Gotta clash 'em all
Dragon Mania is Gameloft's answer to Clash of Clans, joining the crowded combat genre a bit late in the game, but making up for it with some very exciting gameplay. It drops some of the simulation elements in favor of active battle sequences, allowing you to take your elemental dragons into combat to see who's the best screen-tapper in the kingdom!
Dragon Mania is all about raising, feeding, and growing dragons, and then carrying them into battle against the evil Vikings. You do this by curating your village to hold habitats, then purchasing dragon eggs to hatch and care for. Collect rent from these buildings and use the money to upgrade them to hold more troops; but be mindful of food stores, as baby dragons need lots of chow to grow up to be big and strong.
Quests appear on the left side of the screen, giving you direction early in the game. They range from simple tasks like "build this structure," to more complicated missions that will take days to complete. Naturally, you can skip artificial wait times by spending gems, one of Dragon Mania's two in-game currencies. In addition to the basic hatching and nursery facilities, Dragon Mania also has a handful of other buildings to help support your army. Breeding dens, for example, allow you to make new dragons in the old fashioned way, while things like banners and wishing wells are purely for show. Most of your time will be spent focusing on feeding your army, of course. With 50 different dragons to raise, you'll have your hands full without worrying about planting fruit trees.
Battles in Dragon Mania take on a different slant than most Clash of Clans-type games. Instead of dropping troops on the screen and watching them do their thing, you actually get to participate! It's a bit like a simplified Pokémon match where elemental strengths and weaknesses face off in the arena. Start by choosing which dragons to carry into battle. When combat begins, tap the paw icon to start a set of arrows moving along a vertical bar. This bar is colored with red, yellow, and green spaces. Tap the paw to stop the moving arrows, making it come to rest at green or yellow for the best attack. Depending on which dragon you're facing, your attack will deal a different amount of damage. The usual set of logical elemental rules are in place, meaning fire is effective against ice, and so on. With a dozen dragon types at your disposal and plenty of team combinations, fights in Dragon Mania end up being the highlight of the game.
Jumping into the freemium side of things, Dragon Mania tries to hit a good balance with in-app purchases versus good old fashioned patience, but it misses the mark in a few places. Coins are used to purchase new buildings, upgrade existing ones, buy dragon eggs, embark on battles, etc. Gems are mainly for speeding things up by eliminating wait times. The problem is these waiting periods feel a little too inflated and gem prices a little too high, forcing you to spend more money or wait longer than most freemium games. Watch out for the big purchases, too, or you'll end up spending a lot of cash.
Dragon Mania also trips a little bit over its own interface. The animations feel as if they're missing frames, and the presentation as a whole lacks a certain amount of punch. Navigating the menus can be difficult since touch boxes are tiny and your finger often covers things you need to see. Neither of these really detracts from the game, but they're of a noticeably lower quality and stand out like a dragon wearing a party hat.
Despite a couple of visual flaws and an in-app purchasing system that's heavy on the gems, Dragon Mania manages to ride high in the freemium combat genre. The active, Pokémon-like battle system is a very welcome change from the passive set-ups of old, and even though the simulation side of things has been trimmed back, raising and caring for dozens of different dragons is a great way to spend some coffee breaks.
- Unique battle system makes combat very entertaining.
- Animations are jerky and incomplete. Interface feels too cramped. Waiting times are too long.