Friday, 13 March 2015

Game 51: Rise of the Dragon - Final Rating

By Ilmari

All things come to an end

It’s time to score yet another game. I decided to compare Rise of the Dragon with both Mean Streets and Countdown, since all three are hard-boiled detective games (two of them even share the scifi theme), all of them depend heavily on dialogue, all of them contain action minigames and all of them might perhaps be better called interactive movies. We’ll see how it goes!

Puzzles and Solvability

I started Rise of the Dragon with high expectations. I had good memories of later Dynamix games, and the beginning promised a decent enough plot full of mysteries and serious detective work. The plot indeed flowed forward effortlessly and I became a little bit worried that there might not be any good puzzles to speak of. Then I got to a point where I had nothing else to do but wait - and this is almost all I had to do to get to the ending.

So, long story short - the game feels just a bit too easy. There were just two puzzles that left me scratching my head for a while (finding the right code for Chen’s safe and listening to Johnny Qwong’s phone) and I think this is not enough. Especially the inventory based puzzles were too scarce and bland to be of any interest. This is something Rise of the Dragon shares with the games of Access Software (Mean Streets got 4 and Countdown 3), and a low score on this category would seem to be in order.

Then again, there’s one redeeming quality in the puzzles - alternative solutions. Remember the receptionist I talked to just to find out she’s an old schoolmate of mine? It turns out there’s a completely different way to deal with her. I could have just grabbed my old can of euphory inducing gas and sent her to a personal trip to the seventh heaven.

You can’t get higher than this as a receptionist

And this is not just the only example. Forgot to take your ID with you and are locked out of your apartment? Don’t worry, you can also short circuit the door. Didn’t buy those roses? Well, you can always just sweet talk yourself to the heart of Karyn. Dynamix really wanted to keep their promise that you cannot deadend yourself just because you forgot some item. I think this deserves a bit higher score than Countdown therefore.

Rating: 4

Interface and Inventory

I’d like to say that the interface is simple and easy to use - left mouse click for action, right mouse click for looking and dragging an object, to the inventory icon, if you want to take it, to something on the screen, if you want to use it. And you can almost get to the end of the game with using only these commands. Yet, some of the rarer actions required rather unintuitive tricks. I struggled at the beginning for a while, just to get my clothes on, because I had no idea how to wear them - it took reading the manual to find out that right-clicking the inventory icon would open a larger inventory screen with Blade’s picture in it. And jumping in the action scenes? Well, perhaps I could have guessed it’s done with ENTER... But the biggest problem I found out after completing the game and heading out to look some walkthroughs.

One FAQ writer suggested that SEGA version of the game differed significantly from the PC version, because only in the former you could gas down the receptionist. I took this as a challenge, and after reading the manual, I was able to do the trick with my trusty PC. I still wasn’t surprised that whoever made the FAQ hadn’t stumbled on this possibility, because the sequence for using the can was so unintuitive. You first had to open up the larger inventory screen, with Blade’s portrait. Then you had to drag the can on the Blade, who would then equip it. Now pressing BACKSPACE allowed me to actually use the can… Wait, what, BACKSPACE? I thought this was a mouse controlled game… and even if you’d had to rely on keyboard, why would you want to use BACKSPACE?

Yes, it’s in the manual, but still...

I’d say that controls of a game should be either so intuitive that the player knows at once how to use them or then the game must at least force the player to use the controls, so that they become intuitive after a while. But an unintuitive control sequence that is used only once or twice is just too ridiculous (lucky it is not necessary even to use it at all). I’d otherwise had given a bit higher score for the interface - the mouse controls in general are smoother than in Countdown (2) or Mean Streets (4), and the inventory system is way better with detailed descriptions of all items. Yet, the small faults deserve a reduction of few points.

Rating: 5

Story and Setting

If you look at the story too closely it might be a bit cliched, as Laukku said, and the mixture of mutant producing drugs and ancient magicians coming back to life and turning into dragons is admittedly a bit corny. Especially compared with Countdown’s (6) intricate plot twists, Rise of the Dragon seems like a cheap B-class movie.

