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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dragon Raiders

By on 4:04 PM

Dragon Raiders [$0.99] is not your typical endless runner. It may seem like Temple Run [Free] with dragons on the surface, but what lies beneath is a clever game with a bit more to it.
This is a level-based auto-runner that effectively uses two-dimensional movement: the dragon can move between horizontal lanes, and go into vertical lanes horizontally to collect coins and glyphs.
And those glyphs serve as the clever hook of the game. See, there's a bonus for collecting chains of them in a row: 3, 4, and 5 are worth additional points in a row. Now, here's the wrinkle: it's not always possible to collect ideal maximum chains. So, it takes some practice and playing the levels a few times to figure out which glyphs should be collected and which should be ignored.
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Adding yet another twist is that each dragon has a special ability that is triggered by collecting five of their color glyph, so it's worth unlocking dragons beyond just Melty in order to help get higher scores on levels that have glyph layouts that are perhaps more suited to their color.
Otherwise, the currency is a minimal factor. The coins can be used to buy new cosmetic items, new dragons, and powerup upgrades, but those upgrades don't really appear often enough to necesssarily worry too much about upgrading them, where in other games, they're essential. Of course, it's possible to respawn right from where you died, but if saving up for another dragon, you probably won't spend much.
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But that's the nice thing about Dragon Raiders: it feels so much more like a skill game than one where having the most upgrades will lead to success. That the game is level-based helps a lot, of course: it's about getting further, and opportunities to score more on a single level are limited, and while there are Facebook-powered friends leaderboards, it's not a significant factor. It may be about cute dragons, but this is a game for gamers, ones who want a challenge.
One of the drawbacks to the two-dimensional lanes that Dragon Raiders uses is that it can be hard to tell which lane exactly the dragon is in. This is exacerbated by the courses curving slightly to each side: the game could do a much better job at making sure the player know which lane they're in, because the obstacles do not make it obvious at all.
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As well, the game makes it so that moving to the top and bottom lanes is a temporary action, like jumping or sliding, but horizontal lane movements are permanent ones. This can be a bit confusing, because while jumping or sliding being temporary in a runner makes sense, there's little reason why the dragon can't just stay in the top or bottom 'lane', and with some relics only appearing in the top or bottom, it just feels like the controls create unnecessary confusion.
I'd like movement to be unified, like either it's possible to move permanently to a vertical lane, or to only temporarily move to a horizontal lane. The latter would work better with the MFi gamepad support, as it feels a bit more difficult to move than it should be, to the point where I like using the touchscreen better. But that might be because horizontal lane movement is very slow – and the game likes to require quick left-to-center-to-right movements to get glyphs.


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