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Dragonester (PC) artwork

Dragonester (PC) review

"At first, I didnít know how to classify Dragonester. Research led me to believe that it was some sort of raising simulation with a weird shooting component. Itís not. Rather, itís a unique mix of genres that suck the player into a realm of unexpected complexity and ferocious intensity. "

At first, I didnít know how to classify Dragonester. Research led me to believe that it was some sort of raising simulation with a weird shooting component. Itís not. Rather, itís a unique mix of genres that suck the player into a realm of unexpected complexity and ferocious intensity.

The game is a combination between puzzle and management sim with a distinct retro feel. With only two buildings and nothing to buy, your quaint village looks shamefully empty. It wonít be for long. As a Nester, your job is to take care of the dragon farm where mother dragons lay their eggs. Initially, you only have to collect and sell the small eggs the different colored dragons leave behind as well as make sure their nests are properly maintained (otherwise they break). What little funds you raise upon successfully completing a mission go towards the townís vault where they can be used to purchase new buildings or improve the functionality of facilities on the farm (such as increasing the warehouseís capacity). As you progress through increasingly difficult stages, youíll earn more coin, but also have to deal with plenty of other factors in exchange, including resource management, the dragonsí mood and monsters.

Your task would be boring if all you needed to do were collect a single item, but soon you acquire the aid of alchemy. There are four alchemic processes unlocked throughout the game, and each requires time and a small amount of a lesser resource to make. The hatchery creates one large egg from two small eggs of the same hue, but the exchange is worth it as the large egg sells for triple that of a single small egg. Maintaining a well-stocked inventory isnít so easy. Once you realize that you can no longer produce diamonds because you only have jewels in two of the three colors, youíll need to maximize your dragonsí fertility. Large nests summon giant dragons that produce twice as many eggs (sometimes even a large one), but they cost a lot more money than a regular nest.

Adding to the complexity are the dragons themselves. Early on they all get along just fine. But as you advance to newer and tougher levels, hostilities break out between the species. Similarly colored dragons love each other; smaller dragons will even produce two eggs if theyíre happy enough. Place a blue dragon next to a red one, however, and their respective moods plummet. If they get too upset, theyíll fly off, angrily shattering the nest as they go. Keeping track of your dragonsí behavior may sound simple, but when youíve got nine nests filled with dragons of various colors and sizes (larger ones strongly affect mood), it becomes very easy to lose track of one or three. Include the fact that while this is all happening, youíre still collecting eggs and making more valuable items, and youíll soon be swimming in a sea of activity. Left unattended, multiple nests might break within seconds. The time needed to replace them may cost you a favorable ranking; if too many collapse at once, youíll lose the mission.

Shortly into the game, all kinds of monsters assault the farm. To defend the nests, youíre given a pistol; using it may remind you of the classic arcade shooting days of old. Switching to weapon mode produces a reticule instead of a cursor, which you aim and fire at incoming enemies. Tiny bird-like nuisances irritate nesting dragons, and floating red slimes hover over nests, waiting patiently to take the motherís place after she flies off. Airships zoom across the screen at moderate speed and serve only as targets that drop large quantities of black jewels for alchemic purposes.

The pistol can handle all of these, but as your tasks become more demanding, it quickly becomes impractical. The new weapons you obtain help with that, and for a fee, all can be upgraded to enhance firepower or bullet capacity. The rifle doesnít deal a lot of damage, but it shoots quickly and paralyzes targets while the cannon delivers tremendous blows to anything in its huge radius, knocking survivors about like rag dolls. However, its slow speed and small bullet capacity balance these strengths. My favorite is the shotgun for its sheer utility. Though not as powerful as the cannon, it still kills airships in one hit, and its range slaughters several minor enemies at once.

The extra power comes in handy when tougher monsters appear. The other beasts exist merely to annoy or provide you with free resources but canít actually harm your dragons directly. Black dragons can, and they take pleasure in doing so. They fly around in packs of two or more, spewing scorching death that destroys nests instantly. The only way to avoid the attack is to drive the dragons away before they attack or move the nest out of the way. Such waves come every thirty seconds or so, but regardless of their threat, they require your immediate attention because all of them disrupt your fragile economy.

Every time you complete a level, you earn a rating, each with a specific time requirement (except bronze). While the time limits are challenging, theyíre fair, meaning that no one mission is impossible. At least, that would be the case if it werenít for one critical flaw. When sending a quantity of eggs to be enlarged or turned into jewels, the respective building sometimes fails to recognize that you have eggs of a certain color. Even if the centrifuge has been upgraded to generate four jewels at once, sometimes itíll only metabolize two or three large eggs, completely ignoring the blue ones despite the fact that you have twelve of them. This can happen anytime with any color. To be fair, this only becomes problematic during the last 5 or 6 stages where diamond production is critical to success. There the glitch can be crippling. The delay involved wastes time at best and makes the mission literally impossible at worst. The only way Iíve figured out how to solve it is to quit the game entirely and reload, where you get one shot unimpeded before the glitch kicks in again.

However, thatís not to say the flaw totally ruins the value of the game. In some ways, knowing that glitch exists makes me even more determined to succeed, and it hasnít really stopped me from enjoying myself. If I find myself getting terribly annoyed, I step away, play one of the earlier levels or even turn to the fortress where a larger variety of challenges await. Because those stray from the usual objectives, I rarely grow tired. Some are even more challenging than the main missions themselves. Like the one featuring the virtually indestructible evil dragon Outlaw. Even though you only need to defend nine nests for three minutes, thatís a long time when he and his (killable) buddies wreck the place.

Flawed or not, thereís still a lot going on. With eggs to collect, nests to repair or replace, moods to watch, monsters to destroy and alchemy to perform, your hands will be full to say the least. Thatís why the game is so compelling; it slowly dials up the difficulty until any complacency you felt from the start dissolves in frantic on-screen chaos. Itís more than just a matter of clicking for your life, however. If youíre not selective in your fast-paced management, youíll lose out on the best rewards, because youíll need all the time you can get to produce the sheer amount of resources and sell the most valuable goods it takes to win. Otherwise, there will always be at least one task you fail to complete in time, and missing a gold rating by just two seconds really stings. Believe me. Iíve done it, and I was furious.


wolfqueen001's avatar
Staff review by Leslie Dickson (August 05, 2010)

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