Hungry Dragon is the newest installment in the Hungry franchise from Ubisoft that recently soft-launched in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines, and is currently available as a pre-registration listing for everyone else. The official release of this game is supposed to take place on August 30th, and you can earn exclusive in-game rewards if you pre-register ahead of its publication. But before that day arrives, I wanted to take a moment to fill you in on what you can expect from the game, which is what this hands-on is all about.
If you have tried any of the Hungry Shark games on the Play Store, then you should have a good idea what to expect from the offshoot title Hungry Dragon. Just swap out an oceanic theme with a medieval one, and you get the picture. Honestly, I wouldn't say there is any one type of specific genre the gameplay of this series could be described as, but it works similarly to the majority of endless runners out there. All you have to do is complete goals, earn in-game currency, and survive for as long as you can. Long-term survival is dependent on eating, so make sure to chomp down on as many enemies as as possible during each playthrough.
You start out with a small dragon. This dragon can eat some of the inhabitants of the limited open-world you get to explore, but you have to watch out for bigger enemies, as they can easily kill you. Each time you dive into the world, you can take on a few missions that will earn you rewards when completed, and as you slowly level up, you will unlock new dragons that can help with those larger enemies I mentioned. Bigger dragons can also help to clear obstacles that previously blocked your smaller dragons from entry. So as you unlock bigger and better dragons, you can expand the area of the world you are tasked with exploring.
In the end, the gameplay can be pretty repetitive despite your ever-changing missions and unlockable zones. Collecting new dragons, outfits, and pets can help to keep you coming back for a while, but once you've unlocked the majority of content, I find there is little reason to revisit the game. I suppose that's why there are already more than a few of these Hungry titles out there. At the very least, the gameplay has evolved with each iteration, and Hungry Dragon is the most polished of the bunch.
The graphics are displayed in a 2D field of view, though they look as if they're rendered in 3D. I'd say they compare equally to Hungry Shark World. The animations are a little lacking, as movement can feel very abrupt, but I suppose that is just how it is as both dragons and sharks tend to have long bodies that don't display as though they can easily turn on a dime. Despite the stiff animations, everything else looks solid. The world is detailed enough to make the medieval fantasy setting believable, and really that's all that matters when it comes to the graphics of a casual game like Hungry Dragon. They get the job done, and that's plenty good enough.
The touchscreen controls work well for what they are, though there were times that I felt something more tactile would have been more ideal. There are only two controls to worry about. The d-pad, and the boost button. The d-pad is programmed to float, so it does not matter where you place your left thumb as long as it is on the left side of the screen. The same can be said for the boost button. Just tap the right side of the screen, and you will boost.
HID controller support is not included, but you aren't stuck with only touchscreen controls, as tilt-controls are supported in the settings. I can't say I'm a fan of this particular tilt-control implementation, but you may find them to be exactly what you are looking for, so make sure to give them a try.
Google Play Games Services are supported through an achievement system, though the included cloud save support only functions if you sign in with a Facebook account. I suppose this is nice for those of you who play on both iOS and Android, but I would much rather see a GPG cloud save option since I don't use Facebook.
This is where the real heartache comes in. Hungry Dragon is a free-to-play release, which means you can expect advertisements and plenty of in-app purchases. The IAPs range up to $79.99, and are mainly used for purchasing a secondary currency that is good for unlocking content early, such as larger dragons. I suppose if you look at it from the point of view that you are paying for cheats, playing for free isn't that bad of a deal, though I have to wonder if the grind has been balanced in a way that pushes people to spend money. If you are a patient gamer, then the IAPs shouldn't be a problem.
Ubisoft has indeed found a winning franchise for mobile, and the company will undoubtedly beat it into the ground to ensure that every last penny is squeezed out of it. I suppose it's refreshing to see a change in theme from sharks to dragons, though the premise largely remains the same with only a few quality of life improvements here and there. Now, even I can admit that Hungry Dragon can be fun for short bursts, and it makes for a solid time waster in-between more important activities, but really that's about all of the pleasure I got out of it. I'd much prefer to see Ubisoft take a paid upfront approach to titles like this, but sadly we all know that won't happen when $79.99 cheats are so lucrative. Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good, and at the very least you can have some fun with Hungry Dragon without needing to go out of pocket.