Everybody wants to feel like God from time to time. That’s part of the appeal of games that involve evolution, like Spore or Pokémon. To witness evolution in the real world, you have to do something like make a bunch of fruit flies have sex with each other for several generations. Granted, this might actually be more interesting than trying to get a Magikarp up to level 20, but once you do, you get a freaking Gyrados! Dragon Evolution should be a good God-gig in theory, but it would be a lot better if there were more of a world for us to influence.
The opening message in Dragon Evolution should tell you everything you need to know about your objective: “Evil tribal men are stealing dragon eggs for food.” Alright. “You have 9 years to evolve to powerful dragon and destroy the evil tribe!” Interesting grammar, but I’m on it! If you assume (like me) that this means the way to beat the game is to figure out how to create the best dragon possible and defeat the tribe, you’d be wrong. The game is actually an endless runner where your aim is to incinerate/dissolve/bash/drown/gobble as many tribesmen as you can before time runs out.
Since there’s no way to beat the game, the fun comes from completing missions (which help increase the score multiplier) and discovering new skills by mixing different traits. If you equip your dragon with acid for three rounds and then upgrade his tail in the next, his tail will shoot acid. Upgrade the dragon’s head a few times and you’ll be able to defeat enemies with your bad breath.
There’s a “Skill Book” that keeps track of every special move you discover, which would be really useful for tweaking combinations to figure out more—except there’s no need, because every combination is already listed. It doesn’t say anything about what the skill looks like or what kind of damage it does, but you’re supposed to be God around here, so why are you being handed cliff notes? It might have been cool to try evolving with acid nine times in a row, but you already know that nothing exciting is going to happen, so there’s no point. Thanks, Skill Book.
Fortunately, the graphics still make it rewarding to try out different moves even if you didn’t exactly discover them yourself. The black and yellow coloration of the dragon stays the same but its form changes in really interesting ways, from growing spikes to facial hair. Another nice touch is that that it subtly gets bigger when you increase its energy. The backdrops in each world are cartoony but lovely. Aside from the spelling and grammar issues (“comfirm evolution?” Oy vey.) no part of Dragon Evolution is ugly.
However, Dragon Evolution is pretty light on strategy. For the most part, skills affect tribesmen and their fortresses in the same way. There are few differences other than adding more damage as your dragon evolves. The only kind of specialization is painfully obvious. Guess what, fire moves don’t cause damage in Fire Tree World! “What a shocker,” said no one. The only real strategy comes from balancing your ability to damage both buildings and tribesmen, maintaining enough health and deciding when it’s more prudent to fly away from enemies instead of attacking them.
If only you were able to fly when you wanted to! I had a real problem with the responsiveness of the controls. Left and right worked fine individually, but often the game wouldn’t register both at the same time. That’s the mechanism you use to fly, and you need to fly in order to avoid traps, and if you don’t avoid them, you die. Instead of avoiding spikes, my dragon would end up repeatedly head butting them.
The interface could use improvement too, given that there’s no way to refer to your current missions in the middle of a round or pause the round at all. To be honest though, any time someone needed me for something I had no qualms about putting down my phone—leaving my dragon to carry on until it died alone. I wouldn’t earn many points in that year, but so what? Without any stakes to draw me in, I had no interest in being a merciful God.
At the end of the day, the game did succeed in allowing me to create some badass dragons, but it just didn’t give me enough ways to use them. The tribesmen are painfully dull. They stand in one place and mindlessly shoot arrows without even bothering to aim. The different worlds are nice to look at, but each barely changes the conditions of the run. The nine-year period is totally arbitrary since the world looks no different in year nine than in year one. In a game where the world doesn’t evolve, having the power to evolve its inhabitants has limits. It becomes inevitable that God will tire of his creations and find somewhere else to play.