A Closer Look at Pryzm, Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn
So I am at my local second hand (a marvelous little spot called MUST HAVE Music and More, big shout out for those guys, they rock) and I’m browsing the Gamecube, PS2, and Wii games when I spot the impossible. Yes, the impossible. Amidst the used copies of Kingdom Hearts and God of War, I see a game with a price tag that is too cheap to be real. There, on the shelf is a PS2 game with the low, low price of $5. Yes, $5. So I have to know, right. What kind of game is so bad that it only fetches $5 on the second hand market? How bad can it really be? $5?
The cover of the game case clearly shows a dwarf brandishing a magic wand and riding a unicorn fighting some kind of slightly armored skeletons. Not an instant indicator of loserdom, although the assemblage is rather unexpected. The game is called Pryzm, Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn. No real help there, had it been called “Super Dwarf and the Pegasus Coalition,” we might have cause to worry, scorn even, but Pryzm isn’t a terrible title. Are you sure this game is only $5? So I ask my guy, “why is this game $5? Can it really be that bad? Do you know anything about it?” Promptly, because my guy at MUST HAVE is very cool, he jumps on a certain website to check user reviews. While none of them are dismal, most 3 out of 5 stars or something, none of them are glowing either. Yet one stands out. According to this particular reviewer the game is a bit tedious, but fun and the reviewer only picked the game up in the first place because he was a fan of unicorns! You read that right; he was a fan of unicorns. Well, could any game that appeals to a unicorn fan be too good for yours truly?
Not for five dollars.
So I bought Pryzm, Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn and brought it home. Now I’m no big fan of unicorns like our friend the reviewer, but I’m willing to at least give the game a try for five dollars. I mean, it’s a PS2 game, for…five…dollars. At the very least the cuts scenes are going to be worth five dollars, right? Well, not exactly.
Pryzm is a game about a troubled land which has fallen victim to a deadly plague that has transformed the four realms of the trolls, gnomes, elves and nymphs into dark, twisted mirror images of themselves. The plague is spread through viral plague flowers that have cropped up in the realms and spewed poison across the land. Only the peaceful unicorn realm of Tu-lum has been spared. (I know, but hang in there) It is there that hope for the realms lies in the form of a young unicorn named Pryzm. Pryzm is the unicorn of prophecy said to be the only one capable of cleansing the land of the plague. The unicorn council has entrusted this dangerous quest to the ambitious Pryzm and her uneasy ally, Karrock the troll arch-mage. (You’ve made it this far, you’re in this thing now, keep reading)
The main purpose of the game is to work your way through each of the four realms, comprised of four regions and a final showdown with a plague boss. In each region you must seek out six plague flowers and heal them with your magic. Both Pryzm and Karrock possess healing magic that can restore the flowers to their true glory. The inhabitants of each region have been horribly mutated by the plague, thus you must cure them as well. Some inhabitants are linked to the plague flower itself and must be healed before you can have any effect on the flower. Once a flower is restored, the surrounding area will be renewed and your health and magic levels will be restored so long as you remain in that area. Cure all six flowers and the entire region will be restored and you will move on to the next region.
You may explore the realms in any order any and may leave one realm for another at any time via the map screen. You may also return to the unicorn realm if you are sadistic enough to want an extra dose of bad voice acting and N64 level graphics (more on that in a minute). Once an entire realm is healed you will be automatically returned to the unicorn realm and be subjected to the aforementioned bad voice acting anyway.
As you play the game, the truth behind the plague will be revealed as well as the one responsible for inflicting it upon the land. (I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with Ze Hark Punicorn). These cut scenes might be some of the creepiest, scariest things I have ever been witness to in my years of video gaming (and that includes countless jolts from playing Haunted House when I was eight). While I won’t spoil the surprise, in case you decide to give this game a try, I will tell you not to
play this game late at night with no lights on, if you like being able to go to sleep later.
