Review: Dragon Portals
10tons have released Dragon Portals for Windows Phone, their take on the Match Three game. And, with a little bit of smart thinking and graphics, have created a game that genuinely delivers a fresh view on the genre.
Version Reviewed: 126.96.36.199
Rather than have a square grid to make the matches on, Dragon Portals has a number of game lines. These represent the body and tail of the dragons as they glide through the air. Like an actual glider, they will slowly lose height as they fly, and if they crash into the ground, you'll lose one of the dragons. Lose too many, and the level is over and you have to start again. Thankfully, whenever you make a match, the Dragons gain a little height. Manage multiple match-ups with a single move and the dragons climb higher.
This is, essentially, the arcade timer of the game, portrayed in a graphically fun way that also fits in with the 'story' that the developers have created. The same is true for the end of level goal - you need to collect enough energy for the Dragons to open a Portal to take them to the next level (hence the name of the game). You fill the energy bar by, you guessed it, making matches. And yes, you fill the bar quicker if you manage multiple matches on a single move.
Oh and if you manage three or more matches from a move, you'll earn a power up skill - there are fifteen to collect, including the ability to clear a complete line of orbs, or climb up higher whenever a match is made.
All of these are standard mechanics for a match three game, but by switching from a grid to a number of lines, 10tons have tweaked the gameplay. The only move you now have is to tap a single orb, which is dropped into the line below it (if it's on the bottom Dragon, it simply falls off the screen). You need to create at least one match per move, and these are created by the orb's new position, or by the two new adjoining pieces after the gap is closed up by new orbs rolling in from the end of the Dragon.
What 10tons have done is to take all the familiar elements of the game (and yes, that includes a Trophy system to help set long term goals, and a star system to rate how well you did on each level, albeit these stars go to five), and re-imagined the way they can be implemented. That gives them a gaming title which many gamers will find as being instantly comfortable, but at the same time one step away from what they are used to playing, so it gives them a new experience. Balancing that contrast between new and old is not easy, and 10tons have managed to pull it off (once more) with Dragon Portals.
One little quirk that caught my eye was the lack of a trial version. You can pick up the full priced version ($1.99 / £1.49), look at the screenshots and reviews in the Windows Store (and online), but what you can't do is try the game for free. Frankly, if the Windows Phone ecosystem has one advantage then it's the ease of availability of trial versions. Venturing back into the Apple Store was a sobering experience at just how useful and expected trial versions are to me.
I know that 10tons are pretty good developers, and I've enjoyed their previous titles, but I still hesitated momentarily on the purchase. After all, there are a lot of games that describe themselves as a 'new match-three' game.
10tons have made sure there is a lot going on around the game, from a storyline and bonus mini-games, to lots of animation and options to play the game outside of the regular 'quest' mode (including an endless 'survival' mode). That really does justify the price point here (and, frankly, if this was a $2.99 Xbox Live game then I still would have no issues on the price).
Dragon Portals is polished, well put together, and has had some thought in the design process that creates a compelling mobile experience. It is still a match three game, and while it does feel unique, it doesn't feel new. But it does everything really well, and I don't think that people familiar with arcade puzzle games will be disappointed.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at