Overall Rating: 1/5 Stars
Dear reader: Brace yourself for this experience, because Tagin’ Dragon is a nightmare.
Released in 1990 for the Nintendo Entertainment System by small-time publisher Sachen Inc., developed by now-defunct Bunch Games, Tagin’ Dragon was a horrendous 8-bit title. You could write an entire humor article about the comparisons to playing Tagin’ Dragon: Playing Tagin’ Dragon is like playing a video game made as a student project in the remedial class of video game development. Playing Tagin’ Dragon is like playing Pac-Man if you were high and Pac-Man had been through a blender. Playing Tagin’ Dragon is like playing a friendly game of tag with starved lions. Etc.
To make this easier on everyone involved, we will mention the good points first, and they are few: The concept is interesting. The idea is that you control a dragon character on multiple single-screen levels of an overhead, tile-based puzzle adventure (the genre domain of The Adventures of Lolo, for example). For each board, your dragon must bite the tails of the other dragons, and they are trying to bite your tail. Each time a tail is bitten, it shrinks, and the biter’s tail grows larger. The larger a dragon’s tail, the more powerful it is, and can even tail-bite in face-to-face bouts with the other, weaker, smaller-tailed dragons. Once the other dragons on a level are defeated, play advances to the next stage. There are even power-ups and hidden items.
This sounds potentially fun, right? Like a different rendering of the ghost-eating going on in the aforementioned Pac-Man, or an innovative puzzler adventure in its own right.
But make no mistake: Tagin’ Dragon is not a good video game.
The A button bites, and the best strategy is to lie in wait for a passing dragon, then nip at the tail a time or two, so that your tail becomes big enough to make you a dominant enough dragon to go around biting everyone face-to-face and kill them when their tails are depleted. You can find lamps that let you bite bushes to find point bonuses. There is a multi-player mode, though this is a rare occasion where the two-player versus mode is less fun than one-player, since both human players tend to either sit back and do nothing, or eventually kamikaze rush each other in a frenzied head-on collision without tactics or thought.
If you can, avoid looking at the title screen. Do not Google it, do not load it on an emulator, do not ever try actually turning the cartridge on in a working
NES console. It is an abomination to video gaming, or to graphic design completely. The rest of the game is crude, underdeveloped, and unrefined in its tile-based (which you would think would make it easier to make look decent) appearances, but just taking one glance at the title screen immediately exemplifies what sort of amateurish game this is.
An attempt at a description may sound like this: The title is spelled out in pixelated block letters on two lines, “TAGIN’ DRAGON”, which is obviously missing a “g” in the first word. Underneath are the playing options for one or two players, and to the right is an ugly, ugly, ugly dragon, with a crown and scepter, with a dour facial expression, claws, splotchy spots, and his color cycles. Yes, every half-second, he changes color. The game designers likely thought this made him look colorful and appealing, when in reality it just strikes the player as a cheap, tacky, bizarre attempt at a eye-catching character. Below the play options and the dragon is the copyright information, 1990, for the publisher and designer. That is it. Behind it all is a black background. This is Tagin’ Dragon.
There are few sound effects, and they are weak, but it is the background music that sets this video game apart at the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. The background music is nightmarish. It is horrible. It is unforgivable, and insults can hardly be vicious enough for it. The title screen music sounds like it had to be intentionally written as badly and as annoyingly as possible, with its child-like simplicity (the rising-notes scale to start off with), seemingly random (seriously, like mindlessly banging the keys on a piano) “bass” line underneath the melody, a tune with a pitch that grates at your ears like nails on a chalkboard. It is among the worst tracks you will ever hear in your life; and that is not hyperbole, that is fact. The levels themselves feature music of a similar quality, but at least it changes from level to level; however, it is still notably bad. Clearly, video game music was one of the areas the development house was weakest in, and should have outsourced for some help. Tagin’ Dragon, and this is no exaggeration, may have the worst non-repeating music of any NES title. Some games have atrocious background “music” that just repeats a few notes, and others hardly have music at all, but for those that tried, Tagin’ Dragon fails the hardest.
This is the one bright spot of the video game: It is an original idea. Yep, that is about it.
In fact, that is the only reason this NES title does not get a zero or half-star rating. It gets one star out of five because, at least, unlike some truly dastardly examples, it is playable, and actually presents a level-to-level progression of understandable gameplay goals. But the tagin’ task aside, this is the epitome of an underdeveloped game, that truly seems like a poor homebrew and not something that was actually released.
For a look into the history of other obscure retro NES titles, check out NintendoLegend.com.