Friday, April 27

Review: DragoDino [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The platforming action game is about as iconic a genre as any, in particular on a Nintendo system. Throwing something new into the mix can be a risk but the reward for success can also be substantial. Certainly a popular way that many indies have found to shake up their respective genres is to add roguelike elements to the mix. These have yielded mixed results. In the case of the cute and colorful DragoDino the randomized elements are a nice touch but the penalties to missteps, its slow pacing, and pretty ridiculous load times will mean reactions will vary.

Starting with what works there’s no doubt an appeal to the attractive art style the game sports. Each of your 4 choices of dinos (2 male and 2 females in either white or black) has a slightly different look and attributes but for the most part they play identically so you may as well go with what you like. Each of the game’s main environments are colorful and lush and though many enemies you’ll see over the course of stages are cut from a common base cloth their looks and attacks will tend to vary nicely. As a whole this means that you’d be wise to approach each new enemy with some caution, as throughout the game their respective levels of difficulty to deal with will steadily increase and they will get more lethal to you if you’re not careful.

Control and movement are at the same time interesting and a bit of an issue. On the one hand I appreciate what the controls provide for, and there are all sorts of tricks and hidden goodies to trigger if you know what to look for and what you need to do to activate them. One of the issues I have is how the jump is one button but the charged jump is another. Another problem can arise with picking up and managing power-ups using a combination of the right face buttons as well as the left. It does make sense in the end but there’s no getting around how cumbersome this can be, especially if you want to pick up a one-time use item quickly to use immediately and then pick the item you’d had in place before back up before it disappears. Just as crucial as the controls can be to success they can be tricky and cumbersome depending on what you’re trying to do. For instance, there are power-ups that allow you to drop a stun bomb of some type while gliding. In concept this is very useful but in practice there’s quite a bit of exchanging of button presses that can tie your thumbs in knots.There’s certainly worse out there but at the same time you never like feeling the controls in a game are even a small portion of what may be holding it back..

Delving into the two issues that are holding DragoDino back the most obvious one is that the game’s load times are absolutely ridiculous. Looking around this isn’t a Switch-specific issue so, based on the fact that the levels are quite large and are dynamically generated for each run, I would assume it’s related to the stages being plotted out in memory. While this is something you can get over I do think fair warnings are in order, this can get into multiple minutes and I’ve had the load animations stop before as well, making me concerned the system had crashed. Somewhat tied to the load times is the fact that even as a roguelike fan I don’t find that I agree with the way continues are handled. In particular, if you manage to get to one of the game’s bosses, dying and being sent back to the beginning of a multi-stage grind to get back to the same boss it is annoying. While I understand this is the nature of games in the genre when you look at the sheer volume of time being spent to simply grind back to the same point feels disproportionate. One oddity to note is also that whenever you reach a new sub-stage your power for jumps starts over again. While I understand this from the standpoint of trying to keep you from speedrunning through everything in an incredible hurry it can also make the early portion of each level tedious depending on the randomized seed as you need to figure out how to get somewhere until you get a crystal or two. Again, not crippling, but it can be irritating given the game slow and steady pace.

Overall, DragoDino is hardly a bad game but I’d say people need to be careful in their decision to get it, making sure it’s for them. In many ways its bright and colorful animated looks don’t naturally pair with its level of difficulty, meaning more casual players who could like the style could find it too punishing and people who love a meaty challenge may overlook it because it “looks” like it would be simpler. This, paired with the load times and tough continue system, make it more of an acquired taste even though it has its merits in terms of gameplay.

Score: 7

  • Bright and cheery look
  • Every run will be a bit different
  • Enemy types continue to get tougher and more varied as you progress

  • Load times can be measured in minutes
  • Continues after you die set you back substantially
  • Some awkward controls when it comes to using some power-ups in combination with your base moves