Honestly, the game isn’t all that bad. The world is pretty cool if lacking in depth. The level designs are reminiscent of Gauntlet: Legends for the N64 (partially due to the graphics), wherein you have a large area to explore, but really only a single goal in mind. You are free to look around all you like, and while there are some neat set dressings here and there, you’ll not find much depth to the world you are playing in. The unicorn castle is particularly well rendered, but ultimately a little unfulfilling. Overall, the visual quality of the game is on par with the very best N64 games. Blocky, but well drawn, everything save the scant few FMVs looks about as good as Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Which means it could be a whole lot worse, but probably a lot better for the PS2. Those FMVs that do exist are up to par for the system and they are used for some of the more important parts of the story, particularly those horrific scenes I described above, but they are not enough to carry the game.
In terms of game play, Pryzm offers a very straightforward play. While it isn’t quite pick-up-and-play, it should only take a few levels to get the hang of the controls and how to meet your objectives. I was still making discoveries four and five levels deep. The levels are fun and not overly difficult, although there are a few parts of the game that seem impossible. They are not; I have beaten the game. There is a level of frustration that sometimes rears its ugly head and maybe makes you want to go play something else for a while, but chances are pretty good you’ll come back and give that particular level another try after you have cooled off. That is one of the game’s strong points, the levels are non-linear and if one area is giving you the fits, you can always try a different one. The boss fights are not terribly difficult, but each one is unique and you’ll have to develop different strategies to defeat them. Controlling Pryzm is intuitive and simple and you’ll rarely be asked to execute a maneuver that is beyond your abilities.
Thankfully, there are no tedious jumping puzzles here. The main deficit in the game play is the lack of development. While this fundamentally speaks to the classic gamer in me who likes the idea that everything you need to know about the game is given to you from the start, I somehow expect a little more from a PS2 game of this caliber. Pryzm could desperately use at least a few power-ups, level-ups, items, NPC characters to talk to, something more than what is there on the surface. With just a little extra depth this game could be vastly improved.
Possibly one of the most lacking, and sometimes irritating, parts of the game is the sound. First of all, the voice acting is atrocious. I mean we are talking bad dinner theatre atrocious. Were I the people responsible for producing this rubbish, I would continue my career under a nom de plume and deny all knowledge of this project. Imagine the worst children’s cartoon, say Herculoids, and then triple the absence of quality in the voice acting and you have something that is only slightly better than the voice of the unicorn leader. While the above diatribe wasted more of your time than you probably would have liked, it does not really do the voice acting in this game justice. The only cool voice belongs to the terrifying evil creature responsible for the plague. You’ll know him when you encounter him. Not only is the voice acting devoid of quality, you get to hear a lot of it on your quest because Pryzm and Karrock are constantly talking to each other. That alone wouldn’t be so bad, excepting that they are only programmed to say two phrases at a given time. This means you’ll be sick of whatever they have to say before you have completed your first level. The only bright spot lies in the fact that the two phrases change as you complete more of your quest; and once you beat the game if you replay a level, they never talk at all. So, while it is tedious, it isn’t as bad as it could have been.
Playing Pryzm is overall a pretty fun ride, but the lack of depth mentioned above, the sub-par graphics, and horrendous voice acting all combine to keep it from being the upper tier game it could have been. There is enough here to make this game worth playing and chances are pretty good I’ll play through it again someday just for the fun of it. As for whether it is classic or crap, I cannot relegate this game to the crap pile along with LJN’s X-men for the NES and Sonic Shuffle for the Dreamcast (someday I will tell you that story). Pryzm isn’t quite a true classic, but it is far closer to classic than crap. One thing I can say for absolute certain is that Pryzm, Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn is definitely worth the whopping $5 I paid for it. If you come across this game in a similar, albeit unlikely, situation I say buy with confidence and enjoy!
The Final Look:
If you see this game somewhere and it’s cheap enough, it is worth a look, but don’t go out of your way to add it to your collection. It is ten, maybe fifteen, dollars worth of fun at the most. And with that we bid a fond farewell to the land of dwarves who ride unicorns. As a side note, I also picked up a copy of Britney’s Dance Beat at the same time, also for five dollars, maybe someday I’ll tell you about that one….
Join me next time when I’ll take a Closer Look and tell you if Chester Cheetah really is Too Cool to Fool on the SNES. Yeah, I know…
Guide follows after the jump!
