Total time played: 3.5 hours
Short review: A simple side scrolling action platformer that features a neat gimmick where you can turn into a dragon.
Interesting links related to
- No Death Playthrough by Shadowserg (27min 07sec)
- Written Review (Take On the NES Library)
Back in 2013 I got a new job and when I left my old job I got to cash in all of my unused vacation time which amounted to about 6 weeks of time. With a portion of that money I decided to buy some rarer NES game to add to my collection. The two standouts were Panic Restaurant and Dragon Fighter. I popped in Dragon Fighter the day the game showed up in the mail and immediately died in stage 1. I tried a few more times with the same result and very quickly decided the game was too hard and put it on the shelf until the time I had to play it for the blog.
Altered Beast Knockoff
When I received a Sega Genesis from Santa Claus it came with Altered Beast. My brother and I played the game over and over, collecting the orbs, turning into werewolves, dragons and the like and hearing the “wise fom yar gave” (rise from your grave) at the start of each level. Dragon Fighter, which came out a few years after Altered Beast is in a lot of ways the better game. The two games technically aren’t related at all but have enough similarities that I just wrote this paragraph.
How to Play?
The game is quite simple, there are 6 levels that require you to walk to the right fighting enemies until you reach a boss. When you defeat the boss you collect a staff that increases your life bar slightly and go to the next level.
Upon a deeper dive into the game there is a little bit more to it, not much more, but enough to make it interesting.
Stage 1 snowstorm
Defeated enemies may drop one of the following:
Small Vase: replenishes a small portion of health
Large Vase: replenishes a larger (but still small) portion of health.
Ring: immediately kills all on screen enemies. Conveniently dropped when there are very few or no enemies on screen making it mostly worthless.
Dragon Head: First off, this looks more like a computer chip to me, but, it fills a portion of your dragon bar.
Beginning in stage 2 you will see strategically placed items on the ground that feature one of 3 letters. Picking up one of these changes your character’s color and provides you with different dragon and sword powers. When not in dragon form you can hold B for about 3 seconds on the controller until your character is glowing and then release B to unleash an attack. The attack is based on the color of your character.
G: This will turn your character green and allow you to charge your sword and shoot a green fireball in a straight line that travels about halfway across the screen. This is the default powerup that you start the game with.
B: This will turn your character blue and allow you to charge your sword and shoot a heat seeking blue fireball that is attracted to enemies. It is not very strong but I found this the most useful weapon in the game.
R: This will turn your character red and allow you to charge your sword and shoot 3 fireballs in an arched a pattern into the air, they will then fall and stick on the ground for a second before disappearing. From what I could tell this was the most powerful weapon but was hard to aim.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, but, I didn’t realize the holding down the B button charge attack existed until I had played the game for a couple of nights and was consistently getting to stage 4…halfway through the entire game.
Stage 5 – thankfully the giant skeleton is just there for decoration.
The first time I played this game I didn’t realize you could turn into a dragon. I took the title to mean you fought dragons but it turns out you are a dragon who is a fighter. For each enemy you defeat with your sword you earn a single bar on your dragon meter (located under your life bar). Once the bar is about halfway full you can tap and hold UP+A on the controller for a short time to turn into a dragon. When in dragon form the screen auto scrolls and the dragon meter begins ticking down. When the meter runs out or you hit UP+A again you turn back into a man.
Green Dragon: Shoots a 3 way shot that is actually pretty useful
Red Dragon: shoots a heavy fireball that quickly falls to the ground. It is useful if you can drop it on an enemy from above.
Blue Dragon: heat seeking fireball that isn’t powerful but doesn’t require good aim.
Blue dragon vs the stage 5 boss.
I found myself attempting different strategies to get through the stages. Even though the game is very straight forward some trial and error is involved. Here are my keys to success:
- Always make sure you have a full or close to full dragon meter when you get to the boss. I found all of the bosses very difficult to fight in human form.
- When in dragon form you can only attack towards the right, there are enemies that spawn behind you so being a dragon during the stage is only useful in a few spots.
- I found the blue power-up with the heat seeking fireball to be the most useful power-up in both dragon and human form. I played around with the red power-up some but didn’t have much success. I found the green power-up to be worthless in human form.
- Using the charge shot in human form makes going through the levels easier but you do not earn dragon power by killing enemies with the charge shot.
- Most enemies will re-spawn, find a safe spot with easy enemies in each level and spend some time filling up your dragon meter. Then, use the charge shot to easily get through the rest of the level.
- Slow and steady wins the race.
Stage 6 Change Up
After 5 stages of the same thing the sixth and final stage turns into a side scrolling shooter that has a scrolling background that makes you feel like you are flying a million miles an hour. The final stage is played completely in dragon form. I am not sure that I would have liked a full game like the final stage but it was a breath of fresh air after the slow and steady 5 stages before. Ending the game at break neck speeds was fun.
Luckily the enemy spawns on the final stage are the same every time you play so it wasn’t too bad to learn. There is one enemy, a flying man, who shoots a thin laser beam that is hard to dodge because it nearly blends in with the background, but other than that the stage isn’t too bad.
I was impressed by the size and design of the final boss.
I utilized the save state feature on my Retron 5 to practice the last two stages as they were a bit tougher than the first 4. After I felt comfortable beating both I started the game over and made it to the last boss without dying. I almost beat the game deathless, and I’m sure I could with a few more attempts but there are too many other games to beat for me to keep trying.
I should mention, you get 1 life and it is game over, only 3 continues and no way to earn extra lives. The game is brutal in that respect but it is also fair and beatable.
The music is some of the best music on the system that I never hear anyone talking about. The controls are tight and responsive even if the charge shot and dragon transformation are not intuitive at first. The game is tough but fair, the stages, enemies and bosses are varied. And, even though the game is simple there is a bit of strategy involved. It isn’t quite in the “Classic” tier of games but it is close.