Earth Dragon [App Store Link] is really difficult for me to review and I’ll get to why in a bit. First off, you control a dragon (and an adorable one at that!) and have to collect coins, destroy castles, and kill archers and wizards by either burning them alive or eating them (typical dragon stuff you know). The controls are relatively simple–you flap your iPhone back and forth to gain altitude and you tilt sideways to the left or right to swoop down and control lateral direction.
The graphics are done in a somewhat old-school style and are cute for what they are and sound effects are decent (and in the same vein as the graphics in terms of style). The controls however can be somewhat frustrating–it’s just hard to feel like you have any kind of precise control over the dragon most of the time (however this may be intentional). In the end, the game basically devolves into pure button mashing madness–whether you clear one of the later levels or not mostly depends on how frantically you mash your attack gestures (you can burn the humans or eat them, and you can rumble the earth to destroy buildings or just pile drive straight down) and how lucky you are in avoiding incoming enemy fire.
Overall on most levels it ‘works’–but again, it can be somewhat frustrating at times due to the lack of precision in control. Overall the game is fun and great–except for one very important issue (and hence why this is a rather difficult review for me to write): it is way too short and way too expensive for what it is.
I initially sat down to play it and saw 15 levels and started to play through them. About the first 2/3 are either simple tutorial levels teaching you one aspect of the controls at a time or simple coin collecting levels where you just have to control your flight to collect the coins. The actual ‘game’, in my opinion, didn’t even begin until the 11th or 12th level–however then I reached the 15th and last level thinking “Wonderful! I’ve completed stage 15 of the very first world” assuming that there may be 8-10 such worlds to go, I was really disappointed to learn that nope–that was indeed all there was included.
Now, Earth Dragon costs $2.99, which in the warped economic reality that is the iPhone App Store, is actually on the mid-to-high side of game pricing (this review will not devolve into a debate about the ‘race to the bottom’ of App Store pricing, that will be saved for a dedicated post) and the amount of gameplay you get is, quite frankly, disappointing. Really disappointing. I received a promo code from the developer to review this game, and even I feel almost cheated by its length. The disappointment comes mainly because the graphics and overall gameplay is so fun and charming that it’s a shame that the game is just so short with no definitive word on when/if new content is coming.
In its defense, the developer does hint that ‘if you get your friends to buy Earth Dragon more episodes will come out next year’, however compared to several $0.99 games that have content coming out seemingly every week or every other week that adds new and fun gameplay to their games, that really isn’t ‘good enough’ in the current App Store climate. If you’re a perfectionist you can go back and replay the levels in an attempt to beat your previous time/amount of coins collected, but there’s only so much that can entertain you compared to more levels.
In the end, Earth Dragon is incredibly charming and fun–its control scheme is both fun at times and at others can be somewhat frustrating and it often comes down to pure button mashing madness (which again, is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective)–the real and only major downside comes in its length. If you’re used to spending $0.99 on games that you can replay forever, or $1.99-$2.99 on games with 5-10+ hours of gameplay and come into this expecting the same thing, you will be sorely disappointed. Buy Earth Dragon for its uniqueness–but just don’t expect to get more than 20 minutes-1 hour of gameplay out of it depending on how lucky/unlucky you are in avoiding enemy fire in the later levels (and thus having to replay the same level 5-10 times to beat it). In the end the verdict is what it is–when Earth Dragon is updated with more content it is surely to rise a lot higher than it is right now.
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