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Kingdom Hearts 3D review: A game that thrills... in small doses

Square Enix lets the beat, mmm, drop...

The last time we played Kingdom Hearts: 3D it was for a couple of hand-picked sections, smothered in kanji and with a helpful producer on-hand to put us back on track whenever we got lost. We enjoyed our time with the game, but after an hour of play, in a segment specifically chosen to showcase the game's strengths, we felt exhausted. Now imagine how we feel after playing the finished game.

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For more 3DS reviews visit the Nintendo Gamer website.

You could take any five minutes of Dream Drop Distance and wow even the most jaded J-RPG fan. It looks fantastic, and the freewheeling, acrobatic combat offers some of the best real-time scrapping in the genre. You can visit the world of Tron Legacy! You can make your own party members! You can grind around on a rollercoaster while hunting a fake Pinocchio (don't ask). But once those five minutes are up, it's remarkable how quickly it begins to feel like work.

It's the fault of the absurdly high encounter rate, primarily, but blame also lies with the Drop gauge, a cruel and pointless feature that causes you rush through each secret-stuffed world. Both of these issues could have been forgiven if the story was compelling enough. Sadly, despite early signs of improvement, 3D is just as nonsensical as the previous games.

It starts promisingly enough, with a fight against Ursula from The Little Mermaid. It's an epic enough bout of fisticuffs that soon gives way to the brand new Dive minigame, and a jaunt through the familiar Kingdom Hearts starting world, Traverse Town. Flashbacks reveal that Sora and Riku have been charged with rescuing a number of submerged or asleep Disney worlds, as part of their quest to become Keyblade Masters.

What a dive
Where other games ease you into their features and mechanics, 3D drops you in the deep end wearing a concrete overcoat. The Dive game is simple enough - it's a skydiving minigame that now connects each world - but it's far from the only new feature in the game. The first half-hour is overburdened with the blighters. Given that they're all explained via a single, garish, hard-to-parse tutorial screen, your time in the first Kingdom Hearts world can be a confusing one.

Freeflow is the most entertaining addition to the bombastic combat, probably because it's so much of a natural fit. The weird Square Enix/Disney mash-up has always prioritised movement and energy during battle, and this is their most acrobatic entry yet. As well as combo-dancing bad guys into submission, or launching them into the air like mini-Bayonettas, Sora and Riku can now grind along rails, swing around lampposts, and generally exploit the environment like a certain Tony Hawk. It's enjoyably silly and dizzy, even if the camera frequently struggles to keep track of what's going on.

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Sweet Dreams
Combat is further embiggened by the Reality Shift system, which replaces the summon and limit systems from the previous games. Although it might sound fancy, in reality Reality is just a series of world-specific QTEs that allow you to pull off powerful attacks during battle. These attacks utilise the touch screen in fairly novel ways, providing a welcome bit of variety during the game's annoyingly lengthy fights.

The other Big Things of 3D's lightly revamped battle system are the Dream Eaters, who replace the Heartless from earlier games. Reflecting the game's obsession with duality, they come in two varieties: Nightmares, the ones you fight for the entirety of the game; and Spirits, Sora and Riku's new AI allies. These guys lose points bynot being Donald or Goofy or even a trenchcoat-wearing Mickey Mouse. However, they gain a ton more by being considerably more customisable than either of your formerfriends. Each Spirit comes with its own ability tree, which bestows the twin protagonists with secondary benefits as it's gradually filled in.

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