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Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance: A portable Fantasia

Sweet dreams are made of keys...

The new issue of Nintendo Gamer is on sale now.

Beginnings are funny things. Considering how few people actually finish games, you'd expect developers to front-load their titles with some of their very best content in order to prevent bored consumers from immediately writing off their masterpiece.

Instead - and RPGs are generally the worst offenders here - they dump you in a small boring village, making you run tedious and menial errands for the first five hours.

The original Kingdom Hearts was a game that got it right. The saga kicked off with a massive, prophetic battle backed up by the sort of classically epic score that Square Enix never seem to come up with any more. The following tutorial area was brief and enjoyable - leaps and bounds above the dreary five-hour slog of its immediate sequel and the confusing starting nonsense of the many, many resulting spin-offs. So no one would blame you if you gave up before any of those games finally opened up.

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After playing through the intro of Dream Drop Distance, and also an entire world somewhere beyond it, we can hardly make the same complaints here. Following a short scene in which series big bad Xehanort springs back to life, good guy Sora and reformed renegade Riku do battle with a giant Ursula-from-The-Little-Mermaid, before being sucked into a whirlpool to begin their latest adventure. That's what we like to see from our Kingdom Hearts: no angst, no gibberish, and no bleddy Roxas.

It's then that one of the game's many interesting new features kicks in. Memoirs are optional cutscenes that help make sense of Kingdom Hearts' labyrinthine backstory, and they're joined by a new database that expands as the game progresses. Fans have been known to frequently tie themselves in knots trying to explain what this guy's Nobody is doing to that guy's Data-Heartless, so perhaps this will draw a line under that 'colourful debate' once and for all.

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Luckily we have a helpful translator on hand to interpret this one, so we know that Riku and Sora have been advised by Mickey's creepy wizard friend Yen Sid to take the Keyblade Mastery Exam. It's the only way to defeat Xehanort once and for all, you see, as he was a powerful keyblade-wielder himself long ago, before he turned to the dark side of the, er, lock.

Master and keymander

Flashback over, we have a chance to check out yet another new feature: the freefalling minigame that now connects each fractured world. As Sora plummets to the ground, you have to help him avoid obstacles with the slide pad while optionally smashing things for points. It's a simple yet enjoyably brisk travel method, and infinitely preferable to another Gummi-ship shoot-'em-up.

Upon crash-landing in the familiar Traverse Town, Sora bumps into Neku from Square Enix's peerless The World Ends With You, who is, predictably, being a sullen-yet-enviously-hip jerk. Once they've made their introductions, Neku guides our relentlessly upbeat hero through the game's new combat and exploration mechanics, or 'Cirque du Soleil' as it's more commonly known.

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Rightly theorising that walking is for chumps, Square have given Sora and Riku the ability to grind the environment, swinging on lampposts or sliding up bannisters like a fantastical Tony Hawk, only without that tiny plank on wheels he likes to get about on. This increased acrobaticism not only makes general getting-about much more enjoyable, it also comes into play during the game's slightly-too-frequent fights.

The two protagonists can now literally run rings around the enemy, thwack them from above, or pick up and chuck the bigger ones in a game of Extreme Shotput. It's all done with the context-sensitive Y button, which does perhaps take a tiny bit of the thrill out of dexterously performing these amazing combos yourself, but only just.

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