Review: Dragon’s Wake

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In fantasy video games the goal usually is to slay the terrifying dragon that reigns over the kingdom through fear and fire, but Brainbox Software has flipped that script to make the dragon the empathetic hero.

Dragon’s Wake is the coming of age tale about a young, blue dragon that, with a few side to side wiggles of the analog stick or directional keys, hatches from its egg to enter an unknown world. What should be a momentous occasion immediately turns tragic, however, as the fledgling fire-breather soon discovers its mother slain at the hands of an evil black knight who has ventured into the caves, seemingly on a quest to vanquish the entire race. Thus the goal becomes to evade the knight until the dragon is strong enough to take him down and escape from the cave to the outside world.

Presented without text or voiced dialogue of any kind, the story unfolds through in-game imagery as well as still artworks which appear as the loading screens between areas. The adventure only lasts for around an hour, but despite its diminutive size the game can be completed in multiple ways, influencing how the story proceeds and ultimately concludes with an ending sequence that recaps the journey in a slideshow of important events displayed like pages out of a coloring book. This primarily involves deciding the fate of companion NPCs. Whether or not the dragon reaches the surface alone or with its friends is determined by direct game actions at key moments that you’ll have to discover on your own. The brevity of the game will likely leave you wanting more (in both good and bad ways), but there is at least worthwhile reason to play through multiple times.

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The game itself takes the form of a classic 2D platformer that looks and feels straight out of the 80s and 90s, except in place of traditional jumping and double-jumping is a flight mechanic. Now the dragon is not yet mature enough to take full flight, but it is able to glide over long distances with the jump button held down, while tapping the button in succession flaps the dragon’s wings to gain temporary boosts in elevation to reach higher ledges. The timing is a bit tricky to nail at first, but once you have it down the glide-flap-glide-flap flow to navigating the subterranean environs puts forth a satisfying challenge.

Basic combat and environmental puzzle-solving elements also factor into the proceedings. The dragon’s first form of attack is a simple bite, which doubles as an eat mechanic for gobbling up killed bunnies, snakes, bats, lizards, mice and other cave dwelling critters to replenish lost health (represented by hearts). Eventually the dragon gains powers to breath fire in a continuous stream, spit fireballs, and do a ground slam from the air, all of which double as attacks in combat against ghosts, goblins, and skeletons as well as methods for breaking or burning through barriers. What’s also cool is seeing the dragon evolve and grow in size as it acquires new abilities. Eating special types of creatures grants the dragon additional heart containers, increases the number of wing flaps possible during a single glide, and boosts fire breathing/fireball capacity.

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Unfortunately, given how quickly the game passes by, the Metroidvania-esque ability progression falls a little flat because you simply don’t get enough time for the evolutionary growth to feel like it truly matters. Normally I don’t care about game’s being “too short,” but in this instance I enjoyed the game so much that once it ended I was left craving for more. On the bright side, nothing in the game feels superfluous, like it’s there just to pad things out, which is a problem some of these types of games can suffer from if the balance isn’t just right. In the end, I’d rather have a tighter small game like this than a longer experience that’s loaded with filler.

Despite the underlying feeling that the game would benefit from more of everything (in proper balance of course), Dragon’s Wake overall is a wholesome, single-sitting platform adventure that captivates like a fantasy picture storybook and brings some fresh ideas to the fore while staying rooted in the traditions of the genre. Brainbox has confirmed that a sequel is in the planning stages, so that’s something to look forward to down the road. In the meantime, anyone with an affinity for retro 2D platformers is sure to love this little dragon that could.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Dragon flight platforming is smooth and responsive
+ Engaging story and world-building without text or dialogue
+ Different actions/choices influence ending outcome, add needed replay value

Cons:
– Jump/fly mechanic can be tricky at first
– Leaves you hungry for more

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Brainbox Software
Developer: Brainbox Software
Release Date: 12/10/2015
Genre: 2D Platformer
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Dragon’s Wake is available on Steam for $3.99.

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!