One thing that might raise the score of RoD is the advertised use of alternative plot lines. Unfortunately, there appears to be not that much of them. There are many optional sections in the plot - for instance, if I hadn’t given the candy bar to Jake, he wouldn’t have called me, and I should have seen another battle, only this time at the water reservoir. Still, the only really big question is whether you save Karyn at the end or not. Yes, I might have saved Karyn. Instead of running to his beloved, Blade might have checked out a storage room for a couple of wires and used them to short circuit the mutating machine, in which Karyn was trapped - after that, the Blade and Karyn would have accidentally stumbled in the room with all the criminals. Somehow this alternative feels not so emotionally strong as the ending I found, even if it ends happier.

So, there’s not that much possibility for alternative plotting and the advertisement for an infinitely replayable game was just an ad. Still, even if it is straightforward, the plot is still very effective - and seeing that creepy mayor getting punched in the face was truly a highlight of the day. If Mean Streets with its silly mutants and president Michael J. Fox got 5, then certainly Rise of the Dragon deserves it too.

Score: 5

Sound and Graphics

Graphics are a high point of the game, even if the use of dithering is obvious. It’s perhaps a matter of taste, but if I had to choose between the photorealism of Mean Streets (5) and Countdown (4) and the clearly more hand drawn style of Rise of the Dragon, I’d definitely pick the latter. The backgrounds and items are just gorgeous and the characters really have faces that reflect their personalities and emotions.

As for sounds, there definitely was plenty of it, but none of it was particularly memorable. When it comes to music, couple of place dependent themes varied and were played in repeat. In addition, there were some sound effects, like the sound of electric charge, when you touch the wrong cable. All in all, I must definitely give the game a high score to the overall category, but the blandness of the musical side prevents me from giving the same score as with Monkey Island (8).

Rating: 7

Environment and Atmosphere

Yet another strong category.While Mean Streets (6) and Countdown (6) couldn’t decide whether they wanted to play it straight or go to pure comedy, Rise of the Dragon feels much more balanced in its tone - except for few throwaway lines by Blade, it’s strictly business. This makes the whole Blade Runner imitation seem that much more convincing, although the lack of wireless communication makes the image of the future feel a bit dated.

But what I really like is the variety in the sceneries. Just look at some of the different subway stations.

I never really had a chance to introduce the different subway stations, but here’s a quick sample.

It would have been easy to make all of them look exactly same, but the developers have added small details that distinguish them from one another - the more well-to-do areas have more guards, while the station near Blade’s home has just a dead or drunk bum etc.

I noticed that Trickster complained about the emptiness of the city in Mean Streets. L.A. of Rise the Dragon has empty areas too - seemingly abandoned warehouses and water reservoirs. Still, there’s plenty of places with people coming and going or at least just standing around. My special favourite is the pleasure dome, which truly feels like a place with real live people - particularly as you can chat up with some random dudes.

The seedier parts of the city

 OK, well I shouldn’t call them dudes

Rating: 7

Dialogue and Acting

This a difficult category to score, especially as in my comparison games the scores are all over (Mean Streets got 6, but Countdown only 4, and I didn’t think they were that different in their dialogue systems). Well, at least Rise of the Dragon has less dialogue than those two games and definitely less characters to speak with. Then again, I think that this might actually be a plus for the RoD, because the few characters I talked with were more believable and rounded persons than any of the x + 1 characters in the Access Software games. This might be more due to the graphics than the actual dialogue - the hand drawn facial expressions of RoD just convey more of the personality of the characters than the photorealistic images of the other games.

One thing that I really liked was the use of dialogue trees, which required true decisions that really affected how the game would unfold. Sure, you could choose to bully people and make them angry in Mean Streets or Countdown, but you would just have to go somewhere and return and all would be forgotten. Not so in RoD. For example, try taking your flirtation with the mayor’s secretary too far and you might really make your girlfriend pissed. Such possibilities make the dialogue seem more lifelike and realistic.

