nostalgia (n); 1. A sentimental yearning for the past. 2. The feeling a former SNES junkie is overwhelmed by after firing up his review copy of Dragon Orbs on the PC.
It may be the stuff to bring a tear to the eye of some old school gamers out there, but does Dragon Orbs have what it takes to revolutionise indie puzzle gaming as we know it? The short answer - no.
Dragon Orbs relies on the tried and true formula of a bunch of objects, in this case coloured orbs, which need to be cleared from the screen in order to progress to the next level (think Tetris, Dr Mario, Puyo-Puyo to name a few). The player controls a dragon with the ability to move from side to side across the top of the screen and to shoot orbs vertically down into the playfield of orbs below. Once three or more orbs are connected, they disappear, and any orbs that were resting on top of them will slide down and sometimes cause more groups to be cleared.
When multiple groups of orbs are cleared in a single shot, bonus points are awarded in proportion to the amount of orbs cleared. The screenshot shows a simple example. More extravagant shots yield much better points, but I always struggled to hit the 'print screen' key on time after a particularly satisfying move.
There is some strategy involved if the player is shooting for the high score list, since it is desirable to make as many high scoring combos as possible. If your goal is simply to get from one level to the next however, the task is much simpler. I have played through to level 22 before in one sitting before quitting out, the levels not being very difficult at all. The game is over when the dragon is forced into touching any of the orbs in the playfield which are moving up slowly all the time. In Dragon Orbs, you have only one life.
Your dragon cannot spit black orbs, and thus, the only way to clear black orbs from the playfield is to use the randomly shot fireball (also available as a pickup). White orbs transform into the colour of the orb that was shot at them and release one of three pickups. Apart from the fireball there are treasure chests and whirlwinds for extra points and penalty points respectively.
The game can be played on the arrow keys (movement) and space bar (shoot), or with a gamepad if you are a SNES diehard like me. Mouse control of the dragons movement is not implemented, but might have made the game more accessible to the casual gamer. There is an online high score chart so you can show off to family and friends. Gameplay is smooth and intuative.
On the negative side of things, when the game is run in full screen mode, the buttons for 'restart game' and 'quit game' do not work on either of my two test rigs. The only way to exit the game is with the trusty alt-F4 keystroke. The option to start a game from a previously completed level is either impossibly cryptic to understand, or just plain broken.
Dragon Orbs looks like a game from the early 90's. The retro look and feel is there in the graphics, and the music and sound is comparable to what you would have got on your 16-bit console. At a lowly $5, you probably have enough change right there in your pocket to buy it, so there are no complaints in that regard.
Although the game does not break any ground in terms of innovation, the gameplay does have its moments, mostly in setting up and detonating the big combos, despite the animations and sound effects for them seeming a little lacklustre. Follow our link at the top of the page to try the fully featured demo which contains 5 levels as well as a tutorial. The game is easy to play and is well suited for kids, which these days is an added bonus in computer games.
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