Platform: iOS, Android, Facebook
Publisher: Team Chaos
Developer: Team Chaos
Release Date: September 26, 2013
In the follow-the-leader world that mobile and social gaming sometimes becomes, you could do a lot worse than trying to emulate “Candy Crush Saga” and get people hooked on a match-three game. Team Chaos tries to do that with “Dragon Academy,” marrying some of the now familiar gameplay with some cool theming, cute graphics, and some light RPG elements. It’s not the most ambitious game ever, but it mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do, and its cross-platform launch means if you like it, you can play it on nearly any device you own.
The star of “Dragon Academy” is Melty, a purple dragon you meet as a hatchling. His story is told in a short set of animated comic-like panels that kind of seems like an “Angry Birds” scenario where eggs are being threatened. In any case, the set-up isn’t all that important, as it mostly serves just to frame the game before you get down to business matching runes.
If you’ve played “Candy Crush” or any of its match-three ilk, you’re going to be very comfortable with the basics. The idea is to match three or more of the same runes, either horizontally or vertically, by swapping a rune with one that’s adjacent to it. Matched sets of runes disappear and others drop in to take their place. Beating each level means hitting a target score using a specified number of moves, eliminating goo from certain tiles on the board, or getting certain non-rune objects to drop to the bottom of the board.
Several power-ups help make your life easier, including dragon eggs that can take out whole rows or columns when used in a match, a runic hammer, and a magic wand. But your biggest aid is probably Melty himself, who gets fed by matching purple runes. Once he’s eaten a few times, you can tap him to activate a power that destroys everything underneath the two highest purple runes on the board.
Success is gauged by a three-star system used by many mobile and social games, and completing each stage helps Melty level up—and eventually, grow into a bigger, more powerful dragon. Two other dragons that correspond to other colors can be won by advancing far enough in the game, and three others can be acquired using in-app purchases.
Speaking of IAPs, “Dragon Academy” also has power-ups for sale. And you only get a certain number of “lives” before you need to ask friends to send you more, buy them, or simply be patient enough to wait until your allotment refills. That’s a lot of asking you to buy stuff, though the game isn’t particularly pushy about it.
All of this is fine, and there is the same sense that it could lead to the same “one more try” state of compulsion that marks the very best games in its genre. It’s also wrapped in a package that’s attractive enough, and the sound effects and background music are pleasant too. But it also doesn’t do much to distinguish itself among an already crowded field of similar games, as evidenced by the fact that my children took a quick look at my iPad while I was playing for this review and immediately asked, “Is that ‘Candy Crush?'”
No, no it isn’t. It is a plus that “Dragon Academy” is on iOS, Android, and Facebook right from the get go (and uses Facebook to help you find friends to send requests to on all three platforms), so if you get hooked on it, there’s nothing stopping you from helping Melty and company wherever you are. More likely is that match-three fatigue is going to set in while you play it, because there’s a very good chance you’ve played something very similar to “Dragon Academy” before. Just, you know, without the dragons.
+ Cute dragons help you in your rune-matching adventures
+ Playable on iOS, Android and Facebook with a single profile
– Just too similar to other games in its genre
– Story that could help set it apart doesn’t amount to much