Dragon Portals comes to us from MythPeople (casual games brand of Finnish-based 10tons Ltd), the same folks behind the wonderful Azkend (reviewed here). At its core we have basic match 3 gameplay but the innovative play mechanics and slick presentation create a very different feel that stands out from other titles in the genre. I would have published this review weeks ago but I was waiting on an update that fixed a major crash bug. The developer was as good as their word though and the update finally arrived so here we are; onward to the review!
The game takes place in a world where friendly dragons roam the skies. However, a dark magic has befallen the realm which has bound the dragons to the earth. Ingame you represent Mila, a simple girl who discovers she is a descendant of the mythical Dragon Sentinel and the only one who can restore the freedom of the dragons and solve the magical mystery. To save them you must match colored orbs before time runs out (yes, this is a timed game) and the dragons crash to earth. An ingenious feature here is the fact that the gameboard is itself the dragons and all the matching goes on within them as they quickly drop from the sky. The whole thing is wonderfully drawn and animated and definitely eye candy. Anyway if you can match enough orbs you save them, otherwise they crash to earth and you have to try, try again. Helping your cause are powerups, gained periodically as you progress. Somewhat unique is how the powerups are used. Basically there are 15 total and divided into 3 types: destructive, creative and passive. You can select 1 from each category (or none if you’re hardcore) then as you play, any time you create a chain of at least 3 matches in 1 move, one of those powerups is chosen randomly and appears somewhere onscreen. A simple touch activates it and they range from the standard (lightning bolt, fireball) to the nifty like being able to ‘paint’ orbs the same color for some strategic matching. You can also stockpile powerups onscreen for later use.
In the main story mode your progress through each level is charted through an attractive scrollable map; about 70 levels in total. You can also replay any level you as you go and why would you wanna do that you say? Each level ends up with a star-rating out of 5 plus there’s an ‘outro’ sequence at the end of each level where you can gain bonus points. The better you play the more stars and higher bonus you can achieve. This is a nice touch as it gives players a decent reason to replay levels for that ‘perfect game’. Periodically you’ll be presented with an optional minigame where you can get even more bonus points along with some insightful tips by taking pictures of dragons for a research doctor. The minigame is a decent diversion but absolutely non-critical to the story so it’s really cool that the game allows you to skip it if you so desire.
Quick word about the production values in this game: splendid. The sound (with one teeny exception), music, graphics and overall level of polish are simply outstanding. Neat little nuances abound like the blinking eyes of the dragons or the satisfying splash screen when you garner an achievement. You cannot possibly be dissatisfied with audio/visual elements presented here.
In addition to the main story mode there are 2 other modes. I mention them here for completeness but to be honest after checking them out a few times each for the review the only one I will consider playing is Islands and even then only very rarely as both modes have the tendency to burn you out on the play mechanic in a hurry.
- Survival – here you pick a single powerup and try to keep the dragons aloft as long as possible though you’re allowed to lose 2 along the way.
- Islands – this is survival but ALL powerups are available and randomized (you can still sacrifice 2 dragons).
Just a few items for the props and flops section so here goes.
- sound and music volume sliders are extremely wonky so it’s exceedingly difficult to get your selections to ‘take’
- minor gripe but the sound effect used when an orb hits another orb or the edge of the screen just sounds like a ping pong ball hitting a paddle; after spending a long time playing this game I’m still not used to it and it just seems out of place
- no screen flip support
- no iTunes music support
- bug, the pause feature does not work on Islands mode, the pause screen comes up but the game plays on behind it (pause works fine elsewhere).
Version reviewed – 1.15
Reviewed on – iPhone 3GS OS 3.1
iTunes link – Dragon Portals