Dragon Bros

A game by Space Lizard Studio for PC, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
Dragon Bros is a run and gun shooter that plays out the age-old rivalry between robots and dragons. As the story goes, robots conquer the planet, laying waste to everything and kidnapping a mommy dragon and her four unhatched eggs. While in storage, these eggs hatch, and a set of dragon brothers are born. They break into the armory and pass through a warp door that leads to a windblown forest where they head out in search of their lost mother.

The game features five difficulty levels represented in pictographs from a skull to a split skull to a horned skull. Players take on the role of a blue dragon, and the game features drop-in local 2P co-op, with the second player controlling a red dragon. The dragons are squat, appearing small onscreen. They each have a low 1x nonvariable jump and they can perform downward slam to break through certain floors and damage enemies, as well as a very short range flame attack and a dodge roll.

The dragon’s primary weapon is a rifle that fires at a steady pace when holding the ATTACK button, or more quickly when the button is pressed repeatedly. This weapon may be fired in eight directions, with downward and downward-angle firing only possible while jumping; otherwise pressing DOWN causes the dragon to lie prone while still allowing him to fire to the left or right. Players can also lock the dragon’s position to aim and fire without moving, but downward and downward-angle firing is still not possible in this stance, which makes dealing with enemies on lower platforms problematic.

Rifle fire has a medium range and unlimited ammo, but grabbing a green bubble swaps the rifle for a weapon with limited ammo (and the player can manually switch back to the rifle if desired). Unlike most run and gun games, the player doesn’t know which weapon he is getting until he picks it up, but they are all more powerful than the rifle. These weapons include an energy rifle with long projectiles that go all the way across the screen, a shotgun that has a short range but can destroy most enemies in a single shot, a laser that deals continuous damage at a long range, and a rocket launcher that does heavy damage but fires slowly.

As the player destroys enemies and breaks open boxes, yellow rings are dropped, and picking them up charges a secondary meter. When this meter is full, the player can initiate Ultra mode, allowing him to move and fire his rifle more quickly. More importantly, going into Ultra mode activates special weapons’ secondary functions, allowing players to unleash more destruction.

Furthermore, activating Ultra mode also removes the ammo counter for the equipped weapon, giving the player infinite ammo while the meter drains. This allows for wanton destruction as the player fires as much as he likes within the time limit, and also allows for some additional strategy as players can wait until the weapon’s ammo is nearly drained before unleashing its ultimate destructive abilities.

For the energy rifle, Ultra mode turns the weapon into a wide 3-way shot, allowing players to slice through rooms of enemies in all directions. For the shotgun, players launch huge spiked balls that roll around and then explode, sending spikes outward. For the laser, the player immediately loses his equipped weapon and a laser beam comes down from above, moving from left to right and destroying every enemy in the room (except bosses). For the rocket launcher, this allows the player to unleash a flurry of homing missiles that seek targets and fill the screen with explosions.

Yellow rings appear frequently, allowing players to quickly charge Ultra mode to use it again and again, but getting killed causes the meter to reset to zero. Players can take several hits, with color draining from the screen as they near death, but there are also some bottomless pits and other traps that can kill players instantly. These can be difficult to spot, especially in the heat of battle, and some pits aren’t actually bottomless but instead offer weapon pickups or ring-dispensing crates.

Levels are very long compared to other genre entries, but checkpoints appear regularly, and the dragon’s life bar ensures that skilled players will be able to make it from one checkpoint to the next. Levels are padded out by numerous challenges where the player is locked in an area and must face waves of enemies before being able to move forward.

These areas often feature multiple platforms, allowing players to jump up or down a few levels to take on foes from their angle of choice, although some rooms contain environmental hazards like rolling balls or gun turrets. There is a jarring transition when completing these locked areas – which can happen even if some enemies remain – where the camera snaps quickly to the player’s position, which can be disorienting. Upon completing a level, the player is shown the amount of time taken, number of enemies killed, number of deaths, and their score, but there is no ranking system.

Levels are selected via a world map, with the player starting on World 1-1, and the final level in each area features a boss encounter. There are some branching paths on the map that lead to dedicated challenge areas which are modeled after classic arcade games, including Space Invaders and Pang (a.k.a. Buster Bros.). These optional challenges see the player working through a small number of waves before returning to the world map.

The game offers colorful enemies, each of which has specific attack types, allowing players to quickly prioritize threats when surrounded. Many of these enemies also require different tactics, adding some strategy beyond turning your lead dispenser toward anything that moves. Some aerial enemies hover over you and drop bombs, tank-style enemies fire slow-moving blasts that can be avoided by ducking, and some fast-moving enemies require that you jump into the air and slam down to destroy them. There are also heavily armored foes that require lots of firepower, shielded enemies, snipers, melee attackers, and popcorn enemies that are quickly killed but appear in large numbers.

Each set of levels finishes with a dedicated boss encounter featuring hulking robots with lengthy life bars, accompanied by some weaker enemies. Players can pick away at boss’ health meters with their standard weapon – which takes a long time – and can kill enemies to earn rings and power up Ultra mode. Occasionally, enemies come into the environment carrying weapon backpacks, allowing the player to shoot them down and gain temporary access to a stronger weapon.

Gameplay takes place through windy forest with wildly blowing trees, within cave walls and crumbling ruins, and through various technological constructions. The color palette is generally quite dark, which causes darker objects to blend into the background somewhat, making them harder to see, but the dark visuals contrast well with the bright projectiles, lasers, and explosions, each of which is accompanied by punchy sound effects.

Dragon Bros was developed by Space Lizard Studio, founded in 2015, with credits including programmer Guilhem Barloy (Driveclub, LittleBigPlanet Karting, Test Drive Unlimited 2), programmer and technical artist Lorenzo Rizza, and artist Marco Zappula, with sound design and music composition by Gabriele Caruso. The game was originally conceived as a more ambitious title called Vampires, Guns & Rock n’ Roll, but was redesigned. The studio previously developed the mobile game Yelly Chicken.