Dragon Adventure

by William Stott

Children's/Fantasy
2003

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*Whoomph* (fire breath)!, September 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

While passing through a nondescript village on your travels, you find yourself mixed up in a town meeting. You involuntarily volunteer to get rid of the dragon threatening the lands. (All the other volunteers unvolunteered by the cunning use of the take-one-step-backwards-while-he's-not-looking tactic.)

Skimming the introductory text of Dragon Adventure, you'd conclude that this is as classic a fantasy text-adventure as its title suggests. When reading more carefully, there are some minor but notable subversions though: the dragon isn't particularly malicious, having never killed any person or livestock. Apparently it's been around for ages without causing any trouble. It's just that, well, somehow word has got out about the presence of the dragon and now people know there's a dragon. And that's bad for business.

The game plays as a pretty straightforward example of the hero-defeats-dragon trope. But, as in the intro, some little things don't quite line up with expectations. The two adversaries in the game can both be dealt with in two ways, one being the gung-ho hero-solution, the other... not so much.

The puzzles are not too difficult. Most require you to find the right object and use it in the right spot, without much further manipulation. The right object, however, is often completely unrelated to a medieval-fantasy setting, lending a bit of anachronistic oldschool charm to the solutions no vending machines though...).

Despite the easy puzzles, you are likely to get stuck or trapped or dead(ish) a few times while exploring. The game is designed in a way that actually encourages this. Two nonstandard verbs are provided to deal with such situations: you can RUN from imminent danger and you can RESCUE yourself or a lost object from a dead end. You are returned to a safe place but your inventory is scattered around the map. Should you really, actually die, the game tells you: "You have done something slightly fatal." You are resurrected and, as before, you need to go searching for your lost inventory. I played along with this a few times, but I soon reverted to plain old UNDO.

Dragon Adventure's game-world feels really small. This is partly due to the limited number of rooms (15 or so outdoor locations), but more than that it is a result of a lack of a grand picture in the writing. The way the locations and your movements between them are described, it feels as if the Mountains are right nextdoor to the Beach, only a small hop away.

The implementation of locations and objects is surprisingly deep for a game of this limited size and ambition: (almost) all nouns have descriptions of their own, and well-written evocative ones at that. It's nice to read about a beautiful location and find you're able to examine all the details mentioned in it separately.

To pull off an unoriginal story such as this hero-dragon tale in a text-adventure, the gameplay has to be spot on. This is where Dragon Adventure drops the ball.
It seriously lacks alternative verbs for necessary actions and some very intuitive actions are not implemented at all (You cannot LOOK IN a container which obviously has something rattling around in it for instance.)
I also encountered a number of bugs: the dragon killed me with a fireball when it was already dead for three or four turns, and I was able to have a piece of parchment simultaneously in and out of its container.

Nonetheless, a few hours of non-assuming fun.