In 1895 Dr. Earnest Drake published one hundred copies of a book covering the lifestyles, habitats and details of dragons of all shapes and sizes. However, it would not be until 2003 that his work was revealed to the world by Candlewick Press' Ology series. A fictional twist from an otherwise factual series, Dragonology has since spawned several novels, handbooks, games, and toys all set to guide young adventurers who wish to know more about dragons. The game represents the Ology series' first step into the gaming industry (with Wizardology and Pirateology close behind), but how does it fare against the popular children's book series?
Tasked with the job of helping research dragons all over the world, players take on the role of a young dragonologist under the wing of Dr. Earnest Drake. The goal is simple: travel the world searching for exotic species of dragons and document them. Sometimes this requires helping them get used to humans, other times it means taking back items they've stolen (dragons do enjoy hording treasure). Regardless of the particular mission, the player must use science and clever deduction to track the mythical creatures and complete the job. Each mission will showcase a particular kind of dragon that must be discovered, as well as giving details on the equipment needed to get the job done.
As an adventure title Dragonology functions though a series of mini-games in both 3D and 2D. After exploring Dr. Drakes mansion and gathering the correct equipment (missions let you know whats required from various shops) players are flown to their next destination. Once dropped in the 'area' the dragon was last seen in, players must then locate clues. Each clue found has a mini-game associated with it, the games generally incorporating the touch screen. Sweeping bugs off of evidence, making plasters of animal tracks and searching bones and rocks for claw marks are just some of the forensic work to be done. The goal of the game isn't simply just to find the dragon, but to identify and catalog it. Every bit of work done in the field will be recorded for future use, and as the player discovers more a detailed file on each dragon will be expanded.
Though the mini-games are relatively varied the naturally quick pace to the game can give it a repetitious feeling. Reaching the dragon may have a different mini-game attached (taking pictures or capturing it in a cage for example) however everything leading up to that point is the same process. There are only five different kinds of clues that are left behind, and going through the same sort over and over can get tiresome. Each of the mini-games controls handle well enough, as there is very little to them.
Players do have the option to nurture and raise a dragon of their own to break up the missions monotony, but doing this for too long can result in the same effect. Raising the dragon consists of three mini-games divided into skills that are necessary for its rehabilitation. Strength, Flying Prowess, and Trust can be built up between missions, or if you give more crystals (currency that arbitrarily appears in each level) you can play more then once. The game also greatly limits its own length (around four to five hours) by applying a time limit to each mission and mini-game. While the time limit is substantial, it adds an unnecessary urgency to a game that should be more about learning and exploration rather then feeling pressured to use scientific methods quickly.
That being said, fans of the series will no doubt be less concerned about the journey and more about the destination. In this case, seeing what information has been gathered on each of the dragon sub-species. Completing a level will give the player new information on the dragon they've discovered, as well as showcase items found throughout each level. Players will also be able to view pictures they've discovered of each dragon, in addition to earning plaques and medals for their bravado. Graphically the game follows the same direction of the children's books, even when translated into 3D it looks very well stylized.
Overall the game had a good feel to it, consistent with the same element of innocent discovery that's found in their book series. Children who are fans of the Ology series should enjoy the similar style of detail that the books provide, however newcomers may not share the same experience. Relying a bit too heavily on its established fanbase, Dragonology offers no real sort of replay value aside from being able to review information already gathered. As a whole Dragonology lends itself quite nicely to its literary counterparts, and is a solid first step in the right direction for the Ology series.