Baby dragons aren’t usually the sort of thing you want to mess around with. They’re scaly, bad tempered, and breathe fire when you burp them. And yet, caring for baby dragons can be just as challenging and rewarding as caring for real babies. That’s why it’s so important that you heed our call to action, taking your rightful place as the nanny in a dragon nursery!  Just like the babies in Dragon Hatchery, this offbeat hybrid match-3/time management game is too endearing to ignore.

Dragon Hatchery blends two of the most popular casual genres together in a manner that compliments the gameplay of both. The object of the game is to raise a certain number of different colored dragons to restore several dragon homelands scattered across an island to their former glory. To do this you’ll need to hatch dragon eggs and raise the younglings to adulthood.

The first element of the game you’ll be introduced to is hatching the eggs. Hatching takes place in a match-3 puzzle game with an original twist that helps it break from the sea of Bejeweled clones. Rather than simply trying to match three or more like-colored eggs to clear them from the field, any like-colored eggs touching your match will also disappear. This means that rather than simply going for the quick three-egg match, one well-placed egg can clear the field of more than a dozen like-colored eggs in play. The way the eggs are removed is not unlike the way blocks disappear in the puzzler Lumines.

The more eggs you hatch in one move, the more likely you are to find a dragon in an egg. That’s good, as the dragons you hatch here will be the dragons you raise in the nursery. In addition to looking for dragons, you’ll also gather money. The more eggs you hatch, the more gold you’ll earn. In turn you’ll spend this gold between rounds on upgrades that you’ll need for your nursery.

You might think that the match-3 element may be the side of this game that offers up the fast-paced frantic finger-clicking action, but the truly challenging part of Dragon Hatchery is the nursery game. Raising your clutch of dragons takes a good deal of focus and care – so much so that veterans of previous time management games will love the level of challenge that is offered here.

Dragons will come down a chute and need to be placed in a nest. You’ll be responsible for making the nests for each of the dragons, which means you’ll be frantically dragging nests to the open field to place newly arrived dragons before their brothers and sisters come down the chute behind them. If one dragon lands on top of another in the chute, you’ll lose that dragon before it even makes it to the nest.

Once in the nest you’ll need to feed them, water, them, bathe them and play with them. Each of these actions can involve several steps. Feeding, for example, means buying food, grinding food, and moving the food to the hungry dragons. When a dragon poops their nest you’ll need to bathe them, destroy their nest, make a clean nest, and move them back. You’ll be balancing all of these little tasks while attending to the needs of a dozen other dragons all at once. If a dragon’s needs go unattended for even a short period of time, that dragon will leave the nursery. Lose enough dragons, and you’ll fail the level.

The time management portion of the game is maddeningly frantic. Nothing in here is ever too difficult to grasp, but attempting to satisfy the needs of every dragon in your clutch feels a little like spinning plates. There’s a high level of anxiety that comes with this, but it’s that addictively challenging type of anxiety we like.

If we had any complaints about the time management element, it would be that the demands of each dragon don’t remain on the screen for a long time. When you have four dragons wanting food and three wanting water, it’s nearly impossible to remember who wants what once you have an item in your hands. Waiting a few seconds for their request to appear again can mean the difference between a happy dragon and a crying dragon, and when you’re balancing 10 of these creatures, that crying dragon can turn into a leaving dragon mighty quickly.

It was also a little disappointing to find that the gameplay doesn’t really change all that much. What you experience in the first 10 minutes of the game is simply and easier version of what you’ll experience in the last 10. When everything that’s offered is as much fun as it is in Dragon Hatchery, this may seem like a bit of a nitpicky complaint. The problem is that, while we really enjoyed what was offered, it just felt like there should have been more. The gameplay was tight and well packaged, but it was almost too easy to grasp, and offered little incentive to continue. Without an evolving set of circumstances in terms of story or gameplay, there’s no carrot at the end of the stick for gamers to strive for. When the difficulty ramped up, it would have been great to know that conquering a challenging level would have been met with some sense of reward. Dragon Hatchery just didn’t have that.

We really liked what Dragon Hatchery had to offer in terms of unique match-3 and challenging time management gameplay. As a casual game that’s attempting to bridge two worlds, Dragon Hatchery does a tremendous job of making sure that both elements complement each other wonderfully. Our only disappointment was that you’ll learn everything you need to know about this game within the first 10 minutes of play. We loved what we saw, but Dragon Hatchery failed to offer anything more than what you might glean from the demo.