Dragon Coins Review (iOS)
Very rarely do we we see games mixing the aspects of mechanical arcade cabinets into modern titles. In particular, Dragon Coins puts together the mechanics of a coin-pushing arcade cabinet with the combat system of an RPG while having the fundamentals of a collectible card game at its core. Since many old school RPGs were coded to simulate the rolling of a 20-sided-die in order to randomize many aspects of its combat, we were glad to see that Dragon Coins implemented a unique method of determining the damage done by combat. That's right, the first-person, Dragon Quest-inspired combat of Dragon Coins is determined by your interactions with a coin-pushing machine.
In Dragon Coins, you will be tweaking your roster of collectible monsters into forces that you will take on missions. These missions are nothing but excuses to take on the enemy AI in first-person RPG combat. Combat happens according to a coin-dozing game that occurs on screen, with your party members' portraits on the bottom of the screen, your enemies at the top, and a giant coin-pushing machine at the center. In order to deal damage to the enemy, you must drop coins in front of the constantly swaying bumper that get pushed towards you.
The coin-dozing mechanic of Dragon Coins is both its main feature and its main gimmick. While most coin-pushing cabinets found in retro-style arcades and older casinos (and Chuck E. Cheese) usually reward the player with more coins, Dragon Coins uses its ongoing winnings to deal damage to enemies, replenish health, unlock special attacks and adds new characters to your roster post-battle. As the coin-bumper pushes coins and various goodies towards you on a narrow platform, winnings (that fall towards your characters' portraits) will be disseminated between attacks, health restoration and adding power to your characters. Anything that falls off of the left or right sides of the platform and do not land in the portrait goals are simply discarded. This coin-based combat was both intriguing at first but became rather boring in the long run.
Most missions in Dragon Coins revolve around a set of sequential battles where you fight small groups of monsters, ending with a larger, boss-esque fight. Despite having five members in your party at a time, health is unified into overall hit points, so you don't have to worry about micromanagement. Each monster has a finite number of silver coins over its head, indicating you can tap the screen that many times to drop coins in front of the bumper. After hitting zero, the silver coin number by the monster resets, so you can initiate combat yet again. After a while, this effect became rather monotonous.
With Dragon Coins, I often found myself spamming the screen with taps for whole missions without even looking at the screen once. Nearly all of those times, I won with at least 80+ percent of my health intact. For the more difficult fights, which really don't happen until level 25 or so, I was still tapping the screen constantly for coins and just used my special attacks (which grant statistical or coin-bumper bonuses) whenever I had to wait for a silver coin recharge. By this point, combat looked and felt the same, the rock-paper-scissors triangle existing between red, blue and green creatures hardly mattered as long as I kept my characters thoroughly leveled up by sacrificing the multiple lower level characters to boost the 15 or so characters I wanted to keep.
As you can tell, the Dragon Quest series, especially its recent incarnations on the Nintendo DS, are heavy influences on Dragon Coins' style, monster design and battle screen layout. All of these characters are wonderfully hand-drawn and have a '90s, anime design that would make Akira Toriyama proud. Everything is brightly colored and has a charming, whimsical look to it. While I wished that the bumper area of the battles screen would change with the different mission locations, the 2.5D animation of the bumper and its coins were interesting to watch. There are some details that went into the physics and collision-detection aspects of the coins, capsules and other goodies, and this made overall aesthetic effects of the game feel impressive, especially for an iOS title.
Since Dragon Coins is a free-to-play game of solid production value, I wasn't surprised to see that micro-transactions and social media promotions were being pushed in order to help increase the game's downloads and to help earn some profit. Even though you can put five creatures in your party, one of these creatures is a helper from another player's roster that is arbitrarily put into my battle group. At the end of every mission, I would roll my eyes at the screen again and again because I would get offers to send a friend request to the person who owned the monster the game forced me to use. It would have been nice to have an option that simply turned this feature off completely, just so I would stop encountering these pop ups and stopped worrying about people who bore very little semblance towards my actual gameplay. There is also a stamina bar which cuts off the number of fights you can partake in throughout a set time, forcing you to either purchase more stamina with real-life currency or to wait.
Dragon Coins offers innovative, but simple, gameplay utilized into a role-playing game that I have never seen done anywhere else. With an RPG whose combat is based off of coin-drops, I was saddened to see Dragon Coins' attempts to make me drop my own coins into its purse for stamina and freemium content along with its ongoing popups asking me to be friends with random strangers who I do not care about to any degree.
For a free-to-play game, Dragon Coins has high production values. The collectible card aspect of the game, which is in form of winning more creatures and using them as party members or to sacrificing them to boost/evolve your favorites, is rather shallow. Since the combat became monotonous after a while, I found myself not caring for most of the creatures in my ranks. Dragon Coins offers a fresh take on the Phantasy Star style of RPG combat, but this combat gets boring after a while and there isn't much incentive to keep going.
This review is based on a download code for Dragon Coins provided by the publisher for iOS.