Indie Quickie: Dragon Bros

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What is it and who made it? A retro run-and-gun shooter/platformer from Space Lizard Studio.

What platforms is it on and how much does it cost? Dragon Bros enters Early Access on Steam today starting at $9.99 plus 10% off for launch week. The official soundtrack is sold separately for $2.99, or included with the game in a Collector’s Edition for $11.98 plus a 17% discount. The price will increase once the game leaves Early Access.

How much did we play? Completed the full extent of the current content build–six main stages and three boss battles–in an hour on the default difficulty. So far I’ve only been able to try solo play.

Any technical concerns, hardware requirements, or other details you should know about? Currently the game only supports local multiplayer, with online co-op a future possibility depending on demand and the success of the Early Access phase. Control schemes are available for keyboards and gamepads. Key rebinding is supported for keyboard play. Three preset schemes are provided for controllers, but I couldn’t find an option to manually configure buttons in full. Regardless, the controls are responsive and on point. I didn’t encounter any specific bugs or technical issues in my playthrough.

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Why should you play it?

    Dragon Bros brings the retro action fast and fierce with a mix of light platforming, dragon-on-robot violence, and a few bosses that overwhelm with bullet hell flair. A pair of pixel art cutscenes (they’re more like stills with touches of animation) set the stage with a wordless narrative intro showing a mother dragon guarding a nest of four dragon eggs as an alien mothership appears to be crashing or under attack. Those unhatched eggs grow up to be the titular dragon bros, and those dragon bros take up arms to fight back against an apparent robot invasion. The sprites are beautifully drawn, especially the 2D backgrounds, which animate with flowing waterfalls and wind-blown leaves and trees, as well as the glorious effects for explosions and gunfire. A soundtrack of high energy chiptunes complete the retro vibe. I also love how the in-game control guides are displayed on giant Gameboy screens. Little flourishes like that only add to the atmosphere.

    What’s most important here is the bullet-riddled action. Your dragon is equipped with a trigger-tapping pistol as the default firearm, but occasionally you’ll come across limited ammo secondary weapon pickups such as a plasma machine gun, laser beam rifle, or shotgun. Defeated enemies explode into showers of yellow scrap rings, which can be collected to fill up an Ultra bar. Once full, unleashing the Ultra power triggers a powerful but time limited secondary fire for the currently equipped gun. For example the pistol gains rapid burst fire, the machine gun switches into spread shot mode, and the laser rifle launches a vertical beam that sweeps across the screen to destroy everything in sight. The controls allow you to shoot horizontally as well as straight up or at an upward diagonal, but there is no downward fire. Moving and shooting is the name of the game, but as the need arises a button can be held down to plant your dragon in place to aim and fire from a fixed position. You can also jump, ground pound from the air, and melee attack. Enemy attacks inflict knockback damage, potentially sending you into pits if too close to a ledge, but thankfully there’s a dodge roll mechanic complete with invincibility frames so attacks can be passed through with proper timing. That move comes in real handy with the bosses.

    The levels progress along at a steady pace, making regular stops to block you in with green barriers on both sides of the screen, forcing you into pitched arena shootouts against waves of enemy bots. Once the area’s clear, the barriers drop so you can continue forward–screen lock prevents going backward–to the next set piece. Checkpoint posts are balanced pretty well, and five difficulty settings (I’m not sure yet what sort of balance adjustments are made between difficulties) present the opportunity for each player to tailor the challenge to their level of skill. At the end of each stage, a screen shows stats for completion time, kill and death counts, and final score.

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Parting Thoughts: Do you dig 2D shooter-platformers like Contra, Metal Slug, and Vectorman? Well then you’re definitely in for a treat here. Dragon Bros is off to a fantastic, well-worth-your-dollar start, but keep in mind that as an Early Access title it is fairly thin on overall content at the moment. Right now the main thing it needs is more levels, more enemy types, more guns, more story context, more modes (I’d personally love to see stuff like speedrun, boss rush, wave survival/score attack, leaderboards, etc), just plain more of everything. What else? Well, character animations could be spruced up just a tad to be smoother and more clearly defined. Certain elements of the HUD and menus could be improved to provide clearer information. Indicators are lacking for time and score during gameplay, and at the end of level recap screen there are no indicators showing whether you’ve set a new high score or speedrun time. There just isn’t enough context or meaning to these stats to motivate replaying stages. I also wouldn’t mind some tweaking to the way the game handles its side-scrolling viewpoint, because sometimes the screen will shift forward too quickly at the end of a battle and block you from being able to go backward for scrap or a weapon pickup that you weren’t given the proper time to collect. Small touches like that are really all that the game needs. It’s already a blast to play as is.

What is Indie Quickie? It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

Disclosure: A Steam code for Dragon Bros was provided to VGBlogger.com by the game’s publisher.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!