After eating a pepper that’s a little too intense, a dragon pup gets blown far away from home in the resulting bout of gastric distress. Now it’s up to the player to guide him along in Drag’On (Out Now for $0.99), a title that says just as much about its gameplay as it does about the cute web-winged protagonist. Drawing on the logic puzzle and physics puzzle genres, it asks the player to shape the dragon’s flight path before sending him along, taking care to build routes that keep him out of harm’s way while satisfying his sweet tooth.
All manner of twists, bends and kinks can be introduced into the dragon’s flight path by way of knobs that the player drags around like knots in a very elastic cord of rope. A perfectly completed level is one in which the dragon reaches a landing cloud after threading his way around threats – usually an assortment of blocks that’ll knock him right out of the air should he smack into them – and eating all the little cupcakes situated onscreen. As an added wildcard, sometimes the dragon will have to chow down a chili pepper so he can burp out a stream of flame that burns away obstacles in his flight path; in these cases the player must take care that he doesn’t head straight for a cupcake while he’s still in flamethrower mode, or else he’ll char it beyond edibility.
Flight path generation is a pre-determined affair rather than one conducted on-the-fly, so consider Drag’On a test of prediction and spatial logic rather than something that will put the player’s reflexes to work. During its live tutorial levels I worried that the game might be too easy or that it wouldn’t evolve much as the player progressed, but a heaping helping of physics puzzle integration saves the day here. Level design presents some incredibly interesting engineering challenges, like using levers to catapult cupcakes into the dragon’s gullet when he can’t otherwise reach them, or creating flight paths that make him veer away from toppling block towers once he’s burned out structural supports.
The fun in Drag’On lies in the amount of experimentation needed to perfect the pretzel-like paths that solve each level. It’s kind of like trying to construct a working Rube Goldberg machine, setting it in motion and watching it fail dozens of times until it’s finally well-calibrated. While there’s one heck of a challenge lying beneath its cute and cuddly presentation, it feels exceptionally well moderated because the player can get by on mere survival in levels with multiple cupcakes. On the other hand, winging it too often will leave some of its its 36 – soon to be 48 – levels inaccessible, as these remain locked until minimum performance criteria are met.
Drag’On‘s aesthetics are exactly what you’d expect from MovingPlayer after Yslandia— dangerously cute! Parents looking for something to pass off to the kids will perk right up when they see such an adorable protagonist frolicking about in a world lacking guns and zombified villains, but anyone who appreciates engineering challenges should find Drag’On deeply satisfying. Considering MovingPlayer’s talent in the music department, it’s a real shame that the game sticks closely to the physics puzzle tradition of eschewing music during gameplay; Drag’On also seems to reject iTunes tracks. On my wish list for updates would be screen flipping support, as Drag’On can only be played in an orientation I’ve always regarded as upside-down.
iFanzine Verdict: If you toss this one to your kids just because it looks so cute, don’t be surprised if they come away from the experience as little engineering geniuses. If you don’t need action in your puzzle games, Drag’On pleasantly surprises in gameplay depth, challenge, and breadth of content.