New from Myth People, creator of Miriel the Magical Merchant and Azkend, comes another matching-based puzzle game with a new take on an old mechanic: Dragon Portals. The friendly dragons have been bound to earth with dark magic. Young Mila is called in to save them by dropping orbs from one dragon to another, matching groups of like-colored ones to keep the dragons aloft. It's a nice departure from most matching games, and combined with Myth People's signature art direction and epic power-ups, makes a game well worth trying out.
Instead of stacking, shooting, swapping, slamming or other S-related verbs, Dragon Portals is based around dropping. Several dragons are flying together in a group, each with a row of orbs on its side. Click an orb and it falls to the dragon below, snuggling itself between existing orbs. You can only drop an orb if it will create a match, however, so don't think you can sit and swap orbs until the fire-breathing cows come home. Fortunately you can drop orbs that will create a match when its originating layer seals together, which are tough to spot sometimes but well-worth finding.
The power-ups in Dragon Portals will really make your day. Every few levels the dragons give you an opportunity to choose one of two bonus items that you equip to use in subsequent rounds. There are three categories of power-ups: destructive, creative, and passive. The Symbol of Simple, for example, is a passive power that removes one orb color from the game, simplifying your matching duties but making the dragons' descent much faster. The creative power Hand of God sorts orbs on each dragon according to color, while destructive powers such as Thor's Hammer and Meteor are great for blasting orbs into oblivion. You can equip one power from each category and switch them between levels. These powers appear during the game when you make long matches and combos, but you can activate them whenever you like.
Furthering the "Hey that's cool!" factor, at the end of each level you're treated to a short bonus time where you can rack up a few extra points. The music kicks in, the dragons cruise higher and higher, and all you have to do is make matches. It's one of those little moments in a game that are especially rewarding. There's also a photography mini-game that serves as a nice diversion.
Analysis: Hooray for Myth People! I've become something of a fan of the studio since discovering some of its earlier games. Dragon Portals follows the Myth People design philosophy well: take an existing game type, change the formula just enough so it feels different, paint some beautiful artwork over everything and set it loose upon the world. The final product feels familiar but manages to engage your brain in a different way, drawing you in and holding you there longer than you would have expected.
The dropping mechanic isn't revolutionary, but it's different, and it's a lot of fun to learn how to use. Building a strategy, such as dropping multiple orbs into the same slot, takes a little time, but then you're well on your way to Dragon Portals mastery.
One slight disappointment I had with Dragon Portals is the pacing. The difficulty level spiked early in world two, forcing me to re-play several levels before completing them. This, combined with a slow doling out of the power-ups dampened my feeling of progression and caused that dreadful stagnant feeling to descend. Suddenly I woke up and realized I was playing a match-3 puzzle game, not a Myth People match-3 puzzle game. It was a sobering moment, but in the end, the only real damage it did was make me take a break before coming back to play again later.
A different and great-looking kind of match-3 game. It may not have the same level of magic as other Myth People games, but it's a new experience in a familiar genre that you will enjoy picking up every once in a while.