Young Baldric’s in love… with the King’s daughter no less. And she loves him, too. However, as with any chivalrous tale, Baldric can’t marry her on the spot. A heroic deed must first be performed to qualify him as suitor. Thus, the king has sent him on a quest to recover a special artifact, the DragonStone. To win the princesses’ hand, Baldric must retrieve the relic and return victorious.
Of course, nothing’s as simple (or forthright) as it appears. The king chose this mission for Baldric, a most difficult and dangerous one at that, as a means of removing the prince-to-be from the picture, hoping the quest will result in Baldric’s demise. Fortunately for our hero, the king’s dead wrong.
Melding a tale of adventure with a dash of role-playing and a sizeable dose of marble-matching, puzzle-solving action, DragonStone should please gamers of multiple genres. Adventure and Puzzle modes provide action via two difficulty levels. Casual and Expert options offer a more relaxed experience or a greater challenge, respectively, as you traverse the game’s eight chapters and 80 levels. Plus, completing each chapter in Adventure Mode unlocks its levels for replay in Puzzle Mode, at both Casual and Expert levels. Honors are awarded in Adventure Mode, as well, for varied deeds.
Your weapon, a Bow, is positioned atop the screen. It fires colored Stones (with the left mouse button), marbles actually, and shoots Arrows (with the right) as levels scroll up from the bottom. Each level challenges you to match three or more colored stones by firing spheres from your bow. When you do, they explode and disappear, as do the ledges, nooks and crannies they’re resting on, clearing a path to advance. However, unlike many ball shooters, you can’t cycle between the current stone and the next in the queue. You have but one at the ready.
Your other projectiles, arrows, dispatch enemies and destroy targets. Your bow’s also capable of firing either a Sonic Shot or a special power-up, when charged, by holding down the right mouse button to enable its effect. Power-ups are significantly more powerful, but can only be used once per puzzle. Sonic shots offer less oomph, but can be used repeatedly.
Initially, you begin DragonStone with three stone colors to match, a number that increases as you advance. Locked Stones require adjoining matches to be unlocked and, subsequently, removed. Destroying stones, though, does more than simply clear your path. It releases Coins used to upgrade your bow and armor, Shields that restore health, Charge Cards (no, not the plastic variety) to instantly charge your bow, keys that open locks, and more. Catch them and they immediately take effect. But, not all items released are helpful. Avoid the Giant Thorn, Poison and Frostbite, as these have adverse effects.
Other goodies you encounter include Powder Kegs for destroying surrounding objects, Electric Bombs that detonate an entire row of items and Medusa Masks that change surrounding stones to a single color. Meanwhile, enemies cover the gamut from Spindlers (spiders) to Bumblers (bees) to Chomps (piranhas) and another two dozen deadlier denizens. Your best bet is to always destroy enemies at first sight. Take too many hits from them and you’ll lose health and, eventually, lives. Afterward comes, well, death.
In essence, the better you do at collecting goodies, avoiding baddies and completing puzzles quickly, the higher your score. Points are awarded for color matching accuracy, shot accuracy, catching coins, avoiding damage and finishing each puzzle within a set time. Points determine rank, as well, from lowly Vagabond to almighty Vanquisher. But, don’t worry if you don’t score well in Adventure Mode. You can always raise your rank later for a given level in Puzzle Mode.
Okay, lest you think it’s perfect, it’s not. But, deficiencies are minimal. It’s somewhat quirky under Vista when loading (taking excessively long and often requiring an old ALT-TAB to bring it to the forefront). It also lacks the ability to replay levels immediately for a better score (unless you die). You can revisit them after unlocking Puzzle Mode for each chapter, but an immediate retry would be nice.
All in all, DragonStone serves up a happy ending. Production values are high, it’s packed with excellent visuals, augmented by atmospheric audio, is immensely addictive and sports an enjoyable storyline. Adventure and Puzzle Modes increase play value and the game includes a detailed manual. Plus, several alternate paths add interest and a good dose of humor sweetens the deal.