DRAGONSPHERE / Microprose / PC

Microprose was Sid Meier's company and was best known for his strategy games and flight sims. But they also dabbled a bit in adventure games, building their own engine and producing three of them in the mid-90s before giving up on the idea and selling the engine off. Dragonsphere was the second of the bunch.

If you've played King's Quest 6 and the Quest For Glory games, you'll notice that this game isn't afraid to crib from them. Your main character, King Callach, looks like a mashup of Alexander with the Hero from the later QFG games. You'll also see some similar ideas used for environments and puzzles here and there. But Microprose's engine is more like LucasArts than that of Sierra, with a command list and no permanent screw-overs caused by missing an item early on that can't be retrieved later. There are a number of ways to die, but you're automatically "rewound" to walking onto the screen where you made the fatal mistake (or just before) in Manhunter style.

'Cause there's only like three map locations and the other two are blocked off

The story starts off very tropey, but eventually gets a bit more complex and interesting. Some jerk sorceror was doing the usual jerk sorceror thing, rampaging around the land molesting people's chickens or whatever, so 20 years ago he was sealed in his eeevil tower and put into a magical sleep by the court wizard. The spell is showing signs of wearing off, however, as represented by the magical Dragonsphere created to monitor it beginning to crack. Our newly minted King decides that taking an army there is pointless, but a solo mission to find the power stones needed to put things aright will do the job, so off he goes. This is complicated by the fact that the kingdom is filled with non-humans, each of the non-human races holds a power stone, and a lot of them have major grievances with the king. The shapeshifters are feared and treated with prejudice even though they don't never bug nobody, the Bird Men of Alcatraz are pissed at getting trapped in the evil sorceror's dome without so much as a courtesy card beforehand, and the fairies simply enjoy trolling humans for fun.

The game is pretty short, and divided into discrete locations that are pretty much self-contained. It's kinda like the first bit of Conquests of Camelot. You'll need items from one area in another, but each area is basically a sequence of a few major puzzles that you solve and then you're mostly done with it, except to maybe return later to pick up a new item or two.

There's a lot to like here. The background art is an interesting sort of watercolor style that goes for some unusual color schemes sometimes, lending the game world a somewhat unique feel despite the hackneyed Medieval Europe setting. The human characters are motion-captured, and sometimes have surprisingly elaborate animations for things that weren't really necessary. The soundtrack is neat, especially if you can get something better than Ad Lib / Sound Blaster going. There's voice acting for every character except for the narrator (though it's usually on the Ren Festy side). And there's absolute heaps of flavor text that flesh out the backstory of the world if you care to "look" at various objects around each screen. It looks like someone really wanted this to be the start of a successful new fantasy series.

Unfortunately, a bunch of the game's puzzles are shithouse, and in such a short game that makes for a very significant amount of playtime spent in pure irritation. I bet a lot of people abandoned the game at the very first major puzzle. It's a variant of the old logic puzzles / SAT questions where you have to deduce who among a group of people is not a liar from their statements ... except it's a bunch of fairies who look identical, are constantly swirling about each other and disappearing behind background objects, and constantly cycle through three different colors and say different things when in each color. And also keep moving while you're busy talking to one and reading the text. Keeping track of them all is a nightmare and this puzzle could take literal hours of repetitious clicking if you don't just cheat and look up a walkthrough.

That puzzle also lets you know right up front the game expects you to keep a notebook and pen handy, and you'll have to write down seemingly irrelelvant information as it unexpectedly comes into play later. There's also a number of quiz puzzles that, unless the answers were in the manual, seem to just be a matter of brute-force guessing your way through. Oh, and pixel-hunty items on screens that you have to pick up despite having no known use for at the time. You can't encounter a Sierra Hang-Up as you can always go back for whatever you need, but there's some dumb hidden shit on screens like a tiny patch of mud and a gold nugget that looks exactly like every other generic rock that you'll never notice unless you're waving your cursor all over every single screen in OCD style.

The crap puzzles are actually largely front-loaded to the first half of the game for some reason; the second half evens out quite a bit and is actually way more entertaining, though it also ends rather abruptly just as you feel the game is starting to finally hit its stride. Dragonsphere is too short and too poorly laid out to be an adventure game great, but there's actually kind of a dearth of fantasy-themed adventure games once you get through King's Quest and QFG, so this might prove a decent snack if you're craving one.

Links :

Download - The game is freeware since 2011

Videos :

* Gameplay Video