Dragon Fire is the prefect example of why buyers cringe when they see the GameSalad logo come up on their screen. The real problem is that Dragon Fire is not a terrible game, but rather a mediocre game marred by some issues that make it not as enjoyable as it should be. It’s also fairly representative of the offerings that come from the aforementioned game authoring tool. If this game were given a bit more TLC it could rise above the ever increasing number of vertical shooters that are making their way into the App Store, but as it stands right now the unique premise of playing a dragon doesn’t help the rest of the game.
You play Una, and you are tasked with defeating the evil Queen Hydra, who is trying to steal all of the dragons’ “knowledge sparks” for herself. You’ll travel through 7 different lands, taking on all sorts of creatures that don’t want to see you achieve your goal. On the plus side, there is a decent variety of creatures. Given that you are swarmed by everything from killer tomatoes to walking cacti, however, I’m not sure if the villains are meant to be taken seriously or were chosen just for humor’s sake. Also, while there is a nice selection of bad guys, there is not a whole lot of variance in the way they attack. Basically they fly towards you and shoot. I don’t even think they ever deviate from their paths – the bullets simply change course to try and collide with you.
The levels are divided into two stages each, with a boss at the end of each stage. The bosses are actually not much more challenging than the level critters, and sometimes are even easier. The one exception so far has been the boss of level 4-2, who seems to hover at the bottom of the screen. This wouldn’t be a problem except that you can only shoot up, which means there’s no way to get underneath the boss and hit it without getting hit yourself. It would be nice if the bosses had health meters as well, instead of just changing colors (at least I think they change colors). I really like to have some idea how close I am to killing a boss.
On the plus side, you do have some decent power ups. You get standard options like health and speed, but you also get power ups that will give you between 2 and 4 heads. There’s even a power up that gives you a phoenix to fight along side you for a bit, but the phoenix doesn’t seem to be any more powerful than you having double or triple shot. Still, phoenixes are cool. I believe the power ups, just like the monsters, are static between visits to the same level, which really limits the replay factor. It also means if you don’t shoot just the right monster you won’t get a power up, which for the most part is livable except for the health.
The controls could stand some major tweaking. There are two options – d-pad and joystick. For each option you have the ability to show full or partial HUD (I assume partial HUD means opaque). The first problem is that when I select the joystick option, I don’t see anything even with HUD set to full. The second problem is that regardless of being able to see the controls or not, the joystick option just doesn’t seem to work. The d-pad is nicely laid out, with left and right controls on the left side of the screen and up and down controls on the right side of the screen. It looks pretty, but it means you effectively need two hands to control the dragon. I guess that’s not a problem since the dragon auto-fires, it’s just not very comfortable. Add to that the fact that the d-pad often seems sluggish or non-responsive, and there really is not ideal control option for this game.
The graphics are interesting. The splash screen actually looks pretty awesome, and the dragon herself is not bad looking, especially when she gets multiple heads. The backgrounds vary greatly in quality, though they all pretty much look like advanced-beginner Paint drawings. The creatures definitely have a lot of different designs, but the visuals are quite simple and there sometimes appears to be a mixed perspective between top down and something else. Overall, however, there is nothing in terms of characters that really sticks out quality-wise other than the dragon.
The sound effects actually aren’t bad, but the creatures themselves make no noise, and every one sounds exactly the same when it dies. The game should have as much variety in this department as it does in the visuals. The one area that really surprised me was the music. Not only was the music good, it was consistently good. Plus, while I’m not 100% sure each level had its own theme, there were certainly plenty of different tunes to go around. This is definitely one of the better soundtracks I’ve heard in some time.
Before anyone accuses me of being negligent, I do realize there are three mini-games in addition to the main quest. The thing is, mini-games are simply supposed to be supplements, and since I’m not a big fan of the main game I didn’t bother with the mini-games. This actually sort of sums up my entire experience with the game. There were some decent parts, but this is one of those instances where the sum of the parts needed to rise above the limitations, and it simply did not. I can live with the goofy, often misguided visuals, but without proper control and more interesting level design, there are much more exciting entries to tackle in this genre. I think there’s a diamond here somewhere, but right now it’s too rough to see it.
Overall Score: 5/10
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