TIPS AND TRICKS
(SPOILER WARNING!! The final boss battle is detailed at the end of this section. Reading it will ruin the ending of the game, do not read the final boss strategy unless you are unconcerned about learning the truth behind the plague)
First, a few general tips as you set out on your quest and then we’ll take a closer look at several of the tighter spots you might find yourself in through the various realms:
It may not seem important at first, but learn the different types of magic Pryzm and Karrock can use in each realm. It has been my experience that there is one spell you cannot do without and one that you will rarely use. This changes per realm and you’ll probably go mad if you do not figure out which one has the greatest effect on your enemies from area to area. Enemies that are magically shielded are generally only vulnerable to one kind of magic.
Pryzm’s “magic wind attack” is fairly useless as an offensive maneuver. It is helpful, however, in making long jumps if you need an additional boost.
Unless you are just interested in exploring the world, move from one flower to the next as quickly and efficiently as possible. There is no real benefit to curing enemies not attached to a flower since they are going to revert back shortly after and nothing is gained from doing thusly.
Use the charge move to quickly navigate away from enemies and progress to the next flower. The radar is your friend.
Use the targeting button to lock on to the enemy you are trying to attack, and bosses like Monarch, lest other enemies get in the way and use up valuable magic otherwise intended for real targets. This will also ensure that you hit your target despite environmental obstacles. In the tougher levels this will be a must.
I found it easiest to tackle the realms in the following order: Elves, Trolls, Gnomes, Nymphs.
The Nymph realm is hands down the toughest in the game with area 1 (Say-Sue) and 4 (Suz-Soo) being nearly impossible. Although I started with the Trolls, I found the Elves overall easier to complete.
Troll Realm 3 (Pec-Mas-A)
Toward the end of this realm there is a flower on a small island surrounded by lava. The two linked enemies are on opposing islands on either side of the flower. This makes it extremely hard to vanquish them both in the time allotted and still knock out the flower without losing your shield to the lava, the poison gas, and the tiny men that are being thrown at you. Do not panic. Quickly as you can, tackle the enemy on the right with Karrock’s staff magic. Then work your way counter-clockwise around the flower to the other enemy, killing the tiny men and keeping them safely in the lava as you progress. Knock out the other enemy with range magic and immediately target the flower. Try to remain still as you unload on the flower with your remaining range magic. Immediately jump to the flower’s island as it changes to be sure you are instantly healed.
Troll Realm 4 (Zuc-Mas-A)
The final flower in this realm is tucked far below the surface and is only accessible from a long path that begins atop the mountain. Getting there will be half the battle. I recommend a full gallop while using Karrock’s staff attack to ward off any tiny men or gremlins that try to snag you. You can use Pryzm’s wind attack, but it isn’t terribly helpful. Make a mad dash for the cavern where the flower resides. Once you get there, you’ll have to take out a mounted troll and a gremlin. The troll is closest to the entrance of the cave, so take him out first with range magic (he is shielded). Once he is healed, make for the gremlin on the right of the flower. Be careful, he has a tendency to run for the lava pit as you approach. Try to cut him off as he makes a break for it. Take him out with Karrock’s staff and then target the flower. Unload with your remaining range magic. All the while you should be fending off the tiny men as they are tossed at you from all around the room. This can become frustrating quickly, but it is possible. Keep at it.
Gnome Realm 4 (Kay-Moo)
This area is really tough due to the sheer number of artillery gnomes that hit you with everything from tiny men to poison gas. Add to the fact that they are magically shielded and you’ll be spending range magic like there is no tomorrow.
The first flower in this area is a portent of things to come. The flower is tucked away inside a structure that is only accessible from a single point. The linked enemies are outside the structure and scattered. Your best approach is to locate the entrance to the structure first, this is not easy because the state of disrepair makes it hard to tell where you can get in. Once you figure out how to get in, the enemies should be on you. Use range magic on the shielded mounted gnome and then take out the smaller gnome with Karrock’s staff. When both are vanquished, get inside and take out the flower.
The last flower in this realm is much like the first, but much harder. This time the flower is in a structure atop a hill that is only accessible via a narrow path. The three, yes three, linked enemies are all mounted and scattered. Your best attack is to run around the hill counter-clockwise and try to lure all the enemies near the path that leads up the hill. Since all three are magically shielded you’ll need the ranged magic. Try to take them all out immediately and stay near the path. When all three are healed, make a mad dash up the path, ignore the artillery gnome and get inside the structure. Knock out the flower quickly or it will re-establish its link with the cured gnomes. This takes precise timing, so you may try a few times before you get it.
