Armageddon Operation Dragon
DSiWare | EnjoyUp Games | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | 500 Nintendo Points
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5th June 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
The game takes the form of an automatic runner positioned from a birds-eye-view perspective, where your land-roving beast continually runs in place while a spherical planet scrolls on a loop. A finite win condition must be worked towards to transport from one sector of the planet to the next -- that being, players are to fill the energy bar on the upper screen by collecting orbs found on the planet floor. Blue prisms often found straying away from the pack will trigger multiplier windows, the length of which is indicated by a separate countdown value underneath the main score. Left and right transitions in response to incoming obstacles are made by dragging your stylus, while jumping simply involves lifting it from the Touch Screen. Seeing as how the game is fashioned after the same template used for Zombie Skape and Snowboard Xtreme, it's refreshing to see that the controls and the overall responsiveness aren't awful for a change, with your on-screen character acting with relatively fluid movements.
Unfortunately, by virtue of the fact that it is the same template, Armageddon Operation Dragon can't escape from incubating questionable design ideas. Unlike the other two games, the game suffers because of its auto-scrolling, for its transition across both screens is not properly executed, presenting a delayed disruption in your ability to read the environment against the upcoming waves of obstacles. Even if this were an intentional decision to afford the player some time to prepare reactions accordingly, it still has a diminishing effect on the action that you're at times ill-prepared for as it becomes more maddening later on.
Worse yet, the game doesn't shy away from haphazard design elements, trying to foster an air of intelligence for itself when it actually just reeks of the game running out of ideas and resorting to bad techniques to circumvent boredom or predictability. Not all are bad, though, so let's address those first.
Wall traps (donut walls, as I like to call them) are some of the best obstacles the game throws at you, forcing you to glance at the top screen as they come down the line to see the only penetrable opening, which may require a well-timed jump to get through. Other worthwhile obstacles include spike strips, as well as tornadoes that sway back and forth with no consistent pattern. Then there are also worms that at first appear on the path up ahead but quickly head underground before re-emerging on the Touch Screen.
You'll notice that most of these are plastered on the floor in front of you, whereas other traps are sudden and form directly on the Touch Screen. An example of this would be red targets that appear just as missiles are about to land from an off-screen location. The mix of traps divides your focus but without ever creating a dizzying effect, forcing you to have a sense of awareness while tension develops. In theory, this should make the game more challenging, but any passes at worthwhile challenge are foiled by one element in particular: electric barriers.
These too appear suddenly on the Touch Screen only, dividing the screen into, at most, three portions when both barriers are active. Unfortunately, they prove to be too disruptive to the experience in the light of the prompt navigation you must make during later waves. Sure, it makes the game even less predictable, but the aforementioned elements already do a good job at that. This just undermines matters, given the often hard-to-control effect that it has on your reaction time.
While the difficulty is there and arcade fans will enjoy the delivery of the game's latter half in particular (when the game is at its best), nothing ever springs forth from it in the way of a formidable hook. The aesthetics are partly there to guide the game along, but they don't have enough fortitude to incite added tension beyond the environmental elements. On the plus side, Armageddon Operation Dragon's soundtrack is a highlight, often encapsulating quite well the action-oriented nature of the affair through electric tunes that are cohesive in the themed planets they each represent. Even while never on the verge of conveying a cataclysmic event, they do have a strength of their own, and that's pleasing to observe.
In other respects, though, the game's presentation lacks finesse. Among the technical faults are jarring sound effects, irregular framerate drops, buggy menus, grainy visuals, and both gameplay and scoring glitches. Its HUD also isn't the greatest when it comes to its life indicator, because even though there's a learned understanding that players have three lives to work with in each sector, there's still some confusion over how this is represented with the colour of the energy bar.
As an experience lasting roughly one hour in length, Armageddon Operation Dragon's appeal is, much like EnjoyUp's other recent creations, thin and short-lived, albeit still relatively in line with the arcade focus. Although there are 32 sectors to get through, it's still not a very replayable game. It was towards the end that the game finally clicked with me, even in the face of its design problems, but I still can't come up with a good enough reason why anyone -- longtime arcade fan or otherwise -- should pursue this, largely because it's an all-around rough experience.
In its present state, Armageddon Operation Dragon is a shabby production. However, underneath the surface lies potential for the future, enough for me to say that EnjoyUp should seriously consider revamping this as a downloadable game for the 3DS. There's a promising, potentially insane game here that could become something of a contender in the field of runners, but it's foiled by design problems that cannot be overlooked. When you can get around the sloppy parts, the design has something working for it. But I don't think many will ever realize what that something is.
16/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 6/10 - Not all obstacles help the design, haphazard elements, functional controls, delay in feedback across both screens
Presentation 6/10 - Different themed explorations, aesthetics help the game along, technical issues, commendable soundtrack, framerate slowdown
Enjoyment 2/5 - At its best towards the end of the experience, design problems disrupt flow, challenge is present but the delivery is lacking
Extra Content 2/5 - Multiple sectors with repeating waves, better length than preceding efforts, leaderboards present but still not very replayable
Equivalent to a score of 53% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System