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Challenge of the Dragon (NES) artwork

Challenge of the Dragon (NES) review

"Meanwhile, you have "Dragon Style Kung Fu", which consists of flailing about with a tiny sword, tapping foes with your foot and executing an amazingly awkward jumping kick. The ghost of David Carradine is not impressed."

In all likelihood, the greatest thing Color Dreams contributed to the world wasn't a game, but a name. For a trio of brawlers the company released (unlicensed) on the NES, they crafted an engine dubbed the Kung Fu Game State Machine -- an awesome name for comically deficient programming.

To successfully battle enemies in the Kung Fu Game State Machine, you need to move with speed and precision, but the play control is shoddy and when you jump, you'll likely slide a half-step or so upon landing to ensure things won't go as planned. Fighting is generally handled by running up to an enemy while pounding the attack button with fury. If the rascal prefers to hang back and wing projectiles, you'll be chasing it around the screen while tap-tap-tapping the button whenever you get within range (ie: right on top of it). The closest thing to a special move are bombs that cause a pitiful amount of damage to all enemies on screen, there are no ways to upgrade your character and little (if any) enjoyment to be found at any point.

Challenge of the Dragon was the first game made with this engine and I have to say it pleasantly surprised me by actually being better than the second one, Operation Secret Storm. In fact, if this is possible, I hate that game even more after playing Challenge because Color Dreams essentially copied most of it -- while making things EVEN WORSE! Yes, instead of learning from their many initial mistakes, these guys ignored them and focused their energy into finding new ways to screw up an already bad engine.

I control a knight who watched an evil wizard swipe his girlfriend during the intro. By reading the instructions, you get a bit more "plot" noting the wizard had been mostly harmless until hitting puberty and going completely bonkers. Oh, and the chap also is mind-controlling every other warrior in the kingdom to act as a buffer between you and he -- which might mean he's really God. Since, like most Color Dreams' games, Challenge has an insane level of difficulty, I'm sticking with that theory because deities love stacking the deck in their favor.

Although (and I can't believe the words I'm about to type), this game WASN'T a complete botch-job from the beginning. The first couple of stages, while not impressive, were actually sort of tolerable. Life refills were fairly common and none of the enemies were overly troublesome. Challenge of the Dragon actually showed Color Dreams could create somewhat competent opening stages to introduce players to their particular style of brawler. Heck, living up to the game's title, you even fought a dragon as the second level boss! At least, I think it was. The graphics were quite lacking in detail, but the creature did fly around the screen, so as far as I'm concerned, it was a dragon.

But then the third stage came.....and with it, ninjas.

The advantages they had immediately turned this game into the experiment in sadism one expects from Color Dreams. They moved quickly, had superior jumping ability and could fire shurikens at will. Meanwhile, you have "Dragon Style Kung Fu", which consists of flailing about with a tiny sword, tapping foes with your foot and executing an amazingly awkward jumping kick. The ghost of David Carradine is not impressed.

The best way to fight ninjas is to keep as close as possible to prevent shuriken-mania from decimating your life, but that's a good way to scroll more enemies on the screen. Challenge is fond of putting you into fights with two or three enemies, but only one will immediately attack. The others won't appear until you've crossed an invisible line. When it's ninja-time, you definitely don't want two or more on the screen at once or it's doomsday. So, you'll creep forward really slowly and when one appears, stand near the left side of the screen, jumping shurikens and waiting for him to charge you, giving you an opportunity to whack him a couple times. That is boring, but at least keeps you alive.

In the next level, the ninjas also throw bombs that detonate a moment after hitting the ground. So much for that strategy. Prepare to be overwhelmed.

At this point, I realized I'd entered Color Dreams Heaven, where sanity is illegal. In the fourth stage, you fight NOTHING but bomb-throwing ninjas, including what likely will wind up a three-on-one confrontation at the end. The first boss you face is a wizard. In the seventh level, you engage in multiple confrontations with two or more of those chaps. After you've played through about three or so stages, you've seen just about everything Challenge of the Dragon has to offer -- now, you're mainly going against tougher versions of old enemies or a bunch of them at the same time. Oh, and God.....I mean the main evil wizard guy, who really is little more than one of the game's other mages, but on some really potent steroids.

And that's the story of Color Dreams in a nutshell. These guys were capable of approaching competency at times, but actually reaching it seemed beyond them. Like most of their games, Challenge of the Dragon was difficult, but in all the wrong ways. Anyone can make a game tough by simply handicapping players with poor gameplay. Unfortunately, that seemingly was the extent of their ability.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 22, 2009)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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