Like standing upon the deck of a rolling ship at sea, Galleon is an experience that takes some getting used to. The opening begins with the proud face of Captain Rhanma, the star of our island-based adventure, standing upon the deck with a letter in hand as the camera turns to take in the surroundings... it's a pity that the graphics are at least a generation too late to be impressive. The voiceover of the letter is superbly voice-acted.. revealing a plot so clichéd it's hard not to feel queasy about it, but just wait until you get to actually move Rhanma for the first time.
The developers made the odd choice of putting the player not in control of our stalwart hero, but instead of the camera that guides his journey, instilling a delay in Rhanma's movements that increases when he runs. As a result, the camera, which has always been a pox on 3D games and platformers especially, is where you need it to be nearly a hundred percent of the time, and those times it isn't can easily be fixed by switching to first person view. The tutorial warns you not to worry should Rhamna go out of sight, but since it happened to me only twice through the course of the game, it seemed hardly worth mentioning.
The cost of this perfect camera, however, is that the actual movement in the game is awkward with Rhamna often slipping and sliding like he's keen on greased footwear. You would think this would make the sometimes tricky platforming an exercise in frustration, but the fearless captain also comes equipped with any number of moves to hop, climb, and grab onto ledges with ease, that keep him from sliding to oblivion. The one real flaw is his jumping ability, where you will find yourself overshooting by a wide margin most of the time, even when you think you've gotten it down. Only a mild problem when you're in a cave where nowhere to fall to, but it becomes a greater concern when the slip makes you leap from the top of the island all the way to the ground far below. Instant Rhanma pancake.
The basic mechanics of Galleon's platform-themed adventures aren't anything you haven't seen before, with the exception of rock climbing. No doubt due to some ninja blood in his veins, Rhamna can scale any rough surface, running up the side of mountains and hanging from deadly drops with ease. Not only is it a clever gimmick, but it's used intelligently throughout the game, including appearing in some of the bigger boss battles. Strangely, Rhama feels significantly less awkward scrambling up the side of a stone cliff than he does standing on his two pencil-thin legs.
Unfortunately, the developers decided they needed to create a whole section of the game in teaching you all the ins and outs of Rhanma's abilities, and though it's dressed up a bit, that's exactly what it feels like. It would have been better for them to take the Prince of Persia route and incorporate these explanations in sections of the game that are actually fun to play. There are even later short tutorials in Galleon handled in this fashion and they don't slow down the action one knot.
With the tutorial out of the way, our hero gets his first taste of grog-fueled fisticuffs... and here's where what could have been a pleasant, and certainly not trouble free, voyage comes to a crashing halt. Though Rhanma has a number of fighting abilities at his disposal, including special attacks he'll earn during the course of the fight, the vast majority of enemies in the game, and there is a painfully vast number of them, can be defeated simply by grabbing, smacking, and tossing. Combine this with awkward collision detection on top of already awkward controls, you have a situation which starts off tedious and only sinks lower from there. Perhaps the worst thing about these battles is there's absolutely no point in fighting them, and no reward to gain for doing so. Fortunately, the inescapable boss battles tend to be a little more inventive, though by the end you're bound to wish they scrapped the idea of combat entirely.
Another thing that can't be skipped are the game's cut-scenes, unfolding a tale that feels like a sea-going episode of Johnny Quest. It's a pity because the main character Rhanma oozes charisma and charm, that it's not surprise that all the ladies fall at his feet... too bad the same can't be said of his stereotypical female co-stars or much of the rest of the cast. Perhaps the worst moment was when Rhanma was forced to drop his sword by the villain in order to spare the life of one of these women, yet not the twenty or more pistols he was packing, and for some reason was unable to pick up the blade lying on the table next to him after combat began. I guess investing in magnetic tables explains why the villain couldn't afford better dialogue.
Taking advantage of the xbox hard drive, Galleon auto-saves every time Rhanma so much as blows his nose, which is more of a blessing than a curse, even though there will be times when you could use a save that the game isn't willing to grant. Another mixed issue is the use of mushrooms found on the various islands to heal. Supplies are abundant, but if you don't take the time to search for them, and with no ability to visit previous islands during the game, you could end up on the final battle high and dry.
It's appropriate that Galleon begins on the waterfront because it could have been a contender. There are some great ideas here, and even greater potential mixed in with some of the most clever platforming segments I've seen in 3D. Too bad its combined with awkward controls, a clichéd story, and tedious combat that end up dragging the whole game down to Davey Jones' Locker