Dragon Hunters, eh?...
You may or may not have heard of Dragon Hunters: A cartoon which didn’t find much fame in the United States, but is one which has garnered a strong following in European countries. Either way, handheld developer Engine Software have brought the hunters-for-hire trio of Hector, Lian-Chu and Gwizdo to the Nintendo DS. Originally scheduled for a worldwide April 18 release, Playlogic International has yet to find a distributor for the US and UK, but such news doesn’t affect the game’s engaging nature.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Dragon Hunters story, don’t worry. The DS game isn’t one that has been created for a small niche of fans only. Instead, the game mixes accessibility, platforming and puzzle-based gameplay into a package that either a fan of the show or a complete newcomer can both play and appreciate.
Through pre-rendered, still frames, you learn the story of Gwizdo and Lian-Chu who roam a fictitious realm hunting monsters for money. With their pet-like companion Hector, we come upon the three as they’ve fallen on hard times, in need of food, and a new pair of boots. They take a contract with a farmer to clear his land of winged-terrors (bats), only to find a more perilous adventure that promises to reward them with unthinkable treasures.
They find a prophecy foretelling the story of the Great Obliterator, where three dragons from three different realms combine into one abominable creature. So, naturally the heroes’ mission is to destroy the three dragons, and claim their treasure.
Finally, dialogue that’s worth reading…
Although the story isn’t anything inspired, it gets the job done, and serves a context for the platforming action. What is surprising, however, is the dialogue which is actually enjoyable. In-between missions the three will exchange in conversation that is not only witty, but also expresses the character of each as well.
Fleshing out the characters, their motivations, and their strengths coincides with the gameplay mechanics for a well-rounded experience. Though it’s nothing new, through each of the four realms, you’ll need to switch between the three characters to effectively traverse either two or three portals. Each character has their own strength and contributes to obstacle-based platforming: Gwizdo can jump the best, Hector can hide and roll up into a ball, and Lian-Chu can attack and throw bombs or needles.
Ultimately, the puzzles aren’t very challenging and are suited more for a younger audience. However, anyone that claims to be a Mario fan will be able find fun in this game. The worlds themselves play out like stages from Mario Galaxy, though more 2D and side-scrolling. Throughout the game you’ll have to hop around elements that have their own gravities as you transition from being right-side-up, to upside-down.
For the bulk of the experience, playing between different gravitational forces is done quite effectively. There are a few instances, however, where jumping too far off of an object will send you to a bottomless pit, and to your death. Yet, that’s really the only problem with the game. There are sections marked by skull and crossbones which help differentiate where you can jump, as meaning, “Don’t fall here or you die,” but sometimes you might jump to your death inadvertently as you transition from one gravity to the next.
Along with a few bugs in the multi-gravitational gameplay, there are few instances where the game might slow down a bit, or objects might clip through the scenery, but any of these occurrences aren’t too often to ruin the game.
Short, but oh so sweet…
Otherwise, the game runs fairly well for supporting an impressive art direction. Each level is fairly large and can take anywhere from one to seven minutes to play through. Each of the four realms is broken up into objective-based missions that vary from racing from start to finish with the least amount of time spent touching the ground, to collecting purple orbs. It may feel like you’re retracing your steps over the same level, but each mission focuses on a different section of the level and is unique from the other outings.
The different types of missions cater to the platforming elements well, but the times when you have kill all of the enemies in a mission are the weakest. Fighting can only be done with Lian-Chu, but with only a three-move combo, and the ability to block any attack, the hunting part of Dragon Hunters is a bit lacking for older gamers; taken as a child-friendly offering on the other hand, quickly dispels much of the criticism.
However, the name of the game isn’t Bat Hunters, or Giant-Worm Hunters, it’s Dragon Hunters, and there’s three to defeat. Each battle uses a combination of touch and button controls, and play out nearly identically each time. Either on a full or semi-circle ring, you’ll have to avoid falling rocks to run to throwable objects in-order to first stun the beast, and then run to either a catapult or ballista to inflict damage. Both actions require you to tap and scratch, but the touch screen functionality has been integrated really well, especially when taking into account the younger folk.
Saved the world, now what?...
For experienced gamers, the story element will be fairly short and can be completed in little more than an afternoon. However, the way the game is set up, every mission awards either a bronze, silver or gold medal for completing a task with certain criteria to unlock extra “Goodies” in the form of art and music. Even for the older completionist, these challenges net a little extra play time, but children will get the most from this setup.
Once the story is finished, there are a couple of mini-games that can be played either by yourself, or with a friend who also has a cart. Although it’s a little frustrating to need both players have the game to play, the Hector’s Maze and Whack a Dragon mini-games use both traditional and touch controls competently, and offer a bit of challenge in both puzzle play and reaction speed.
So, when are we going to see a release?...
In the end, Dragon Hunter’s is a well designed, child friendly game. Fighting elements are a bit lacking, and you may find yourself jumping to your death when you didn’t think you could, but it’s hard to argue with a platformer that has you running upside-down in environments that offer just enough of a challenge to not be overly simple. Distinct levels with a strong accompanying soundtrack make Dragon Hunters a short, but worthwhile DS title, especially for kids.
+ Fun platforming elements
+ Witty, competent dialogue
+ Varied level design
Oh, hell no:
- Fighting is fairly weak
- Dragon battles are identical
- Short Story mode, with inadvertent perils