The idea behind 3DO's latest action game, GoDai: Elemental Force, is definitely noble. It bears shades of classic ninja action games (think Legend of Kage) and more than a healthy dose of Hong Kong martial-arts/fantasy aesthetics. But its execution, sadly, is terribly flawed, and as a result, the game is barely playable. The benefits of GoDai's smart control scheme and the inherent coolness of the protagonist's formidable powers are mercilessly buried by shoddy collision detection, maddeningly poor frame rates, and a primitive animation system.
GoDai: Elemental Force tells the story of Hiro, a young ninja warrior with a suitably tragic past. His parents were the king and queen of the land, and guardians of the elemental spirit, but shortly after his birth, they were killed by the evil Akunin, the power-hungry leader of a dark ninja sect. Determined to wipe out the royal family to ascend to the position of guardian, Akunin found himself foiled; a certain Master Sho managed to spirit away the young Hiro before the evil ninja lord could get to him. Hiro was then raised in the Sukoto Clan, where he learned all kinds of martial arts and attained mastery over the elements. Akunin is on to him, however, which serves as the catalyst for GoDai's action.
GoDai is a fairly linear 3D action game, with a heavy emphasis on melee combat. Much like Devil May Cry and Silent Bomber before it, the game displays its environments through fixed camera angles, which serves the purpose of keeping the action sequences fairly contained and various jumps manageable. The graphics engine's spotty performance, though, makes the effect much less substantial than in previous games. When the camera is pulled far back, for instance--a technique that is useful not only for displaying large areas but also for facilitating the traversal of complicated platform sequences--the game often comes to a crawl. Granted, the slowdown and reduced frame rate might make it a bit easier to perform the tricky jumps, but in a game that's centered on frenetic action, this is hardly acceptable. And as the camera is usually fixed quite close to Hiro's back, more often than not GoDai simply feels like an over-the-shoulder game with a really bad camera.
If you play it for any extended period of time, you're going to engage in combat. This is where Hiro's collection of powerful moves comes in. You can collect all sorts of ancient Asian weapons in the game, including various types of swords and knives, polearms, and axes, all of which Hiro can use to execute some vicious attack combos. Each weapon uses a pretty similar routine, though a few will grant you a couple of new frames of animation near the end of their combos. The larger weapons are the ones that feel most distinct, and this is simply because their longer reach lets you engage more distant enemies. In any case, you'll be able to take two weapons that you already have into each mission with you, though many more pop up throughout the missions themselves, which basically guarantees you'll have a small arsenal at your disposal for each mission. You'll have access to a few ranged weapons as well, including shuriken, smoke bombs, and several types of ranged magical attacks, like fireballs. Since you hurl these by means of the shoulder buttons, you can often use them in tandem with your melee attacks for some pretty devastating effects.
Hiro's coolest power, though, is his ability to glide through the air. By pressing the triangle button, you'll leap into the air, while retaining full control of your movement as you descend very slowly. The effect is much like what you'd see in a wire-fu movie; Hiro glides through the air by sheer willpower. This takes the place of jumping in the game, and it lets you bypass quite a bit of combat, if you so choose. Some of your enemies will be able to fly too, though, so you'll frequently have pursuers. Hiro also has the ability to roll. It's essentially a dodge move, and use of it is accompanied by a Max Payne-style bullet-time effect, albeit much more poorly done.
Despite all the cool things that Hiro can do, GoDai isn't very engaging to play. The game's collision detection is terribly awkward--many times you'll find yourself walking on air as you move past the edge of large pieces of world geometry, and other times you'll find yourself wounding an enemy that's several feet away from you by slicing thin air. Couple this with a frame rate that barely caps 15fps, and you have something that's painful to behold, much less engage in directly. The game's jerky, choppy animations don't help its cause much either. In games like this, timing and precision are usually pretty important, and both go hand in hand with smooth animation. But Hiro's routines are sloppy and erratic, which most of the time robs the game of any measure of playability. The enemies' routines are even worse, and when combined with the sketchy hit detection, they're quite a cause for frustration.
GoDai doesn't look too hot, either. The frame rates, as mentioned before, are pretty bad, and the texture quality is equally shaky. Hiro himself doesn't look all that good, and most of the enemy models are even worse. While the visual designers definitely had their hearts in the right place--some of the ideas behind the levels and characters are pretty neat--their intentions were apparently thwarted by a harsh development cycle. Most of GoDai's art, as a result, feels very thrown together.
With so many great action games available at the moment, there's no remote reason why you'd want to subject yourself to GoDai. Despite some solid ideas and some very cool game mechanics, the game is technically flawed to a degree that's almost criminal. 3DO clearly didn't give the game the time it needed to have its individual elements fully fleshed out, which is a shame, because GoDai could have been a very cool experience.