By Colorwind 2 Comments
Side scrolling action titles were all the rage in the early 90s and Capcom had a hand in that genre with their Final Fight series. However, another title Capcom developed in this genre was The King of Dragons. This early Hack and Slash title was originally released into arcades in 1991 and a SNES port came three years later in 1994. Although time has certainly not been kind to the admittedly repetitive gameplay and limited game mechanics, a fun and enjoyable experience is at its core and is an interesting piece of history usually lost to the ages.
Don’t expect to play some sort of revolutionary title hidden from the mainstream video game community because King of Dragons is your typical beat-em-up. However, it doesn’t try to be anything more than a simple, good time. You will choose between five different characters, the Fighter, Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, and Wizard, and go through 16 levels killing monsters and fighting against a boss at the end of the level. As you progress you will level up and obtain upgrades to your strength and defense. Each character has certain advantages and disadvantages such as lower defense, more powerful striking power or higher jumping.
Gameplay is fun but this game has aged considerably. Although some characters are faster than others, gameplay is generally slow paced. Characters walk around in a stilted manner and in the SNES version, it’s downright sluggish, while in the Arcade version it’s more fluid. The pace of the game is circumvented by the levels, which are incredibly short. This gives the impression of accomplishment frequently, much like when reading a book with chapters only three to five pages long.
Combat is a mixed bag. You have your leveling up and collecting of attack and defense upgrades and these help make you stronger and more durable as the levels go on. The enemies are varied and slashing at them require different approaches that are altered as you build your character up. This is satisfying when the skeleton minions that once took you three to four hits to defeat now only take two. Picking up bags of gold and improving your score is also gratifying but be careful around chests. Some explode and freeze you, which takes away health, and others will attack you!
Unfortunately your actual attacks are limited. Unlike Streets of Rage which has special moves that can be done with various button commands or Double Dragon which has different moves depending on your position against your opponent, all you can do is attack once at a time. That’s it. This means that you’ll be seeing the same attack animation over and over and it can get repetitive. A small note: the SNES version does have the minor feature of allowing the magic and shield commands to be mapped to different buttons.
Magic is also included in this game but it takes a portion of your health in order to use and that portion was significant (like a quarter of your health) and as such, is pretty useless to use. While it is a strong attack, it’s not as powerful as you think a move that takes a quarter of your life should be. It’s not a big enough payoff considering the cost. I did not get a chance to play with a second player which the game does allow but gameplay does lend itself to be played with someone sitting next to you on your couch, although the arcade version allowed up to three players at once.
The levels in the game are diverse and the environments quite varied. You’ll walk across villages, castles, wastelands, caves, on board a ship, and more. The arcade version looks great as everything is very colorful and detailed. As for the SNES version, Capcom had a recognizable style of graphics and sound when it developed for the Super Nintendo and this game is no exception. While it doesn’t look amazing considering what the SNES was capable off, it’s a good looking game and is quite comparable when contrasted with the arcade version, although the character sprites are smaller. The soundtrack, while nothing special, is appropriately bombastic and invigorating. Voices and sound effects do unfortunately sound muffled on the SNES version.
One comparison that needs to be made is with Sega’s Golden Axe series. Both games are beat-em-up titles, have a medieval fantasy setting and both feature the use of different classes with different abilities. In many ways, King of Dragons is Capcom’s answer to the Golden Axe series, as it takes the basic formula created in Golden Axe and improves on it by adding the leveling system and two more classes to choose from. I personally will come out and say that I prefer this title to any game in the Golden Axe series but then again, that franchise has a different feel to it and is the bigger name in the industry so preference aside, you can’t go wrong with either.
While the SNES is a good port of the game, the arcade version is the better version and easier to find as it was included on the compilation disc Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2, therefore making the SNES port pointless. So I can recommend playing the game on that collection as other great games are included as well. A commenter on a blog I posted on my 1up account suggested Capcom release this game alongside another side-scrolling beat-em-up called Knights of the Round. If both titles received the treatment Final Fight and Magic Sword did on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, that would be the perfect way to experience this game nowadays. As for the game itself, only beat-em-up fans should try this title and everyone else should look elsewhere.
The King of Dragons is admittedly standard fare in the realm of side scrolling beat-em-ups. It lacks the nostalgia of Double Dragon or the personality of Streets of Rage and is certainly overshadowed by its more popular brother, the Final Fight series. However at the end of the day, a game needs to be fun and despite its now archaic design, it still manages to be that. It’s a competent beat-em-up that never rises above “good” or, in the SNES version’s case, “average.” The King of Dragons is fun but not essential.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (Arcade), 3 out of 5 (SNES)