Nymph Realm 1 (Say-Sue)
Right off the bat you’ll find out why the Nymph realm is the toughest in the game. The second flower you come to is linked to a water nixie out in the marsh where you cannot get to her. You’ll have to target her and use Pryzm’s magic to take her out, all the while knocking hive wasps off your back with Karrock’s staff. It sounds easy, but it took me a while to figure it out.
To get the most out of Pryzm’s magic hold down the triangle button when you lock on and a continuous stream of magic will wash over your enemy.
The last flower in this area is atop a hill and covered with hive wasps, plus it is linked to two mutated nymphs that shoot those poison rings at you. This is one of the toughest flowers in the game. While a full frontal assault isn’t impossible, the wasps tend to swarm you quickly and the flower launches spores three at a time. You can do it, but you’ll have to be good. My best strategy involves a small elevated path just off the right side of the hill under an arch. As soon as I mount the hill, I target the right nymph and start blasting with Pryzm’s magic. While I do this I make a break for that path. Once you get down the path, the wasps give up pursuit, but the nymph does not. From that point you can wail on the nymph with Pryzm’s magic until she is healed. (If you get really lucky she will pursue too far and the link to the flower will be broken, but don’t count on it!) Once she is taken care of, you have to hurry or the flower will re-establish the link. Return to the hill, but circle to the right past the small stone pile. Immediately target the other nymph and drain what is left of Pryzm’s magic. You should have enough to take care of it, if not finish the nymph off when it gets close with Karrock’s staff. Then make for the flower and heal it with Karrok’s staff. If you are lucky and a little bit good, you’ll clear the level.
Nymph Realm 4 (Suz-Soo)
This is considered the toughest realm in the game. There are lots and lots of hive nests that plague you with poison wasps, few of them get cured by being near flowers, and your shield is constantly being worn away by enemies and poison. There are more than a few places here where you will swear the game cannot be beaten. But don’t give up, these areas can be tackled, but it will take some patience and practice.
The third flower in this area may be the little brother to that last flower from level one in terms of difficulty. The flower is across a long tree root bridge and is linked to three magically shielded enemies: one hive and two earth nymphs. To do this successfully you are going to have to be near perfect and judicious with your magic use. As you head across the bridge, target the hive off to the right first. Take it out with range magic, but be easy as you don’t want to use more than you absolutely have to. Next, pick a nymph and go after it, again being very conservative with your magic. You should have a little bit left. Use it up on the third nymph until you are dry, then go after the nymph with Pryzm’s charge attack, since it does a little bit of healing as it hits. If you are quick and keep the nymph targeted, you can take him out like this pretty quickly. Immediately make for the flower and heal it with Karrock’s staff. Then go eat a sandwich, you will have earned it.
The next flower is connected to four enemies, fortunately this time only two are shielded. There are linked hives flanking either side of the flower and two of those sticky tongued mutants. The mutants go down quickly against Karrock’s staff, so save them for later. Focus your attention on taking out those two hives first, targeting one and then the other with Pryzm’s magic. Be careful, one is hidden behind some roots and will be hard to get a good shot at. Best to take out the other one first. This flower is tricky, but not so hard that it cannot be done after a little practice.
The final flower in this area is tough, maybe not as tough as the third flower, but it will require strategy. Again a hive is linked, but hidden by roots. This should be your first priority as it will be immediately on your left as you enter the area. Target it and use range magic to take it out quickly. Then shift your focus to the earth nymph on the other side of the flower. Again, target and use range magic. Finally, there is a tongue mutant tucked away behind some roots near where the hive was. Use Karrock’s staff to heal him up and then hurry to the flower heal it and you are done. Done with the hardest level in the game. The rest is cake.
Here are a few tips for the four bosses:
Hemlock- Elf Realm (Quil-Fee-Ut)
This is a pretty straightforward fight. Just watch the roots on the ground as you charge Hemlock or you’ll stumble and mis-target. Also bear in mind that Hemlock only stops in a few choice locations. Learn where they are and just head for those spots when he takes off.
