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The King of Dragons (Arcade) artwork

The King of Dragons (Arcade) review


"Golden Axe attracts a lot of flak nowadays, so perhaps it takes a lesser game to demonstrate all it did right. King Arthur to Axe's Conan, The King of Dragons differentiates itself with a supposedly brainier RPG approach to the genre, but its paper-thinness in other areas short-changes it as anything but an occasional dumb-fun good time. "



Golden Axe attracts a lot of flak nowadays, so perhaps it takes a lesser game to demonstrate all it did right. King Arthur to Axe's Conan, The King of Dragons differentiates itself with a supposedly brainier RPG approach to the genre, but its paper-thinness in other areas short-changes it as anything but an occasional dumb-fun good time.

You can choose between five medieval-themed characters (cleric, dwarf, wizard, elf archer, and fighter; no knight, sadly), each with differing stamina, speed, magic power, weapon range, etc. Most stats are static, but you can level up your HP through collecting gold from chests and fallen foes, which adds a nice urgency to point accumulation. To the game's credit, you're also allowed to swap out characters between levels, had you the misfortune to believe the wizard would be in some way useful and not always Need Food Badly, and each hero plays just differently enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. You also "find" weapon and armor upgrades throughout the game, but the upgrades come at preset points and are unmissable, so it's in effect no different that the average brawler's gradual escalation in difficulty.

Oddly, though, and to its detriment, the game omits many of the mechanics brawlers use to provide depth and variety. Your character has one lousy attack to face the hordes, which throws tactics all but out the window, and the enemies have all the heft of paper targets in a shooting gallery, which makes the game more of a shooter than a brawler - one hit, and they're down. (In contrast, observe how Golden Axe uses sound effects, the timing of your weapon swings, and the gradual collapse of your foes to create the illusion that iron and fist are connecting with flesh.) The rank-and-files have a dash of variety in their attack patterns, but not enough for you to deviate from the standard "button mash left and right before anything touches you" tack; character class does provide some strategy, but mostly in how far away and fast you can hit. There aren't any beasts you can ride or temporary weapons you can pick up off the ground to use. Occasionally, you do win screen-clearers in the form of floaty magic orbs that activate upon being attacked and have to be shepherded along like third-graders on a school trip from screen to screen until needed, a nice touch. Otherwise, it's a pretty game, but kind of a dumb one.

Bosses are more thoughtfully designed, so, at least at level's end, it would seem to pay to play defensively and watch for cues and patterns. Unfortunately, nearly every boss kills with one or two hits. Playing on Gametap or such instead of in a quarter-munching arcade, you therefore tend to abandon strategy for reckless brute force backed by infinite continues. Revive after dying, and you'll always reappear with a magic orb for an extra shot of damage - thoughtful, but not so much as more balanced damage-dealing would have been.

The sprites are big and impressive, and, yes, there are lots of dragons. Uniquely, the graphics go for fantasy-pretty, such as in the soft green and purple of the forest level. A bit more imagination would have been nice (I got sick of stone walls after a while), but it's unusual to see a brawler with a full palette. Less graceful is the level design, short and straightforward but numerous - 16 in all, with many false climaxes, which extends the quest clumsily. Let's rescue the princess! OK, now, liberate the castle. Oops, our bad; we meant the *other* castle. Oh, the usurper was just a lackey; the real big boss - etc. End, damn you.

For the brawler fan, The King of Dragons does provide a change of scenery and a lengthy ride - it's fun enough. It doesn't reach the heights of the old standards, though. I applaud it for bringing a few bright new ideas to the genre, but it should've studied the basics a little harder.

Rating: 7/10

Synonymous's avatar
Community review by Synonymous (May 25, 2008)

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