Tiny Games - Knights & Dragons Review
Posted by Conor McMahon
The dark knight
Taking the title of this game at face value, one could understandably conjure some exciting images of brave warriors setting off to battle in a land teeming with adventurous opportunities. The medieval setting is well-established by this point, and is versatile enough to appeal to even the very young demographic that Tiny Games targets. What the developer's actually done with the setting defies this expectation, however, and isn't likely to capture many imaginations at all.
Described as the first in a series of minigame collections aimed at kids, Tiny Games: Knights & Dragons offers a selection of six different puzzle-based games to choose from. Variety is definitely a good thing, particularly for the temperamental attention span of a 3 to 5 year old, but there's absolutely no lasting substance to anything included. Each of the minigames repackages something we've seen several times before in similar collections, offering little to no twist on any of them. This writer is unsurprisingly closer to 24 than 4 years old, but when mustering up the patience to continue is a struggle for an adult reviewer, a child with plenty of other gaming options at a similar price surely won't remain stimulated for long here.
The main problem lies simply with the six games themselves, and the choices Reactor made when selecting them — we have Ludo, Find Mines, Four In A Row, Ship Encounter, Chest Mover Mania and Pipe Shift.
Some transparent re-titling aside, none of these come off as fresh or attractive. Minesweeper is more appropriate for a dull day at the office in 1998 than a modern 3DS title, and puzzle based plumbing is about as played out as it gets. Conscious of the fact that its young audience isn't about to settle for very long, each game session only takes a couple of minutes at most to complete. That's a problem in and of itself however, as working your way through all of them will quickly show how little incentive there is to revisit any. Picture a preschooler spending any more than five minutes with an exceedingly basic game of Ludo and we're getting into some surreal territory.
As simple as the games themselves are though, they're pretty poorly explained for the uninitiated. After setting up a profile (with the option of adding three more for family and poor unfortunate friends) all six are immediately available to play, and represented by the appropriate icons. They'll start immediately without any kind of intro or fanfare, and the instructions must be purposefully sought out by the player, who can bring up a paragraph of text to explain each. Without any visual aid and an overuse of pretty technical language, kids are likely to go hunt down their parents to show them how to do it instead, thereby defeating the whole purpose of occupying their time, or will just put the game down entirely. It all adds to a confused tone, further exacerbated by the aesthetic and setting.
The medieval setting is entirely superficial, amounting to no more than a few basic, colourful images that take up the top screen. Nearly all of these are completely static, portraying the disappointingly friendly relationship that the titular knights and dragons have while gameplay is relegated entirely to the bottom screen. The absence of 3D is unsurprising considering the target audience, though no optional effort has been made to animate naval battles during Battleship, or even show actual movement when pushing crates around. None of them are altered to fit the old world style, which is unfortunate given how interesting it might have been to show the pieces in Connect 4 as gold coins being counted by a King, or change the ships in Battleship to dragons firing volleys of flame. As it is now, the setting might as well have been a lazy Sunday in your Grandmother's living room.
So it certainly suffers from a confused tone, and things may be a bit abrupt for total newcomers, but even when you get properly started on the games themselves there's very little fun to be had. Board game ''classics'' suffer greatly from the lack of any kind of multiplayer; playing against the AI feels hollow and unsatisfying, especially when your only rewards are a few meaningless trophies and a counter numbering how many times you've played the game. The aforementioned profiles don't exist entirely within a bubble, however, as you can check other players' scores to add some semblance of competition. There are no difficulty settings to speak of, though, leaving each game experience feeling all too similar each time you play. This kills any sense of progression, with both Pipe Shift and Chest Mania in particular starting out tough and staying that way. What's left is a basic set of distractions without reward, and something nowhere near engaging enough to last longer than a few moments of curiosity.
For the asking price of £2.49 / €2.99 on the 3DS eShop, a one-stop collection of these six titles may seem fleetingly appealing, but the truth of the matter is that the execution and imagination are both lacking. Everything works, but with lifeless aesthetics and barely any reward for playing, kids will find this dull and slow-paced while adults would only view it as lacking and simplistic. There's no victory to be found here for a fairly rusted old knight.