Recently founded by a husband and wife duo, overseas developers Cycleplay have released their premiere iOS title, Mad Dragon. Mad Dragon is a physics-based,  side-scrolling game where you play a vengeful dragon whose treasures were plundered by goblins as it was sleeping. Upon waking, you find that the treasure cove you live in is empty and goblins have fortified themselves for miles outside of your home. Does this endless-runner game have a Dragonheart, or should we forget its Reign of Fire?

Mad Dragon immediately throws you (more like the goblins), into the fire as you control the dragon after emerging from its treasure-less home. Players will automatically destroy and kill any goblin or structure the dragon runs into. But alas, these goblins are tricky and have taken into account that it was a giant, fire-breathing wyvern they stole from. Scattered throughout the level are barrels of explosives that will kill you in one shot unless you jump to avoid them.

The controls are relatively simple: you tap the screen to jump and hold your finger on the screen to flap your wings and fly. Cycleplay accurately depicts the inertia that occurs when such a large creature leaps into the air and tries to fly. The dragon is heavy and its jumps are nowhere near as elegant or accurate as Mario's. You must use this flying mechanic to avoid bombs on the ground and soar completely over structures containing bombs that would otherwise fall on you if you ran through them. You must also try to pop green balloons in the air to max out your coins by flying into them (many of which have an exploding barrel hanging from them). Surprisingly, those are the only controls for the entire game. The dragon runs at full speed on its own and will occasionally breathe fire in front of it when its anger-meter is filled to max capacity by running over goblins and demolishing their fortifications.

Speaking of the goblins' fortifications, they look awfully familiar. They look as if a bird launched by a slingshot could just topple them over.. hmm. The saving grace here is that the layout of the dragon runs are randomized, but don't be surprised if you end up going through the same exact structural designs over and over again. The game does throw monkey wrenches into the expectations of gamers by means of varying types of explosive barrels. At first, the exploding barrels only seemed to appear in the forts or hung from balloons. As I progressed further into a run, I found exploding barrels on the backs of goblins on the ground, pacing back and forth in order to throw off when I should jump or land. By the end of my longest run, chaos was abundant as I was dodging barrels in the sky, on the ground and inside the goblin strongholds.

Despite its obvious influence from Angry Birds, the hand-drawn aesthetics of the dragon, background and goblins bring a distinct charm to Mad Dragon. And the ability to customize your dragon and the cave it sleeps in (which is also the main menu screen), using the coins you collect is a nice touch. Unfortunately, here lies the greatest problem that exists in Mad Dragon: its insane cost of items, upgrades and cosmetic changes.

I firmly believe that an overlooked or illogical decision in the creation of this game was the choice in making the extra life potions cost 1000 gold. Once your dragon gets hit by one exploding barrel, the run is over. For the first dozen, active attempts, I personally received just a few hundred gold on each run as I tried to experiment with the dynamics of how the dragon would leap and fly. Based on a few hours of gameplay, I found myself debating whether or not to buy continues in order to keep my runs going further (why not just give the players 3-4 lives for each run?), or just save my gold up for the expensive cosmetic changes to my dragon and its lair.

Ultimately, Mad Dragon is an uninspired but charming title most people can enjoy for free. As with most free iOS games, players will eventually reach the harsh conclusion that you cannot get the things you want most from the title (that afro-wig!), without having to spend money for supplementary in-game content.

Due to the sheer cost of each piece of your dragon's customizable appearance, gamers will find themselves constantly farming Mad Dragon to maximize their coins in hopes of acquiring these pieces, only to find that the average number of coins yielded from a decent dragon-run are nowhere near the prices of each cosmetic customization.In other words, if you want your dragon to wear sneakers and a sphinx hat, be prepared to start spending money, because the average player will never reach the amount of coins needed through casual game routines alone.

App Store Link: Mad Dragon for iPhone and iPad | By Cycleplay | Price: Free | Version: 1.2.1 | 28.4 MB | Rating 9+
6.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating