will die many times while playing this game, but almost without fail you'll see some improvement each time. Finally conquering a goal feels extremely satisfying, and it's obvious that winning is the result of skill and not shoddy AI. For the action/platform game fan, this is one game that will test how good they really are. The sense of accomplishment makes it all worth it.

Despite how great the gameplay is, the graphics almost kill this game anyway. This is without a doubt the glitchiest PS2 game I've ever played. The distant background pops in and out in huge chunks, literally right before the player's eyes. The draw-in is hideous, and objects on the ground (such as a patch of grass and flowers that show up after cleansing an area) pop-up mere feet from Pryzm. Character models are very simplistic, as are various objects (houses, carts, etc.) scattered throughout each land. Textures are plain and low-res, with the ground being an ugly N64ish mesh of brown and green. The camera also has trouble keeping up, sometimes to the point of Pryzm being only a vague figure in the distance before it warps back to catch up. The only redeeming features graphically are the nice spell effects and the sheer size of the levels. Large levels would be a legitimate excuse for such graphic shortcomings during the previous generation, but in this day and age the PS2 is capable of so much more. This is nothing more than shoddy programming and artwork, nothing more.

Similarly (but not nearly as horribly), the sound is also a mixed blessing. The music is just awesome, having a nice fantasy feel to it with wonderful production values. It's catchy, and resembles the type of music you'd expect to find in a big budget movie. My only complaint about the music is that it could stand to be a bit longer, as it gets repetitive after a few times through. The voice acting is excellent, but for some reason Karrock and Pryzm trade the exact same two or three barbs throughout an entire level. Here's an example of the typical exchange:

Karrock: "I'm getting really sore from riding!"

Pryzm: "How do you think my back's feeling?"

Throw in a couple more phrases, and then repeat them roughly every 30 seconds throughout the entire level. The first time I heard each of them, I laughed. The 100 billionth time, I wanted to launch my PS2 through the window. Surely if they play tested this game at all they realized how annoying that is, so why it's still in there boggles my mind. TDK should've either given them more catch phrases and/or made them say them less frequently, or eliminated the chitchat completely.

HIGHS:

  • Challenging and rewarding gameplay, which is pretty hard to find these days. This is one game that doesn't pander to the mainstream with simple goals and mindless gameplay.
  • The control scheme is deep and rewarding.
  • The music has an epic feel.

LOWS:

  • Quite possibly the worst graphics yet on the PS2.
  • Repeating the same phrases over and over and over and over again IS NOT a good thing, no matter how good the voice acting is.

FINAL VERDICT:

The graphics are terrible and the voices grow old quickly, but the gameplay rocks. In the end, that's what really matters most. Well, that and the $19.99 budget price tag. If you're a fan of the genre or you've bought the other Greatest Hits games you're interested in already (which retail for the same price and are typically better), then PRYZM Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn is a solid purchase. Just make sure you're ready to take on a challenge.

Overall Score: 7.4

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