Dragon Stone

Girls can beat ’em up too!

If Golden Axe and Double Dragon had a child, Dragon Stone, an ambitious action game from Funmobile, would be their offspring. Its graphics sparkle, but repetitive play and high difficulty level keep the gameplay subpar.

Dragon Stone stars a pink-haired, bikini-clad Amazon, not unlike the female lead in Golden Axe. The action also apes Sega’s arcade classic in that the five areas of brawling and swordplay have the depth of a kiddie pool. The main character has a short sword, so short that it could almost be considered a prison-grade shiv, and the aggressive enemies attack with maces and, well, even more shivs.

Unfortunately, the action in Dragon Stone doesn’t provide any depth. The only attack is a basic sword swing, though there is one unlisted (and rather lame) secret move at your disposal. The whole game is spent mashing the 5 button on the keypad over and over again. This criticism could be at least partially applied to many of the beat-’em-ups that inspired Dragon Stone, but the forerunners had one advantage: a variety of enemies. The main adversaries in Dragon Stone can be counted on three fingers: the Man In The Iron Mask-inspired warrior, a large orange-haired giant, and the evil Amazon–who just so happens to look just like you. On top of all that, you run into all three enemies in the first level.

These warriors are tough, but the most difficult enemy is the game’s environment. The first area, the forest, is a palm tree and sun-soaked level. However, starting with the second area, the village, high cliffs and deep water become standard scenery. The topographical travails reach a climax in the third area, the river, where you must jump onto logs while you’re being attacked by enemies and as the screen automatically scrolls. The adversaries have a nasty habit of knocking you back well across the screen when attacking (think Castlevania, but more dramatic), so most deaths will be attributed to drowning, not bludgeoning.

Dragon Stone’s difficulty is unforgiving throughout. You get three lives, each with a nice-sized energy bar, but enemies are usually aggressive enough to knock you down as soon as you get back up. There is no block button, so jumping is the only way to get away from a thick crowd. There are also no midpoints or continues, so dying will send you back to the beginning of the area; dying three times will bring you to the title screen. This is particularly frustrating when you get knocked into a lake right before completing a level.

The game is shallow, but the graphics are beautiful. The primitive art is large, vibrant, and expressive, reminiscent of Hudson’s Bonk’s Adventure. The characters themselves are big, particularly the orange-haired mace-wielding giants, who play the Abobos in this feminist Double Dragon. It’s not unusual for five enemies to be attacking at once, and when you’re jumped–which is often–the onscreen chaos is managed surprisingly well. Funmobile obviously knows how to handle graphics.

On the other hand, the sound setup is far from pretty. The effects themselves are passable, but the game freezes for a moment every time an effect is used–a bad hiccup in an otherwise smooth action game. There is a menu option to turn off the sound, but, like some cruel joke, it actually doesn’t work. Incidentally, it’s the only option listed.

Dragon Stone shows off how well a cell phone can emulate classic arcade action, but it also demonstrates how much further game developers need to go to truly bring the arcade home. The weak gameplay means that Dragon Stone isn’t worth a download.

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