It might have dragons in it, but this co-operative platform shooter needs a little more fire in its belly.
I’ve long been a mark for 2D “run and gun” platformers, so when Dragon Bros came up for review I had some expectations. Not just as a fan of the genre, but because of what UK indie dev Space Lizard Studio says about it. When a game is pitched with its inspiration as Super Time Force you have to listen, right?
I enjoyed Super Time Force more than most; it used genre clichés and pixel art more for flavour than core design, being sensible enough to rest its weight on an innovative time manipulation mechanic. Dragon Bros doesn’t have such a gimmick, but it does have the clichés. Now, I’m old enough to remember its real inspirations first time around. Games like Bubble Bobble and Pang have their place; it’s just that a reskin of them with added guns is difficult to get excited about.
To be fair to Dragon Bros, the parallels with Bubble Bobble are not absolute. Most obviously they share their cutesy dragon protagonists, though the former game’s simple vertical ascents through each level are replaced here with…simple horizontal traversal instead. Bubble projectiles are now guns; a selection of temporary pick-ups change firing styles (including lasers and shotguns), while fallen enemies drop collectibles to charge a special firing mode for each.
Structurally this is standard platform-shooter fare, with each screen offering waves of enemies that must be dispatched before you are allowed to progress to the next. Unusually for this kind of game, a recovering energy bar is employed to offer a generous difficulty curve. In 2-player, the challenge is even more accommodating, as play continues for as long as one of you is still standing. Fallen comrades respawn once a short timer has elapsed.
Progress through a level opens up a choice of destinations on a simple grid map. Think of Shovel Knight’s level selection system and you’re there. Similarly, there are sub level missions on the map that offer a shorter, alternative play style. This includes the Pang levels I mentioned (shooting harpoons at bouncing, splitting balls) and a riff on Space Invaders. They are consistently fine, and I cannot muster the energy to be any more critical or complimentary than that.
What Dragon Bros does on paper is perfectly inoffensive, but I have to come back to those expectations. The sense of character that Super Time Force nailed is just not here. Also, the core shooting experience doesn’t have the dynamism of something like Gunstar Heroes (the game that birthed by interest in this genre). It kind of meanders along, providing function without flair.
I want to say that Dragon Bros’ absolutely okay level of mediocrity means it outstays its welcome – at least then I could use a pun about how it might ‘drag on’ – but the truth is that it’s harmless even in that respect. Serviceable and disposable are not flattering words to use on a game I wanted to like. They just happen to be fair for a lukewarm experience that falls short of fiery aspirations.
Dragon Bros was provided to us by Microsoft via a download code for Xbox One.