IGN Review of American Dragon Jake Long: Attack of the Dark Dragon
There's a reason almost every culture in the world has a form of mythology involving dragons; they're totally badass. Video games about dragons on the other hand, tend to be hit or miss (I'm looking at you, Spyro!). WayForward has tried its hand at creating a dragon-based video game, based off the hit Disney show, American Dragon Jake Long. For the most part, American Dragon: Jake Long - Attack of the Dark Dragon flies, but a few annoying parts keep it from soaring.
Jake Long has that kid superhero dilemma going on. He's trying to balance school, hanging with friends, and occasionally saving the world. No biggie though, since Jake can transform into a dragon. That's right, a freaking dragon. Let's see Kim Possible do that! After his little girlfriend is captured, Jake must battle his way through New York City in order to save her, and defeat the Dark Dragon holding her captive. At least, I think that's the plot. It takes a while for the story to get going, and despite Dark Dragon being in the title, it's not even mentioned until the game is nearly complete. The dialogue during the cutscenes doesn't really move the story along much, and if players aren't familiar with the show, they'll probably be a bit confused. Most of the main characters make appearances, including Jake's best stereotype friends, Trixie, the Ebonics master and Spud, the stoner-in-training.
Jake fights evil as himself and the American Dragon, which he can only become when he's gotten enough energy. Fighting enemies is the quickest way to get enough energy to transform. There are some portions in every level that require Jake to be in his dragon form, and at these points there is always an energy source close at hand. WayForward seems to have the right idea when it comes to which character gets more screen time. Playing as the American Dragon is so much cooler, and the developers have created tons of opportunities to "dragon up" and stay that way.
Each level in the game has three different sections. There's the basic platforming part, the flying part, and the boss battle. The platforming aspects are, for the most part, rudimentary. Players jump over things, kick some bad guys, then jump over more things. The on-rails design in a 3D world makes the ability to explore limited, but the developers managed to create some tricky environments. The majority of player's time will be spent on jumping between differently colored platforms. Jake has to collect special gems to activate the colored platforms and progress in the level. The developers seem to have forgotten a key part of any game that involves a lot of floating platforms and bottomless pits; the ability to hang onto ledges. I have the ability to turn into a fire-breathing, flying dragon, but I can't pull myself up from a ledge? Combine that with Jake's ridiculously long airtime when he jumps, and the moving platform sections become an exercise in frustration.
The flying levels are a quick respite from the platforming, and keep the game fresh the whole way through. Players have to guide the American Dragon through the air, fire-blasting enemies out of the sky. The levels don't last very long, but they're a nice distraction. Flying around the different locales is kind of fun, and I liked getting to shoot down moth women around the Statue of Liberty. It's a shame that the levels are so short, and offer no challenge whatsoever, because they look really cool. The flying levels are also the multiplayer levels. Unfortunately, there is no single-card multiplayer, which is a shame. I would have liked to play some dragon dog fights, but now I have to find someone else that has the game. It's a missed opportunity, especially since the multiplayer is very basic anyway.
All the boss battles have the same basic theme, but each of them play a bit differently. The level is a small, circular, on-rails environment. The boss is in the center and Jake runs around them. Each boss is defeated in a different way, so even though the layout is the same, they all feel different. It's nice that the game doesn't just repeat the same format and just make it slightly harder.
The Nintendo DS's specific features play a part in the game, but most of them are unnecessary. Jake's dragon abilities can be used by rotating a pendant on the touch screen. I found that using the shoulder buttons to rotate the pendant is a lot faster, and is easier than having to use the stylus and all the D-pad at once. When Jake builds up enough energy to turn into his dragon form, players can either tap on the touch screen or yell "Dragon up!" into the microphone. I found out through numerous tests that I actually had to say the phrase like Jake does in the show, which comes off something like "DragonYUP!" After a few times I felt foolish, and grew tired of the stares I was getting, so stopped.
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