There is a dragon living in the kingdom, guarding his hoard of treasure. The king has decreed that it is time for the serpent’s reign to end. The only solution is to steal the dragon’s mate away from him and take command of the land again!
That’s the general premise of dʒrægɛn: A Game About a Dragon, which is currently in development and on Steam Greenlight. While it sounds like the most standard of fantasy tropes, dʒrægɛn has a twist. You play as the dragon and you’re pretty bummed out that the king kidnapped your girlfriend. Especially when all you want to do is watch trashy daytime television.
I got a chance to play the demo for dʒrægɛn today. The creator describes it as being “an exploration-adventure masquerading as a platformer RPG. “It’s a cute little game with a couple of polarizing features that I suspect will ultimately make or break it.
I can’t talk about dʒrægɛn without talking about its art style, which is easily its most defining feature. It’s a hand drawn game, with levels that look as if they come from a child’s book rather than traditional game design. For the most part, the artwork is done with crayons, though I think I saw some markers and colored pencils as well. It’s a welcome change from the retro graphics that many indie platformers have, and some of the aspects of it quite well done. The character design is pretty cute. The dragon wears hippie glasses, there are revolutionary sheep, and some of the guards goof off on their phones when you’re not near them. The storytelling comes in the form of pages that look as though they could be from a kid’s book. Those pages are where the art style works the best.
Where I feel the graphics become challenging is in the settings themselves. It looks more like a child’s drawing rather than being an illustration from a child’s book, and I think that’s an important distinction to make. There are games out there that pull off the children’s book illustration look, and I actually like a lot of those. In my opinion, if the aim to is create a game that could look like a children’s book, it could be helpful to draw inspiration from books in that genre. Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, and Shel Silverstein all used pretty simple illustrations, but there’s still a level of polish there that I think would be beneficial if applied to this game.
I wish the game environments had the same level of detail and finesse that the dragon illustration does. The crayon texture can be distracting and tends to lack depth since the white of the paper shows through on almost every color. And where the design of the dragon was clearly well thought out, the trees, buildings, mountains, and signs of the world feel sloppy by comparison. There’s not a lot of contrast between light and dark, which actually made my eyes tired after a while. I think if the main material used to create the art is going to be crayon, the illustration style itself needs to offset the childish nature of the medium by feeling a bit more realistic and mature. Parts of the game are super cute, but I almost feel like the unrefined nature of the graphics kept me from getting fully drawn into the world.
And that’s a shame. While the plot is quite basic and simple, the writing is good and it had me chuckling. I like the idea of a lazy dragon who watches TV shows about baby daddies and has a girlfriend who’s a bit of a feminist. I like the idea of revolutionary sheep who are pissed off that the establishment is taking their wool for unfair wages. It’s irreverent and I’d like to learn more about this strange world. I actually wish there were more of an incentive to learn about the lore of the world through exploring the levels. It’s fun to earn new abilities through exploration, but I think added story in the levels would give them depth that they’re lacking now.
At the moment, the levels feel very short and are not too difficult to complete. The creator of the game, T.W. Dragon, has said that he wants this to be the kind of game where you go back and replay previous levels as you grow stronger to discover additional secrets. While I like this concept, I think the initial playthrough of each level needs to offer a bit more as well. Whether this is through more lore or plot, or by additional challenges, I think it could only improve the game.
dʒrægɛn: A Game About a Dragon, shows promise, especially in the humor with which the story is told. Though I personally am not 100% sold on the art, I know others who like it. The game plays fairly well, especially when using a gamepad over a keyboard. The music is charming, and as a whole, the game is a cute diversion from the normal bloody hack and slash of many games. If you’re the type who often ends up cheering for the dragon in fantasy stories, this game will likely make you smile.
Check it out on Steam Greenlight, and if you like it, give it a vote to help it eventually end up on Steam.