Whether you’re the kind of player who gravitates towards action-oriented puzzle games or story-driven adventures, DragonStone has both fronts covered. The upcoming fantasy-themed marble popper from PlayPond also ingeniously incorporates role-playing elements like monster encounters, side-quests, equipment upgrades and non-player characters (NPCs), resulting in a hybrid that should prove charming enough to make a few die-hard fans of either genre cross over to the other side.
You follow the story of Baldric, a young knight who has the hots for the king’s daughter. The king, who doesn’t think Baldric is son-in-law material, promises him his daughter’s hand in marriage only if he can recover a powerful artefact called the DragonStone. It’s a long and difficult quest, and the king assumes Baldric can’t possibly succeed.
The king has under-estimated Baldric’s stubbornness, however. With just the armor on his back and his trusty bow, Baldric sets out on a journey spanning eight regions and 80 levels that combine action and puzzle-solving.
Gameplay in DragonStone is superficially similar to marble-popping games like Bust-a-Move, where you shoot colored marbles from a cannon to burst groups of three or more of the same color marbles until all of them have disappeared. However, DragonStone replaces the cannon with a bow and arrow that slides along the top of the screen and shoots down, and instead of a giant bubble cluster there are tricky branches, stones and other scenery for bubbles to nestle in.
There are also numerous special orbs like locked stones that must be broken by matching something next to them, powder kegs that destroy chunks of scenery and multiple orbs when detonated, and medusa heads that morph into whichever orb touches them first. Finally, the game isn’t confined to a single grid but is rather a long, scrolling tunnel with bits of scenery that crumble whenever all the orbs on top of it have been cleared off, allowing you to move to the next part.
Left-clicking on the mouse launches an orb from the bow, and right-clicking shoots a good old-fashioned arrow. These arrows come in handy not only to destroy targets that strategically collapse scenery and orb piles, but also to dispatch various enemies that get in Baldric’s way like flying bees and moths, dangling spiders, projectile-shooting plants and ghosts.
Baldric’s progress is recorded on a map that shows upcoming points of interest. In between fighting levels, Baldric can refresh himself at strategically-placed Inns (which also serve as spots to save your progress), and will meet various merchants willing to sell him equipment upgrades (such as special attacks for the bow, or armor with better protection) in exchange for coins that you can snag with the bow during the action portions of the game.
Every so often the map branches into multiple directions, and it’s decision time. Do you go out of your way to investigate the pathway to the north, where there’s rumoured to be treasure, or do you stick to the main path and take the more straightforward route?
Although we didn’t make it to the end of Baldric’s quest during our preview time with the game, there are apparently multiple endings as well as a slew of “Honors” to earn for completing various tasks (such as vanquishing 25 enemies, or completing the game). Completing a chapter in Adventure mode unlocks the levels in Puzzle mode so that you can replay them at your leisure.
DragonStone isn’t scheduled to launch for another couple of weeks, but we feel confident enough in saying that the innovative Puzzle Quest-like blend of action, puzzle and role-playing elements should appeal to a broad audience of casual gamer, and we’re looking forward to seeing if Baldric and his princess live happily ever after!