Dragon: A Game About A Dragon Review

If nothing else, DRAGON: A Game About a Dragon, is an interesting side-scrolling adventure game.

It’s immediately distinctive visually, a series of crayon and pencil drawings with a “storybook” feel. One might call it being lazy, as if they are got their eight year old sibling to draw all the art, but in fact, it looks great in motion and has a lot of character. Knights check their phones when the main character (simply known as “Dragon”) is out of sight, Dragon adorably curls up to sleep when he crouches and… takes a few puffs on his pipe by the camp fire at the end of each level.

The soundtrack, by Zach Parrish, is competently composed light electronic with an unmistakable fantasy game vibe, and establishes a tone of irreverent fun which fits like a glove.

Which is to say nothing of the writing. Story is conveyed through “comic book”-style text screens, which somewhat undersells the writing. It’s an undisciplined mess often successfully so. It’s just hard to tell of what it’s making light, opening with jokes on daytime reality television, transitioning into (surprisingly fresh jokes about) fantasy tropes, an extended Animal Farm gag, and finally a direct and somewhat shoehorned-in Metal Gear reference which is helpful in beating the following boss fight. With the inclusion of the seemingly constant, yet subtle “weed jokes”, it’s unclear what audience the developers had in mind.

The mechanics also show a lack of focus: It’s ostensibly an action platformer; running and flying through levels, burning and clawing all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. The controls are a little stiff, wasting the excellent animation with poor reactivity and a lack of transition frames that makes movement twitchy and ugly. This could be overlooked; platforming never gets intense enough to make it unforgivable. The real problem is the combat, which is equally stiff, and has no hit-sounds, visible hit-stun, or damage indication to provide feedback. Given that the combat system focuses on finding the correct application of Dragon’s elemental breaths (think Fire-Ice-Lightning) and paw swipes, unclear reactions on enemies with elemental immunities lead to taking a lot of unnecessary damage and annoying deaths.

To cap it off, level design is pretty bare-bones (although there are fun collectibles hidden around), allowing you to bypass enemy encounters by flying, and isn’t helped by the art style’s apparent ugliness when stationary. Credit where credit is due for the Mario World map screen which ties things together nicely, even if navigating it can be annoying. But Dragon only truly comes alive during infrequent boss fights and forced scrolling sequences, which actually present coherent challenges for the combat and movement respectively, and are often prefaced by something entertaining like the aforementioned woolly communist uprising or additional story panels.

In all honesty, while there is definitely massive potential here, and the game can bring out a few giggles, its design is just too unfocused, and the mechanics are just too rough to recommend. If it weren’t for the writing, I’d recommend it as a kid’s game, but it clearly isn’t meant for that.

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