Tundra- Troll Realm (Gal-Mis-Um)
This fight isn’t too tough either. Tundra’s main attacks are his shockwave attack and his propensity for sending out icy tiny men to plague you. The tiny men are easily fended off with Karrock’s staff. The shockwave can be jumped over with Pryzm’s wind attack (finally it is useful!) Otherwise, just wail on him with your combo magic attack.
Warden- Gnome Realm (Kee-Nu)
This boss can be a real pain, but I have figured out a strategy that makes him pretty simple if you are fleet of foot. The majority of Warden’s lava pit is surrounded by high cliffs, meaning that to do battle with him you’ll have to get down and dirty. No problem except when you score a hit on him, he floods the arena with lava and that takes out your shield almost immediately. However, on the left side of the lava pit there is an inclined area leading out of the pit. Hit Warden once and then retreat to this ramp. Watch as Warden floods the arena and mark the highest crest of the lava on the ramp. Remember this spot. For the remainder of the confrontation, use this ramp as your access to Warden. Run into the arena, attack, and then retreat up the ramp to the safe area. Wait for the lava to recede, repeat. For best attack results and maximum lava boulder avoidance, there is a small jutting rock near the base of Warden’s pool. From that rock you can get a clear target on Warden without getting bombarded with his lava boulders and without setting off his lava shockwave.
Monarch- Nymph Realm (Zi-Yil)
The toughest boss for the toughest realm seems appropriate. Monarch is tough because he moves around so much and has an attack that is indefensible. That said, with a little practice you can take Monarch down. First, learn the terrain. Monarch’s marsh is pock marked with poison swamp water, stay out of these at all costs. Second, the marsh is littered with debris which will cause you fits as you try to escape Monarch’s swarm attack. Take a few trips into the marsh to learn your way around. Second, try to keep Monarch targeted at all times. He moves around a lot and if you don’t know where he is you will waste time tracking him down and miss opportunities to attack. You can only do damage to Monarch when he lands, so keep an eye on him and when he starts to settle down make a bee-line for his location charging Karrock’s range attack the entire way. As soon as you hit him, Monarch is going to be mad and start in with his attacks. He has two. The lesser attack is the poison powder attack where he sprays poison powder at you in successive bursts. These tend to dissipate rather quickly and do not do much damage when they hit you. His stronger attack is his swarm attack wherein he sends a swarm of tiny insects after you. This swarm will seek you out and does not dissipate for a very long time. Your only chance to evade them is to charge Pryzm as far from Monarch as you can as fast as you can. Keep running, and watching your back until the swarm is gone. Every time Monarch lands, charge up and hit him hard with combo magic, then retreat. Repeat until Monarch is dust. This will not be easy, but with some patience and planning you can topple Monarch once and for all.
Final Boss (SPOILER WARNING!!)
The final boss fight is against Zartu the Dark Unicorn. This battle isn’t particularly difficult, but it is annoying and frustrating. Zartu’s main attack is to sprout plague flowers on the battle field and have them launch plague spores at you. These flowers can be beaten in any of the conventional ways, but combo magic works best. Once you have eliminated all of the flowers he sprouts, Zartu will shoot balls of energy at you and then land. His landing is your only occasion to assault him directly with combo magic. After a few seconds, Zartu will take to the air again, but only after sending out a paralyzing wave in your direction. If you are caught in the wave you will be unable to move and Zartu will charge you and take about a third of your life. There is one defense, if you time it just right you can use Pryzm’s wind attack to repel Zartu at the moment of contact. If you miss, whammo! Once Zartu regains the air, he will sprout more flowers and you’ll go again. The more damage Zartu takes, the more flowers he will sprout until pretty soon the entire battlefield is cluttered with poison clouds. Your best strategy for taking out the flowers is to remain along the edge of the battlefield, target a flower and take it out with combo magic. Once it has been eliminated, charge away from the spot quickly, by that time the other flowers will have honed in on your location and will be launching spores. Repeat this process until all of the flowers are gone, then go after Zartu. Zartu launches two rounds of energy blasts before he lands. Dodge his blasts while charging Karrock’s range magic and targeting Zartu. The second he touches down, unload on him with combo magic and then charge to one side or the other to avoid the paralyzing wave. Repeat this process until Zartu falls to your might.