Sunday, March 04, 2007

Dragon Review

Dragon, developed by Meridian 93 and published by Alawar Games.
The Good: Enjoyable gameplay with interesting strategies
The Not So Good: Repetitive after the first few levels, initially too easy
What say you? A pleasant game that will hold your attention, but only for a little while: 5/8

It’s come to a point in PC gaming where it’s difficult to come up with a title that is truly unique. Most of the time, developers are just happy to add one or two additions to an existing product and call it a day. The action puzzle game Dragon involves shooting balls at a moving track, hoping to make matches of three or more. This is a variation of a theme we’ve seen in other games, such as Zuma and Luxor. Will Dragon be any different?

Dragon is an entirely 2-D puzzle game, but it looks pretty decent. The game has an Oriental theme, and although the individual levels aren’t dripping with detail, they are functional. The game is easy to navigate with its satisfactory user interface. The special effects are average with some lightning and glowing effects. Dragon is certainly not the worst looking puzzle game, but it won’t win any awards either. The sound fares better, as powerful sound effects permeate the title. The ball contact sounds are appropriate, and the audio bonus indicators relay a feeling of excitement (well, as exciting as puzzle games are) when multiple extras are activated. The background music, while it fits the setting, becomes repetitive far too quickly. A more diverse arrangement of music would be a good addition to the game, especially considering the large amount of source material. In the end, Dragon fits squarely in the middle of the puzzle game genre in terms of graphics and sound.

In Dragon, you are charged with shooting colored balls at a moving dragon (thus the title), making matches of three or more balls. You do this from a breakout-like vertically shooting paddle that is located at the bottom of the screen. Controlling the game is very easy, and since the balls are only shot in a vertical direction, anyone can learn the game in seconds. There are two main strategies in the game: either shooting a ball into a line of same-colored balls, or replacing an existing ball by shooting it. While the first choice is a lot easier, the second results in more bonuses and possibly more matches. Since the path the dragon follows is curved, the replaced ball can carom into more balls, possibly creating additional matches. These basic mechanics form the foundation for a pretty entertaining game, at least initially. The game does not really offer anything new beyond the initial level, other than faster moving dragons and different patterns for the dragon to follow. Most puzzle games will slowly add more variations to the gameplay as you move along in the game, but this is not the case with Dragon. The game does add some interesting powerups that will explode more balls and various coins, jewels, and trophies to collect, but this is not enough to extend the gameplay beyond the initial levels. This tends to make the game quite monotonous after a while, and this is not helped by the effortless difficulty of the game. The main problem is that the dragon moves too slowly, which makes it extremely easy to make matches. Also, the dragon slows down to a crawl before it reaches the end, and its path typically puts it right next to the bottom. Also, unlike similar games, you can choose your ball color, which makes your job a lot easier than being forced into a selection. I would like to be able to set the speed of the dragon to increase the difficulty of the game, but the developers have not allowed for this.

While Dragon has solid gameplay, it becomes too dull too quickly. The game does not add anything new beyond the initial mechanics, and while the game is fun, it’s not fun over 100 levels. Each individual level lasts just a bit too long, and each puzzle is essentially the same as the last. There are no alternate missions or anything else to vary the action. The repetition could be forgiven if the game offered more difficulty, but since the dragon moves so slowly in the beginning levels, most people will probably become bored with the game before they reach a third of the way through. The gems, trophies, and coins are nice to collect, and the powerups are stimulating (especially the lightning…zap!), but these are not enough to make an overall interesting experience. If Dragon was an original idea, that might earn some points, but it’s just a variation on an already-existing game type. The games problems could be have been solved somewhat by letting the user adjust the difficulty and speed of the game, but the developers have made this decision for you. Thus, Dragon will only appeal to novice players, as those with any gaming experience will find the game to be too easy to be interesting.