Welcome to Bored Games, our monthly gaming column to engage your mind and fill some time.
When I was a kid, I didn’t want a pony (despite what one would think given my rather expansive My Little Pony collection). No, what I really wanted was a dragon. I mean, how freaking cool would that be? Obviously, I knew dragons were fictional beasts, but for someone who grew up poor, so was a horse.
Even though I still can’t afford a pony, I can have dragons. Inconceivable you say? Well let me tell you all about the sweet flying lizards that you too can carry around in your pocket.
I probably downloaded and played over twenty mobile games in the course of this review, and was dismayed to find so few worthwhile dragon-themed apps in existence. Most smartphone games are shameless money grabs (gacha games) that have garbage gameplay and graphics yet still expect you to pay to get the “cool stuff” or “win.” Developers, who ask for money when they can’t even provide a fun base game and allow players to get the “cool stuff” slowly over time, are simply preposterous and should be avoided at all costs.
The good news is that while the following games do have “gacha” elements, they respect the player enough to provide an entertaining and progressive experience while keeping the solicitation to a minimum. Mostly.
This delightful game is basically Pokémon meets farming simulator, but instead of anime-style tiny monster pets you get anime-style tiny dragons. Huzzah!
A popular Facebook app that’s now available for iPhone and Android, Dragon City begins with a guided tutorial which shows you how to build your magical island base, level up your scaly friends, breed and hatch new types of dragons from your stable, and—you guessed it—battle against other dragons using special powers.
There appears to be over 500 winged terrors to collect in your
Pokédex Dragonbook, and the game is continually updated with events, quests, and mini-games. Once you level up your island high enough, a multiplayer mode is unlocked which allows you to battle other Pokémon Trainers Dragon Masters online in a player-vs-player (PVP) Arena.
I’ve clocked in about 10 hours in this game off and on over the last two weeks or so, and I have not needed to purchase anything or felt dissatisfied with what I can do for free. The free activities are time gated, which means that you can only grow food, hatch new dragons, build habitats, participate in events, and battle in short spurts every hour or so. You can speed this up with in-game currency (gems) that you can either buy with real money or accumulate slowly over time by leveling up your island, logging in every day for rewards, or winning battles.
That said, I really wish the game didn’t prompt the player to buy things quite so often. Whenever you open it, at least three offers for gems, dragon food, special dragons, island decorations, and other junk will display.
These can be closed in quick succession so you can ignore them easily, but they’re an annoying experience in an otherwise awesome little game. I choose to overlook this and focus on the good things. Your mileage may vary.
Despite its foibles, I have to applaud the developers of Dragon City for their polished graphics and unique dragon concepts. One of the first dragons I acquired was this totally bizarre banana themed gentleman named Rodney. He’s super weird, but I love him.
This game is cute and fun despite its drawbacks. I’d recommend it as a good way to occupy yourself for ten to fifteen minutes every once in a while. There’s enough depth to keep it installed over a greater period of time, but due to the limitations on how long you can play the free elements without using in-game currency it’s not well suited to playing uninterrupted for hours on end.
DRAGON SIM ONLINE: BE A DRAGON
Dragon Sim Online is a roleplaying game (RPG) that does what it says on the tin: you assume the role of a lonely dragon adventuring around a fictional land, leaving terror and destruction in your wake while you search for your mate so you can grow a family.
At first you just need to stay alive as you fly around, fighting and eating enemies to increase your stamina. I was pleasantly surprised by the game’s relatively expansive open world where you can explore each area at your leisure to complete hunting quests and level up your dragon avatar.
Although they’re easy to understand, the flying controls felt awkward at first since their pressure sensitivity isn’t great. It’s far too easy to push forward on the little circle button and send your dragon careening out of control. After five to ten minutes of bumbling, I got the hang of it and was able to glide around the world like a pro. I do have to point out that, even though I had issues, it was hilarious to meander around the world crashing into walls and trees in ponderous pursuit of my prey. (Seriously, I couldn’t stop laughing.)
Flying around burninating peasants isn’t the only goal of this game. You’re also able to breed and raise a family to “perpetuate your bloodline” once you meet your mate somewhere on the map. Each dragon in your brood is customizable, meaning you can change their genders and color palettes or designs to suit your personal preferences. Most of these customizations require in-game currency (coins) which you can slowly accumulate while playing or you can buy them with real money. Just like Dragon City the true joy of this game isn’t eclipsed by these gacha elements. There’s plenty of entertainment to be found in simply exploring the world map.
While you can play Dragon Sim entirely alone, you can also battle other players through the multiplayer mode, or even adventure around with your friends online. I haven’t tried these features yet, but the reviews that highlight these aspects seem to be positive.
This would probably be my favorite out of the three games I reviewed if the graphics were better. The realistic fantasy style reminds me of early 2000s PC games that have grainy textures and flat geometry with clunky animations. This choice baffles me since modern graphics aren’t that difficult to achieve anymore given the many open source rendering engines and design tools available on the market today for game developers, but maybe this was a deliberate tonal choice (possibly a call back to games the developers loved when they were younger).
Regardless, I’d highly recommend this game if you want to pretend to be a real dragon. A little, lost, lumbering dragon. It definitely delivers on that promise.
Yes, the game title actually has an exclamation point in it. I like to think the exuberance captured in this one little detail speaks volumes to the mirth this game will bring you.
Merge Dragons! is a wondrous puzzle game where you fight back against the forces of death and darkness (zombie goblins) by “merging” at least three identical icons on the game map (representing various objects like flowers, fruit, coins, magical statues, stars, rocks, life-giving hearts, etc.) which can be harvested by tiny dragons to restore the dying world. If you merge identical dragon icons together, they’ll combine to create bigger, more powerful dragons that will be able to harvest more hearts or plants. The more dragons and objects that you have, the faster you can expand and defeat the evil zomblins!
There are two main areas in Merge Dragons!—your Camp and puzzle levels. While most of the storyline and ability to acquire new objects or dragons resides in the puzzle levels (which increase in difficulty the higher you go), you could spend hours just puttering around your Camp producing as many life-giving hearts as possible to recover more and more land.
Similar to Dragon City, Merge Dragons! also gates the amount of time you are able to play without spending in-game currency, but instead of preventing access to dragon food, gold, and battling, in this game your dragons have to “sleep” for a period of time before they can be assigned to harvest items again. Depending on how big or small your dragons are, this can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. You can speed this up with in-game currency or by watching ads.
The “gacha” elements in this game aren’t nearly as overt as similar apps, and pretty much remain hidden unless you open the Shop where you can buy gems (which in turn buy objects and dragon eggs). I’d give this game an A on how well it balances entertaining gameplay while respectfully trying to make money off of its player base. If you never want to buy anything, you’ll never feel pressured to do so. I admit that I’ve almost been tempted a few times because some of the dragon eggs you can get in the Shop seem like they’d be super cute.
For me, the best thing about this game is that it’s an incredible stress reliever; I will often pull it out when I’m feeling overwhelmed to relax for a few minutes and recenter myself. It’s repetitive like other stress relieving activities, so it’s easy to zone out and forget my troubles. I also like that you can pick it up and put it down whenever you want, and if you need an extended break you can link your game to Facebook in order to save your progress.
Overall, I’d recommend Merge Dragons! over many other mobile games if you’re looking for a simple way to chill out and have fun in the process. What’s not to like about a match-three game with adorable dragons eager to spread love and happiness into the world?
All three of these games are available on the iPhone App Store and Google Play. Go check them out and let us know what you think in the comments!