The Dragon apparently has all left feet.

When we talk about what makes a game good, we usually mention the big stuff like characters or artwork or setting, but The Dragon Dance is an example of how ignoring the tiny details can cause a game’s downfall. This hidden object game isn’t lacking for good ideas, well-crafted puzzles, or enjoyable searches, but it gets so many small, yet vital things wrong that you’ll hate just about every second you spend with it.

The story is certainly worth pursuing: Besieged by dreams you cannot shake, you find yourself in search of The Dragon Dance, the same piece of your treasure that your father was attempting to track down before he died. Your search includes the kinds of hidden panels, secret messages and maps that any good treasure hunt should and throws in a bit of mysticism for fun. Dead fathers, haunting visions, and loot? What better reason do you need to trek around the world? Then the game’s problems begin to present themselves, one by one, until you throw up your hands in frustration and just plain give up.

The Dragon Dance

First, there are the language issues, like “No hints is available here” or “The angels knows the answer,” and the game’s dialog which is universally stilted and awkward. As jarring as they are, though, the translation problems don’t seem to carry over into any of the hidden object search lists, so they can be overlooked with a little effort. The next obstacle you’re likely to notice is The Dragon Dance‘s unresponsive controls. Your cursor must be in exactly the right spot – and a very small spot it is, too – in order for you to leave the room, for example, and clicking through your journal frequently results in absolutely nothing at all. If you close it and reopen it, you’ll discover that those pages really were turning as you were clicking away, the image simply didn’t change.

Even that might be something you could brush aside if you were having more fun with the game, but the lack of direction you’re given, when combined with the iffy controls, pretty much guarantee you’ll be poking around aimlessly and unsuccessfully, just hoping for something to happen. When confronted with a locked drawer, I naturally began looking for a key, which I couldn’t find. I finally conceded defeat and asked the Hint Dragon for help. He told me….I needed to find a key. Gosh, thanks, pal. More often than not, however, he takes the tough love approach and leaves you to your own fate, simply shrugging you off with a “No hint is available here.” The Dragon Dance apparently doesn’t understand that there is a difference between spoon feeding a player and throwing them off a cliff in the hopes they’ll learn to fly.

Even when you do know what to do, something usually goes wrong. You’ve got a sliding puzzle with a key at one end and a hole at the other – pretty obvious what’s supposed to happen. What isn’t immediately obvious is why your attempts to move the blocks aren’t working. After fiddling around with it long enough, you will probably discover that you’re meant to click the edge of the block you want to move in the direction you want to move it, but that’s not actually spelled out for you anywhere. There’s just not enough information in The Dragon Dance – it’s like the game is daring you to make your way through it.

It’s a real shame that the game gets these vital things wrong, because the searches themselves are enjoyable, the puzzles woven into the narrative quite well and the whole experience has the makings of a grand adventure. But with so many incredibly slick and polished HOGs out there, suffering through The Dragon Dance‘s failings just makes no sense.