Scalebound has been hiding a fundamental gameplay system from us. But now that I've seen it, I'm very excited indeed

Up until now, something has felt a bit lacking in Scalebound. Something bold. Something brash. Something aggressive, and clever, and somewhat intricate in its spectacle. In short, something Platinum. Whenever I've seen the game, it's just seemed to miss that certain something that makes the likes of Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising such an enriching hoot.

It turned out that that's because Platinum was holding back. Platinum was keeping quiet about a key feature of the game. One, in fact, that week very probably define it. But now that I've had it explained, things make a great deal more sense.

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You see, Scalebound isn't just a simple action game about a boy and his pet dragon, fighting side-by-side with other boys and other dragons in four-player co-op. It's not just about launching big sword combos while said dragon mills about in the background smashing up stuff that's too big to smash on your own. You see, as of Gamescom 2016, I now know that that dragon is also your secret, personally customisable, hybrid weapon-set, yours to evoke and augment however you see fit.

It's a constantly evolving, winged battleship of your own design, one that you can tune up, mod out, and reconfigure to fit and compliment your own personal part style. Blend the DNA of a tank breed with that of a faster, more aggressive sub-species if that works for you. then cover it with whatever buff-bringing armour set you feel most appropriate. And while a sentient beast in its own right, your dragon is also yours to pilot at will. And that's where Scalebound's most extravagant play comes from. That's where it becomes a Platinum game.

Because this isn't a simple case of ‘Press X to Dragon’. Nor is it a mere character switch, some kind of big, scaly sentai mode to be triggered for free damage once an arbitrary bar fills up. This is a game by Devil May Cry and Bayonetta boss Hideki Kamiya, and as such, that wouldn't be anywhere near interesting - or fun - enough.

Let's say you're fighting something big. Really big. Like the vast, feathered King Kong-looking monstrosity I see during my demo. You'll be able to do a fair amount of damage with your sword, if you can get close enough to its legs without being rapidly converted into paté. But it will likely be a slow process, and this thing can squash you flat in a couple of hits. You're going to be something bigger.

Enter the dragon.

Activate Dragon Link mode with a quick button press, and you'll switch to a first-person view, looking over at your beast’s position. You'll be rooted to the spot, but you’ll have a nice, pulled-out cinematic perspective on your combat-lizard's position. And you'll now have full control of his actions.

I cannot emphasise this next point hard enough. When it's big monster vs. big monster, Scalebound immediately turns into the best Godzilla game you've ever imagined. Two giant beasties knocking lumps out of each other in close proximity, but with a weighty finesse and versatility that could only come from the studio that managed to make Transformers fun and dynamic to play.

And now you have many more options. You can use your dragon to soften the other monster up. You can use him to smash open weak points that you can then rush in to exploit with your blade. But best of all - and this is the thing that really matters - you can set up huge combos that require dextrous co-operation between the two of you.

Let rip with a dragon combo, and you might be able to trigger a launcher. And yeah, that's exactly as ridiculous a sight as you're imagining. House-sized ape aloft, you can then disengage Dragon Link and charge forward to safely catch it with a juggling sword flurry as it plummets, using the extra air-time to safely activate your own powered-up state on the way in.

This, already, is excellent stuff. Not only does Scalebound have a great combo system, it has a combo system that can span entire arenas without dropping a hit. And it also looks nonsensically cool. But it doesn't stop there. Because then Kamiya asks me to consider something. What if there were two giant gorillas, and my vulnerability during Dragon Link saw me getting stomped left, right and centre? Then my dragon would be on attack and protection duty at the same time.

Or more interestingly, I'd have to ration my use of Dragon Link, constantly shifting my position and setting up all kinds of safe opportunities on the fly. Suddenly it really feels like a Platinum game. And then there's co-op, with the potential for designated guardian Dragons clearing space and running security for the designated Linkers.

The scope of Scalebound just exploded. What once felt like an intriguing and but unfocused concept now feels like an immensely well-considered combat ecosystem where fresh ideas and huge scale dovetail with layered strategy and thoughtful finesse. Basically, in half an hour, Scalebound just went from confusing curio to a game I'm going to be keeping a very enthusiastic eye on until its release. Having now finally seen the real game in action, I'd advise that you do the same.

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David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.