Wasn’t that the name of a boat? Just kidding. In an era where side-scrolling beat-’em-ups
were thick on the Ground, Capcom were one of the most prolific propagators of the genre.
Admittedly, it was kinda easy for such games to feel kinda samey - ask anyone who’s played
Final Fight and Streets of Rage back-to-back - so if there was such a title that could
inject a bit of innovation, chances were it’d stand out rather drastically. Enter The King
of Dragons, a boat - erm, game - that, at a quick glance, looks dangerously similar
to Golden Axe or any number of other fantasy-flavored orc-slaying frenzies, but in fact, has LEVELLED
UP the idea.
Yeah. It looks conventional. You walk to the right and hit things. The unconventional comes
in the implementation of a number of more RPG-ish concepts. In this case, your score
doubles as experience points; upon hitting certain totals your maximum vitality increases.
You’ve also got upgrades for your weapons and armor, allowing you to scale a little
better compared to the ever-increasing threats you’re presented with. There are five playable
characters: a Wizard, a dorf, a cleric, a fighter, and the requisite Elf ranger with
an unlimited supply of arrows. Each character has a different mix of speed, attack, defense,
jump range, swing range, and explosive magic lightning bolty power, which costs a chunk
of health but can get you out of a right pickle. You’re locked into your character for the
duration of a stage; should you have to use a continue midway through, you’re dumped
back to the character select before beginning the next chunk of your adventure. The select
screen also shows the current levels of each hero; even those you don’t use will gain
some EXP so you’re not completely hamstrung should you choose to switch gears.
The gameplay itself is intense and relatively fair; timing and evasion seem to play a more
crucial role in this game than in contemporaries in the genre. Certain classes come equipped
with shields that can potentially block enemy fire if you’re willing to just hold your
horses and stop mashing on the attack button... and then there’s the dorf, who can just
walk under oncoming archery barrages like a boss. I understand that some of these Capcom
arcade titles saw rather limited release - heck, just look at Quiz & Dragons or Mega Man: the
Power Battles - but after playing The King of Dragons, I kinda felt cheated that I didn’t
have one of these around when I was growing up. Yeah, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy did the same
idea a bit better, but that was 2000. This was nine years prior. And it’s still freakin’
fun. Even if there are mimics EVERYWHERE. With acid blood. Mimics bleed acid.