Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Dragon Marked for Death, developed by Inti Creates and published and distributed at retail by Nighthawk Interactive.
I’m a sucker for good sprite work. A nice piece is eye-catching and can convey a lot of character, and I admire artists that can do it well. There’s a lot more to a game than perfectly-placed pixels, though, as Dragon Marked for Death proves.
First things first — the sprites don’t disappoint. The main characters are people who made a pact with a dragon, so they have dragon-inspired powers and that is thoroughly reflected in their design. The animations are smooth, the reptile bits look cool, and when the characters charge up to do a super, it looks amazing.
Unfortunately, once past the visuals, there’s not a lot to it. The levels are simplistic platform-style areas, and the enemies, as great as they look, repeat often and are not placed to create any interesting combat scenarios.
The characters don’t bring much to the table, either. I found myself performing the same attacks over and over, with no complexity, nuance or even combos to keep things spicy. By the end of my first day with Dragon Marked for Death, I felt like I was mindlessly grinding for experience that wasn’t going to amount to anything except higher stats.
I had heard that Dragon Marked for Death was originally designed for cooperative play, so I checked ahead of time to see if things had been rebalanced for a single player. I was told that the developers had made changes so it was friendlier for people playing alone, which was great news. I beat the first three bosses and felt like it went fine enough (they all had a bit too much HP, though) so I’d guess that the rest is do-able. A good thing, since I don’t think I’d be able to get friends to play considering how flat and repetitive it is.
I bailed out of Dragon Marked for Death in a hurry, and despite the fact that I’m still in love with the spritework, this is just one more game where the style wasn’t nearly enough to save the experience.
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I wouldn’t even go so far as to say the pixel art is that good. Frankly, too many faux-retro games nowadays are unambitious and get too much credit as-is; when you look at where 2D gaming was headed on the 32-bit platforms (games like Rayman, Adventures of Lomax, Astal, Tempo, Panzer Bandits, etc.) there was so much more in the way of resolution, color depth, parallax scrolling, animation frames, etc. A few games from very few studios nowadays actually look like they are proper evolutions of that movement; most just look like a confused mash-up of mediocre Atari, DOS and… Read more »