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Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Camelot
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Release: US Q4 2010



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Even a creepy forest is colorful in the world of Golden Sun.
 
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Buy somethin' will ya!
 
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I choose you! Djinn!
 
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Remember kids, always play with fire.
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Sam Hansen
Hands-On Preview
06/22/10
Sam Hansen

Teased at E3 2009, playable at E3 2010, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has finally found its way into my loving, cootie-ridden hands.

It's been a long, arduous road for the development team behind this series' third installment, and for us, that's a healthy helping of time spent not thinking about those past two games. If you're going into this next one with a fleeting mind, don't be so quick to dust off that old cartridge for a refresher course just yet. Set to take place thirty years after the adventures of our original cast of characters, Dark Dawn will be readily equipped with its own slew of fresh faces and dastardly villains (many of which will probably also have faces of the fresher variety). Of course, with this being a Golden Sun game, not all ties are severed. The group of alchemic cadets this time around look eerily similar to the Isaac and co. we've all grown to know and love, and my demo guide was quick to confirm their kinship to the aforementioned heroes of yore.

The similarities don't end with just the character designs, however, as the entire demo absolutely reeked of Golden Sun tropes. It stank no matter where you sniffed, but that's hardly a problem for a series as established as this. The graphics, for one, are extremely reminiscent of its GBA ancestry, with everything from the trees and rock formations to the pots and pillars exactly as you would expect them to be with a shiny, DS gloss. I'd actually go so far as to say that the artstyle hasn't changed at all, with the exception that everything appears to be a bit rounder and fuller than what we saw in The Lost Age. I always saw the graphics as an ugly-beautiful sort of thing – pretty colors and smooth movements on the one hand, jagged and blurred-out on the other – and Dark Dawn definitely retains that despite its updated feel. Animations out of combat will hearken back to the familiar, as well. Using Push psyenergy and watching that fluffy Mickey Mouse glove do what it does best never failed to get me a tad bit giddy with nostalgia.

It almost goes without saying that the battle system, from the looks of it, has remained entirely unchanged, as well, with the exception of the obligatory touch screen functionality. Players will be trouncing their foes with physical attacks and magic in turn-based fashion, summoning their trusty Djinn for additional damage when opportunity arises. As soon as characters deplete their Djinn stock, an additional option to utilize them in an exaggerated summon spell becomes available. While it remains to be seen how many Djinn can be equipped, the demo set me with two per character, allowing me to make quick work of the demo's final boss. Three summons later and he's disintegrating before my eyes and leaving behind delicious money and treasures.

A minor gameplay tweak that I've always wanted (and purposefully hunted for during my hands-on time) was an updated auto-targeting system. In the past games, when you had two characters set to attack an enemy, the second character would just defend once the first got rid of their mutual target, even though there were clearly other enemies to go after. You would end up wasting turns because your team was too dumb to lock onto someone that wasn't dead. Luckily, this has been corrected this time around, which means no more needless turn frittering. Characters will now retarget onto someone else like any normal RPG AI would, and I couldn't be more peachy.

And I don't mean to play the broken record here, but everything outside of the oh-so familiar battles promises to play out identically to past games as well. Protagonist Matthew and friends can equip psyenergy spells on the fly and utilize them accordingly. Need to set something on fire? Press the R button, rotate the aiming reticule with your stylus and give the screen a gentle flick, and you'll be igniting fuses to knock down bridges in no time. Need to access an inaccessible cliff? Plug up these water geysers with those conveniently placed rock formations and use the increased pressurization to blast yourself up. Duh. These new touch controls, while admittedly wonky at first, felt fine as I made my way through the demo. It would be an outright farce to call them by any name other than "Totally Expected," but they do a fine job of transitioning the somewhat antiquated franchise into the modern age.

That's kind of what Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is shaping up to be: A technically sound, up-to-date version of a familiar formula. Nothing revolutionary, but inherently progressive nonetheless. It's Golden Sun; what more do you need?

Expect some dark discoveries and even darker dawns come this holiday season.



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