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Dawn of Mana - first look hands-on

Seven. That's how many years the fans of the long-running, but sparsely updated, Secret of Mana franchise have been waiting for a new entry. Oh, they've seen a couple of handheld adaptations here and there, but we're talking a full blown, console action-RPG sequel. Heck, if you go by the official numbering system and don't count 2000's Legend of Mana, the true wait since number three has been more like twelve years. And that was a Japan-only title...

2007 will finally see the release of Dawn of Mana, number four in the main Secret of Mana series, now referred to by publisher Square as World of Mana. Can the game possibly live up to more than a decade of building expectation?

It's certainly willing to take risks to do so. The very first, plainly obvious thing we noticed when beginning Dawn is that it looks and feels completely different from its predecessors, the 16-bit Secret and even the PlayStation Legend. Pretty simple reason - this game's all 3D. No longer confined within a top-down or straight-up side scroller, the player can run, jump, double jump and somersault through a fully three dimensional version of the Mana universe.

But that change is unsurprising - in fact, it's long overdue. What will really shock old school fans is the engine that's being used to bring their classic and colorfully spritey world of swords, dragons and magical tree spirits to life. Would you believe the Havoc engine from Half-Life 2? And, even if you did, would you believe that Dawn is using the engine in much the same way that the first person shooter does?

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