Saturday, March 26, 2016

Dragon Land (iOS, Android) Review

Mobile gaming continues to be on the rise, and SuperPhillip Central recently entered the fray with mobile game reviews, starting last month with Rayman Adventures. Now, SPC turns its attention to Dragon Land, a free-to-play 3D platformer with a surprising amount of quality to it. However, in-app purchases and microtransactions do rear their collective head into things to murky the waters a bit. See how with my review.

Generic name, pretty cool game

I've been getting more and more into mobile gaming since I finally entered the correct century and got a smartphone and tablet. I'm always searching the App Store and Google Play for the latest games to see if any tickle my fancy. Generally the ones that appeal to me are what-you-buy-is-what-you-get-- that is, games that are complete and without the need for in-app purchases.

That's how I am most of the time, but occasionally there are these free-to-play games with microtransactions and IAP that do appeal to me. The generically titled Dragon Land is one of these, a 3D platformer in the style of Super Mario 3D Land. While offering IAP, Dragon Land still remains a fun and enjoyable game that keeps me coming back for more.

The first world doesn't exactly show how competent Dragon Land's level design is right from the start.
Dragon Land's focus is on rescuing other dragons to add to your assortment of playable characters. Each dragon rescued, which happens every other world, has its own abilities and specialties. For instance, the dragon you start off with can breathe fire on enemies and spread its wings and glide through the sky at a downward trajectory. Later dragons can do things like climb up walls, roll into foes, and dash in midair.

The dragon you begin with, Blaze, is able to glide across large distances.
Dragon Land plays like a combination of Spyro the Dragon and Super Mario 3D Land. You can double jump, bounce on enemy heads to defeat them, and run through the game's various levels. For the most part, levels have plenty of interesting geometry and challenges to them, though Dragon Land's first world isn't the best showing of how impressive the level design becomes as it's quite barren and empty.

He can also breathe fire to toast foes to a crisp. (This pic shows his standard skin.)
That said, Dragon Land's levels range from 3D affairs, 2.5D levels where you can move from left to right with the ability to move on the Z-axis, and totally 2D levels akin to Super Mario Bros. The 3D levels have a camera that automatically moves itself, turning itself when you reach a corner of a level, and rarely being a nuisance. Really the only time Dragon Land's camera in 3D levels is not useful is when you want to backtrack. You pretty much have to keep running towards the screen, hoping you don't run into anything.

No need to focus on depth here. You just need to move left to right.
You may want to backtrack because most levels have some cleverly hidden secrets to be found in the form of red crystals and golden keys. The former need to have enough collected so you can take on that world's boss, while the latter unlocks bonus levels which are generally more difficult than the mandatory ones. Still, levels are short enough that you can just replay a level to try to uncover the hidden goodies you may have missed in a previous run.

Well, that is except for the stamina system Dragon Land utilizes. You have a maximum of five hearts which one is taken away from your count for each attempt of a level you do. This means that if you die in a level, which isn't that hard to do since you tend to die from two hits despite having a large health bar, you have to use up another heart just to retry it. Hearts do fill back up after waiting for a little while, and you can refill a heart by watching a trailer (though the types of games that are advertised via trailers don't fit the demographic of Dragon Land at all...). However, there is no way to just buy infinite hearts so you can just enjoy Dragon Land at your leisure.

Bees, bugs, and other bothers hope to cut your dragon-saving adventure short.
Furthermore, later levels require your dragons to be at a specific maximum health to complete them. You use coins to "level up" your dragons, granting them more health and higher attack strength. Coins can be collected in standard levels, and you can also earn them by doing golden quests that need a cool-down period before you can play them again. Once a dragon has reached a maximum level, you need to use gems to increase their level cap. Gems are found in levels, but are pretty scarce overall.

The local wholesale shop must have had a big sale on spikes.
The option to purchase coins, gems, and hearts with real world money is an option. However, this really isn't necessary unless you're very impatient to play more of Dragon Land, which since the gameplay is so enthralling, I can see how that can be tempting. Regardless, coins are a ripoff to buy since you can earn them so easily. Five bucks worth of coins can be earned quite quickly in-game. Gems are more worthwhile, but they can be accumulated by playing levels and getting rewards from sacrificing red crystals or a daily free gift.

There are also bonus dragons and different skins for your assortment of playable dragons, though this is where Dragon Land goes from serviceable IAP to downright preying on its demographic. New bonus dragons and skins cost plenty of gems, and gems are quite expensive to buy with real world money. Parents, make sure you keep your credit card information away from your children-- just in case!

The world map screen, full of places to go and IAP to see.
No controller support is available for Dragon Land, but that isn't a problem since the touch controls work so well. The virtual analog stick feels good and gives you a nice feeling of control over your dragon. The "buttons" for jumping and attacking are spread just enough apart so that you never mistakenly do one action instead of the other. Tapping on your dragon's icon to change dragons mid-level (something that you can do for any level save for the ones that require the use of one dragon) is also incredibly easy to do on the fly.

Worlds range from tropical islands to Old Western mines.
Dragon Land looks quite good on smartphones and tablets. The lighting is pretty impressive, the draw distance is incredible, and the frame-rate generally keeps itself in shape. The worlds are suitably colorful and quaint, exuding plenty of personality. Character models look pleasant, though they don't offer much in the way of detail. The music isn't anything special, but it does remain fitting for the game, whether it's level music or the various fanfares and jingles heard. Overall, Dragon Land is appropriately cute and kid-friendly.

Rocky is at home when he's climbing walls, but he also likes having four feet firmly on the ground.
For those wanting a competent 3D platformer, Dragon Land is that and more. If you can stomach the stamina system, needing to increase your dragons' health bars, and certain gates that impede progress, then you'll find a game that has rather nice level design, fun platforming, and plenty of well hidden secrets to find. It's by no means a game that will take Mario's throne in any parallel universe, but Dragon Land is excellent platforming for a mobile devices.

[SPC Says: B]

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