A point of criticism is the use of racial stereotypes in characters. The list of Chinese people doesn’t look good: apart from a drunk and a Yoda-character, all Chinese are evil in the tradition of Fu Manchu. And as for all the Afro-Americans being of a lower social class and using very notable slang… well, we might give the producers the benefit of the doubt and call it clever social criticism.

You’ve already met Jake, the scrub-boy with a sweet tooth,
but here’s Mujalambo, the obese bartender that Blade affectionately calls a rhinoceros.

So, all in all a very mixed bag. I’ll settle for a middle road.

Score: 5

Putting things together we have (4 + 5 + 5 + 7 + 7 + 5)/0,6 = 55. I am also tempted to give the game one bonus point, just because it let the player choose whether he wanted to complete the arcade minigames. So, 56 it is!

Was Rise of the Dragon really that good? I’d definitely affirm it was. It certainly doesn’t have the magical qualities of Monkey Island or Quest for Glory 2, but it is fairly pleasant experience, which looking back was something mostly missing in games of 1990. The nearest guess was Laukku with 55! Here’s the rest of the CAP winners this time:

Cap Distribution

100 CAPs for Ilmari
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging his way through game for our enjoyment
23 CAPs for Laukku
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For making the closest guess for the Final Rating
  • Eye for the Detail Award - 5 CAPs - For noticing the dithering in the game's graphics
  • Albert Barille Award - 3 CAPs - For recognising quality edutainment
  • Parallel Universe Award - 5 CAPs - For showing the alternative ending
9 CAPs for Kenny McCormick
  • Real Estate Agent Award - 3 CAPs - For trying to sell Fifth Element as an influence to the game
  • Child Genius Award .- 6 CAPs - For more intelligent being me than 
8 CAPs for Aperama
  • Fisto Award - 3 CAPs - For questioning the sensibility of chocolate bars
  • Gas Meter Award - 5 CAPs - For teaching the blogger some hard facts of life
5 CAPs for Fry
  • Fu Bar Award - 5 CAPs - For noticing the obvious acronym 
5 CAPs for TBD
  • Genre Support Award - 5 CAPs - For linking to Adventure Gamers -awards of 2014
5 CAPs for Rowan Lipkovits
  • Electricity Meter Award - 5 CAPs - For teaching the blogger some hard facts of life
4 CAPs for Laertes
  • Everybody Wants Some! Award - 4 CAPs - For appreciating classick rock
4 CAPs for Andy Panthro
  • Every Breath You Take Award - 4 CAPs - For an alternative take on police
That’s it for today! I am ready to pack my things and move away from the limelight. It’s time to let Aperama and TBD get in business with B.A.T. and King’s Quest V. We’ll see how well they manage...


  1. Definitely agree with the bonus point for the arcade minigames choice. Such things often feel very out of place.

    Scored highly, but still not quite enough to break into that cosy Lucasarts/Sierra grouping at the top. Not sure I'd quite agree about the artwork, it's quite good for it's age, but some of the character art (like that policeman at the subway station, or the hippie) looks a bit off.

    1. Admittedly, the game's graphics might have got a bit of a novelty boost after seeing almost nothing else but EGA-graphics for so long in this blog. I am still convinced that on whole the game has gorgeous graphics, even if some details are not that perfect. But these things are very subjective.

  2. Yaay, it's been forever since I got a decent amount of CAPs.

    Some adventure gaming news: opens an Internet store dedicated to the genre:

    Double Fine Adventure Documentary Is Now Public:

  3. I'm willing to admit that I quite enjoyed reading about this game. The only other Dynamix title I can recall (at least, with this interface) didn't really agree with me quite so well - perhaps having the more serious element makes it more fun. (Or you're more tolerant of the aforementioned interface.) Either way, it's nice to see a game break 50!

  4. I got a Child Genius award? Pity I grew up stupid. Hello, Macaulay and Haley Joel!

  5. One of the better reviews of the new crop, Ilmari. Thanks for writing it.

    1. Thanks, although I suspect the style of the game might also explain you liking it. Hope you catch us soon!