It's said that you should never judge a book by its cover and yet we all do it. Looking at the cute, cartoon characters and vividly coloured worlds of TealRocks Studio's debut title, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was a gentle and fun little title, a Sunday afternoon game. Whilst that's true to an extent, there are moments when the game becomes brutally unforgiving and savagely punishing. Somehow, DragoDino
feels like Dark Souls
wrapped up with cute, cuddly and colourful wrapping, with the price of failure being extremely high at times, it's not quite what you'd be expecting.
The story is relatively straightforward with the player taking on the role of Bob, a DragoDino, and proud father of an unborn egg, which is stolen, or egg-napped, and whisked away by forces unknown to the top of a mysterious tree. Naturally, Bob is not going to stand idly by and decides to risk life and limb to retrieve the egg. So begins the campaign, which consists of 10 multi-stage levels taking the player further up the branches of the arboreal world. Strangely, despite the presented storyline, players can also select to play as Lola or two additional characters unlocked later in the title.
Powered by Unity, the game is well-presented. Vibrant colours bring life to the game and the cartoon characters have a charm of their own. Even the enemies have a certain degree of charm. The aesthetic is certainly engaging enough and the graphics are sharp, the style is fun, and visually the game looks well-polished. The music is chirpy enough and matches the visuals. Throughout the title, there is a feeling that a lot of care and attention to detail have been lavished on the game.
The feeling of ascending to the highest branches of the tree is captured in the direction of the gameplay, and you'll find yourself platforming vertically instead of the usual sidescrolling direction featured in most platforming titles. To progress to the higher levels, you'll need to jump between platforms of varying heights, some of which may initially be out of reach. This is to encourage the player to scour the randomly generated levels for a number of blue crystals which boost the character's jump power and unlock the exit from the level. Those crystals are dropped in the form of loot from a number of marked enemies in the level, but finding them and getting to them can be a challenge in itself.
Everything in the level is randomly generated. The platform elements, the placement of the enemies, the powerups, coins, and other collectibles are randomly placed. It's a clever idea for a platforming title and means that no two games are ever alike. It also provides an additional challenge as you can never be sure of the route through the level, other than starting at the bottom and knowing that the level exit will be at the top somewhere.
There's a further game mechanism involved here too. The randomness coupled with the meager three — or four, depending on the character chosen — lifebars prevent the player from going all gung-ho and charging around through the level. Three hits from any of the numerous enemies and it's game over, and you'll be starting the level over again with the layout changed. This means that you'll find yourself methodically picking your way through the levels. Carefully taking down enemies with ranged attacks and strategising to find the best place for the attack. Most of the time there will be a lot of simultaneous and repetitive jump-shooting going on. It may be slow, but there is a nice feeling of satisfaction to gradually working your way around the level uncovering all of the collectibles and vanquishing all of the foes.
There are valuable rewards for your endeavors too, making the effort worthwhile. The numerous orange crystals will eventually provide the player with an extra life, in the form of a 'continue.' There's a secret level to be found where the player can gain extra crystals. Additionally, the player can carry three powerups at any one time. These will improve gliding, movement speed, or attacking prowess. There are shields and slo-mo bombs to be found. Some of these powerups are single-use, whilst others are passive and remain until used up or the player swaps them. Additionally, some are stackable and can be increased without taking up additional slots. Having only three slots available means that the player has to choose only those that complement the player's gameplay style. Excess powerups can be stored at a shop that is found in most levels. It's a nice touch that this storage is persistent over the whole campaign allowing the player to build up a limited supply of powerups for later use.
Whilst exploration is encouraged, it's not always easy. There's no onscreen map, so the player is left to remember the location of discovered items for themselves. Vision is limited to the immediate screen area, so overenthusiastic jumps, mistimed jumps, or erroneous glides can put you straight in the path of enemy projectiles or land you directly on top of an enemy costing you one of your precious lifebars. Ultimately, caution is the name of the game which can be time-consuming with the multi-stage levels.
This leads to the biggest flaw in the title, the spike in difficulty during boss fights. Whilst we all know that these multistage battles are meant to be difficult, here the price of failure is extraordinarily high. There is no checkpoint and losing the boss fight will wipe out all of your progress on the level and send the player right back to start. There's no way to simply retry the boss battle. Having spent a good portion of a game session methodically and meticulously picking your way through each of the stages to reach the end of the level, it seems unnecessarily harsh to have all of that work undone within a couple of minutes of battling. A few extra lifebars or a checkpoint would make it so much more accessible. It feels that somewhere in the gameplay, the balance is slightly off. Strangely, it's not frustrating, but it is disappointing, and certainly, enough to have players put controllers down, walk away and play something. And that is a real shame because the rest of the game is actually quite rewarding, and there is otherwise a well thought out platformer here.
Despite the feeling that the title has been well-crafted, there are a few other small glitches. Run-Jump button combinations don't work reliably. The player's DragoDino has a tendency to flip back to the right when the thumbstick was in fact flicked to the left. Very occasionally — twice during the review — the random level generation actually renders the level unplayable requiring the player to select retry and lose a life in the process. That all said, they're minor quibbles on an overall impressive title.
For those looking for a little bit more from the title, the game also features split-screen couch co-op, vertically split of course. Here, the partners really have to work together to solve some of the challenges within the level. There's also a timer that can be enabled for those wanting to attempt speedruns, although the lack of leaderboards means that such an endeavor would be for personal satisfaction only.
Achievement hunters, certainly completionists, need to be wary of the title. There are 43 achievements to be unlocked, some of which will require a co-op partner, but clearly the most difficult will be completing the game on hardcore setting; one life, no checkpoints. Others will come with time, requiring multiple playthroughs and grinding through the title collecting thousands of crystals or other collectibles.Check out our The Best Xbox Platformer Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
The overall concept of the game is unique. A vertical platformer with randomly generated levels and pickups means that no two playthroughs are the same. The presentation is cute and fun, and most of the gameplay is generally challenging without being too difficult. As a player, it is quite satisfying to puzzle your way through the roguelike levels defeating all of the foes, uncovering the secrets and grabbing all of the collectibles. Unfortunately, all of that hard work feels short-changed when the difficulty spikes so sharply at the end of a multistage level. It's a bit of shame because underneath it all and away from the uncompromising difficulty, there is a very nice, well crafted and novel platform title here, that in between difficulty spikes is actually enjoyable and rewarding to play.
- Cute, fun and family-friendly presentation
- Random levels provide a constant challenge
- Rewarding platforming with couch co-op
- Plenty of collectibles and power-ups for different playstyles
- Extreme difficulty spikes for the boss fights
- Occasional problems with levels being unsolvable
The reviewer spent around 10 hours, jumping, shooting, dying and generally cursing his way through the levels. Eight achievements were unlocked during the review. The Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.