It’s a tough race for the title of “most prolific eShop publisher”, but you can be damn sure that Joindots will be well in for a shout. From flight simulators to match-3 puzzlers, even hidden object games. They certainly have a broad spectrum for genres. Their latest release is Dragon Skills, which is yet another genre they can check off the list. Here we have a Breakout clone with a cutesy dragon-themed overlay.
Dragon Skills has a rather unique control set up. Rather than having the Gamepad in its normal horizontal position, here you have it set up vertically. The Breakout style arena fits snugly on its screen, where as on the TV screen it is heavily bordered with information and a rather out of place leaderboard.
If you’re unaware of a Breakout style game it’s a very simple arcade concept. It’s a time honoured “classic” that’s been copied more times than can be counted, even Nintendo themselves copied it for their very own GameBoy game Alleyway.
At the foot of the screen is your bumper which you can move side to side. Above you are destructible blocks of varying strength and it’s your objective to destroy them. To destroy them you have a ball (in Dragon Skills it’s a fireball) that bounces around the arena, ricocheting off everything as it bumps into the blocks and destroys them. Thanks to physics, the fireball doesn’t always head in the direction you want so as it bounces back down towards the abyss below your bumper, you can redirect it back into the action, hopefully towards the destructible blocks. Once you have destroyed all the blocks in one stage you move on to the next. However, if your fireball falls below your bumper you will lose a life. Lose too many lives and you have to restart the stage from the beginning.
Controlling your bumper is done entirely via the stylus (or your finger if you want to ruin it). Slide your stylus across the bottom of your now-vertical Gamepad and low and behold your bumper will follow. It’s a neat idea, one following in the footsteps of other classic Breakout control inputs like the trackball. Unfortunately it’s ruined by the fact that movement isn’t 1 to 1. Your bumper often drags behind your stylus and it just feels wrong. It constantly feels like you’re incapacitated. One neat idea is that you can use the gyroscopic features of the gamepad to tilt the bumper in either direction to help you angle your shot. While it is a good idea, I think the effect was generally minimal.
The more your fireball keeps in play and destroy blocks, the faster it becomes. It’s a pretty common feature in Breakout games and normally very welcome. But the previously mentioned drag of your bumper makes it impossible to keep up with it at times leading to a frustrating experience.
There are lots of power ups in Dragon Skills, too many in fact; way too many to keep track of. The beginning few levels give you massive lists of new items and it is impossible to take it all in at once so you just end up learning from experience. What makes things worse is that the power ups often fall at a pace where it’s unlikely you’ll have time to react and so it’s often luck based as to whether you will collect them or not. What makes it even worse than that is many of the “power ups” are detrimental; either confusing you, freezing your movement or just flat out making you lose a life. It can be absolute carnage.
Using the ones you have is also a pain too. If you want to use them you need to tap on the bag located on your top right of the screen. There, you can select which one you want and place it in the arena. It’s clumsy at best. And when you’re doing it, the fireball is still bouncing around and you’re not able to control your bumper. In fact there’s very little opportunity to use an item safely.
Something of a nice surprise is the inclusion of boss fights. On the final level of each world you will fight a rather crudely designed boss. It’s nothing special but it makes the experience more varied and I think there should have been more of them.
The biggest problem is that Dragon Skills suffers from the age-old Breakout issue which is when it gets down to the last few blocks, it can be quite a painful experience unless you pick them out quickly. I need to mention the angles. There’s nothing quite like having to achingly watch your fireball crawl up the field millimetre by millimetre should you do the unthinkable and fire it off at a small angle. Sometimes it’s better to head off and make a cup of tea while it makes its way to the action, before obviously missing them and then coming all the way back down at the same slow pace.
I have to give the developers some credit, they’ve tried to make the game as exciting as possible, with the speeding up fireball, power ups and the detrimental effects but it still can’t get away from the fact it’s a Breakout clone, which inherently means it’s dull. Breakout suffers from the fact it’s bloody boring. Not only is it boring, but the more you progress, the more boring it becomes. When you first start a level it’s pretty fun, ping-ponging off things, smashing plenty of blocks. But it’s all too soon that the blocks begin to dwindle and you don’t hit a single thing for about 10 minutes, not only that but your ball seems to follow the same route over and over again. It’s at that point you consider just exactly what you’re doing with your life. I’ve yet to play a Breakout clone that solves the problem of its biggest flaw. I’m sure there must be one out there but sadly it’s not in Dragon Skills.
The presentation is also pretty poor. There’s some horrific English localisation, which considering there’re very few words, it’s a poor effort. You’ll quickly see classics such as: “create a the bumper freezes”, “you will finde more skills untill you loose a life”. Obviously in the grand scheme of things it is that important in a game of this nature, but it just comes across as truly amateurish.
Overall Dragon Skills isn’t a particularly good game. It’s got some nice ideas but they are often poorly executed. It’s a Breakout clone. That immediately puts it at a disadvantage and, while they do try to give it more life, it doesn’t succeed. The power ups are overwhelming, unfair and implemented without thought and the stylus controls not being 1 to 1 is borderline unforgivable. Saying that, if you do take the plunge on Dragon Skills, I think it gives you enough levels for your money.
– They’ve tried to make it exciting
– Plenty of levels
– It’s a Breakout clone
– Stylus controls not 1 to 1 precise
– Poor presentation
– Power ups handled poorly