As I mentioned in my last review, I was told that my blog lacked a certain element. Well, as I’ve stated a few times now, I certainly want to listen to the advice I am given and strive to set my writing skills ablaze where I can. As it so happens, I stumbled upon a game that gave me the opportunity to write a new review, but to spread my wings and heed the advice given to me. So without making this drag on any further, I shall introduce this platformer that will contribute to my hoard of reviews. Should it scale properly to your expectations, consider picking it up on Steam!
DRAGON: A Game About a Dragon is a 2D side-scrolling platformer with RPG elements, by the aptly named developer Games With Dragons In. The story of the game is fairly simple. Dragon, the hero of DRAGON, is watching his favorite program when suddenly he hears a struggle in the other room. The king, his knight and his wizard have abducted Dragon’s girlfriend. The reason? To prevent there from being more dragons in the future. Though not very strong, kind of lazy and doesn’t even fly particularly well, Dragon, inspired by his favorite romance novels, sets off on a journey to save his girlfriend. Obviously, this is a clichéd set-up, but it’s hardly the point of the game. Besides, it’s clear from the humorous writing that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, preferring instead to let the player embark on a light-hearted adventure through a silly fantasy realm.
The aesthetics in DRAGON are whimsical, from the uptempo, nostalgic music, to the adorable hand-drawn style, to the continuing story of Dragon as he encounters disinterested workers, frustrated archers, sheep in revolt, and more. Clever little details, such as a menu screen featuring useless stats like “Napping” or subtle sprite animations, give DRAGON a polished, complete feel that immerses the player in its cute world.
The gameplay is that of your standard platformer: move from the left of the stage to the right while avoiding obstacles and pits. Dragon can claw enemies, breath fire and fly short distances in order to take on his foes or avoid them entirely. Each skill can be powered up by purchasing levels with gold found in the game, by means of gold coins or special items that can provide large amounts at once. There are also special treasures hidden around the world that can enhance Dragon’s powers.
Though I did say the story isn’t the main purpose of the game, I will say there are aspects of the writing that don’t always hit their intended mark. The humor, though largely fun and fitting the game, can come off as a bit too superior, either playing the “ironic card” a bit too loosely or making assumptions that may be unfounded. However, at worst these transgressions will cause eye-rolling; they don’t ruin the game by any means. We still have a story that stays within the theme of the game, knows when to quit, and even tells us Dragon’s girlfriend’s name! (It’s Edrey.)
DRAGON: A Game About a Dragon is a fun game, complete with many stages, power-ups and secrets that make progression enjoyable and replaying levels fun. Its endearing aesthetic and simple game mechanics make it a game that can be picked up by anyone at anytime. Many levels, if pursuing the main goal, are relatively short, making DRAGON the kind of game you can dive into for some time or play on the quick if need be. If you’re looking for something fun and relaxing to take a break with, then DRAGON would be a good addition to your library.
Though the review portion of this is over, I would like to add here at the end some of my feelings on art styles in games. I am almost always drawn to whimsical art like that in DRAGON. Conversely, I tend to shy away from games that seem like the graphics had too much focus on realism and detail. Of course, preferences are preferences, and I won’t tell people that liking realistic graphics in their games is wrong or a sign of bad taste. However, I do think that much gets lost when we focus almost exclusively on quality of graphics. Games with simple designs, cartoonish style, and even outdated elements are still capable of being good games. But too often I think people will discount a franchise entry that diverts from the norm as ruining a series (Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker), a whimsical game as childish (Katamari Damacy, or perhaps even DRAGON), or an older game as a waste of time for how it looks (any PS1 game). If we keep making cutting-edge design the biggest draw for a game, we’re going to lose great works within a generation, be tricked into shelling out good money for cut-rate titles that simply look good and shortchange the various workers who contribute to the game besides the graphic designers.
I have a friend who very nearly refused to play Super Mario Bros. 3 because the graphics were “so bad”. Now she eventually did play it, had a great time, and looks forward to mastering it someday, but it took a bit of persuasion. Her reaction wasn’t surprising to me though. She isn’t even an inherently snobbish person. She has just learned, like a lot of younger gamers, that you can judge a game by its cover. Now what point am I trying to make, exactly? It’s not that we should shun graphical advancement or even that we should all start liking games that aren’t visually pleasing to us. It’s still possible for a game (in fact, quite easy) for a game to just look BAD. Really what I think we should do, though, is start to think more critically about games. We should talk less about how “beautiful” they look and more about how “good” they are. Is that subjective? Of course! Will that cause disagreements? Definitely! But those kinds of disagreements are far more valuable and do far more to describe the quality of a game than a by-the-numbers analysis of how many pixels are on the screen and at what frames per second they come at us. Those disagreements help define all of the things we look for in a game, and by turning the discourse towards that, we can help game makers understand what we’re looking for when we say we want something “good”.