Dragon Up (iOS) review

Dragon Up is a new iOS game from East Side Games. It was tested in the Canadian App Store prior to Christmas, but is now available worldwide as a free download from the App Store.

Dragon Up is heavily inspired by Tiny Tower — even East Side Games has said this — and the influence of Nimblebit’s runaway success is almost immediately evident in the flow of gameplay. Essentially, Dragon Up is a game about making as much money as possible as efficiently as possible. This is achieved by purchasing and hatching new dragon eggs (the equivalent of building new floors in Tiny Tower) and then sending these dragons on various “quests” (the equivalent of stocking floors with saleable items in Tiny Tower) until they come back and vomit up their earnings for a set period of time. Like Tiny Tower, dragons continue to produce income even while the game is not active — the player will be informed as to how much they have earned upon their return.

Dragons have a particular amount of energy with which they can go on quests, and must rest when they run out. Regular visitors to the dragon cave (the equivalent of the people in the elevator in Tiny Tower) bring food to the dragons, which rewards them with experience points. Feeding a dragon its favorite food — an item which matches its color — will give it additional experience. Leveling up dragons allows them to partake in more rewarding quests, and various treasures may also be found to improve their abilities. Occasionally normal visitors will be replaced by wizards, who will provide a variety of benefits such as restoring dragons’ energy or automatically feeding them their favorite food — normally, the piece of food a visitor gives a dragon is randomized.

The long-term goal for the game is to hatch enough dragons to reach a mysterious door at the top of the tower and discover what lies within. Prior to that, the player is given a variety of quests to work through, which encourage them to try out a variety of things the game has to offer — including spending the game’s hard currency on speeding up time-consuming tasks or expanding the tower’s “hoard” for storing treasure items.

The game features a “guild” system that allows players to group together and exchange gifts with one another without having to be friends on Facebook or Game Center. This is not implemented especially well, unfortunately — while there is a simple option to find friends’ guilds using Game Center or Facebook, all the “browse” function does is take players to a Facebook comments thread full of “add me” and “our guild is full” posts. There is relatively little benefit to being a member of a guild outside of exchanging gifts with one another, so those who are unable to find one to join aren’t missing out on a great deal.

The game monetizes through sales of its soft and hard currency. Soft currency is required in increasingly-large quantities to purchase new dragon eggs, much like in Tiny Tower, while hard currency is used to speed up tasks or purchase premium items such as equippable treasures that improve the dragons’ abilities — these may also be fused together to make new items. Again like Tiny Tower, hard currency is awarded to players fairly generously even without paying, though naturally those who pay will be able to make faster progress. There are also occasional opportunities to watch video ads in exchange for hard currency rewards.

Dragon Up’s biggest strength is its art style, which is packed with personality and features some really excellent animations on the dragons. Unfortunately, this excellent presentation isn’t enough to disguise the fact that it’s simply not a particularly interesting game. The formula hasn’t significantly evolved from the formula that Tiny Tower set, and this means we’ve seen it all before. Watching dragons throw up coins is entertaining for a short while, sure, but the lack of depth to the gameplay soon becomes abundantly apparent, and the game becomes a chore to play — much like Tiny Tower did after a while. The gameplay doesn’t significantly evolve over time — the player simply gets more things to tap on and the amount of money they earn at once becomes higher. There’s no real strategy or skill required to play, making this yet another mobile game that is little more than a timewaster or toy rather than a game with any real depth.

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Excellent art and animation unfortunately don’t disguise the fact that this is little more than a rather dull take on Tiny Tower.